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Obama’s Social Innovation Group Tabs Five Programs

• August 09, 2011 • 5:05 PM

Program to bring an entrepreneurial approach to social problems doles out some more money from its small kitty.

The Corporation for National and Community Service is two years into an experiment in funding “social innovation,” a new model from the Obama administration that attempts to leverage the muscle of private philanthropy and the know-how of effective charities to tackle systemic societal challenges from homelessness to illiteracy. The concept is innovative, but the growing pains have been real and the budget small by federal standards (and some of the original architects of the idea have already left the White House).

Last fall, Miller-McCune.com looked at the promise behind the program, the Social Innovation Fund, and its unique structure turning every dollar of government investment into three times as much money to build out proven programs that could one day make a national impact in the areas of economic opportunity, public health and youth development. This week, we look more closely at exactly what the initiative will look like on the ground in the coming years.

The Corporation for National and Community Service last week announced the second round of grant recipients, five nonprofits receiving $13.9 million in government funds over two years. The corporation also announced that nine of the 11 organizations that received money last year — and that have since been working with nearly 140 sub-grantees — will get additional funding. This is what the latest grant-winners are planning to do with it:

1. Replicate new housing models for the homeless. The Corporation for Supportive Housing, based in New York City, will receive $1.15 million per year to address chronic homelessness in the Los Angeles area and, potentially, Camden, N.J., Salt Lake City, Denver and Seattle — all locations with sizable homeless populations that also have complex health needs. Sub-grantees will work with local government agencies to identify homeless individuals who frequently rely on the public-health system. They’ll then seek to provide those individuals with “supportive housing,” a model that integrates housing with access to social services, while recognizing that many homeless people face interrelated challenges more complex than a simple a lack of shelter. (If the idea sounds familiar, you may recall our May 2009 story, “The Homemakers.”)

The Corporation for Supportive Housing has already developed more than 49,000 units of such housing and invested more than $270 million in loans and grants to support their development.

2. Deploy community volunteers to improve child literacy. The Mile High United Way in Colorado has been awarded $1.8 million a year to achieve “systemic change”in early literacy in both rural and urban communities across the state. The initiative is aiming to boost third-grade reading proficiency levels by 25 percent over the next five years by coordinating early childhood education programs and volunteers around a standardized, statewide agenda and evidence-based literacy programs. The Mile High United Way expects to deploy 3,000 volunteers as part of the effort, which fits into a broader bipartisan education reform movement in Colorado. [class name="dont_print_this"]

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3. Reverse the decline in low-income homeownership. NCB Capital Impact will get $1 million a year to replicate effective “shared equity homeownership” programs that allow low-income homebuyers to co-invest with government or nonprofit housing agencies in the cost of a home. In exchange for the reduced cost of buying, homebuyers in this model “agree to limit, or share, their equity appreciation to preserve affordability so that the initial public investment can ultimately serve far more families.”

The strategy seeks to both help low-income families buy homes and keep housing affordable in the long run. The Ford Foundation is one of the collaborating funders.

4. Reduce obesity through after-school soccer. The U.S. Soccer Federation Foundation will receive $1 million a year over two years to expand the Soccer for Success program, a free after-school children’s program that combines physical activity and nutrition education toward the goal of reducing obesity. The program will initially target both urban and rural communities in California, North and South Carolina, and Oklahoma, with the goal of including 12,000 low-income children. The foundation plans to measure the program’s impact in reduced body mass index and increased fitness levels and nutrition knowledge among the participants.

The organization plans to work with the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, Stanford University’s Gardner Center and the Urban Soccer Collaborative.

5. Expand early-childhood learning communities around Detroit. United Way for Southeastern Michigan will get $2 million per year, in collaboration with General Motors Foundation and several other local philanthropies, to “address the greater Detroit’s long-term systemic social and economic problems by investing in children at an early age.” The local United Way has set the goal that 80 percent of children in the Detroit area enter kindergarten with a strong social, emotional and cognitive foundation. Currently, it says only 50 percent of children enter kindergarten prepared to learn.

The organization’s “Early Learning Communities” model has already provided more than 2,000 parents and caregivers since 2005 with the skills to build “nurturing, literacy-rich environments” for their children.

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Emily Badger
Emily Badger is a freelance writer living in the Washington, D.C. area who has contributed to The New York Times, International Herald Tribune and The Christian Science Monitor. She previously covered college sports for the Orlando Sentinel and lived and reported in France.

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