America Forward: New Report Hails Social Innovation Fund Progress

The following post is by Nicole Truhe, America Forward’s Director of Government Affairs.

As we’ve noted many times on this blog and across our website, policy change is a critical part of New Profit’s recipe for scaling innovative social solutions, alongside investing and community building. At America Forward, New Profit’s nonpartisan policy arm, we are working every day to change public policy to drive better outcomes and more efficient use of resources.

One of the most important policy achievements in our story is the creation of the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) at the Corporation for National and Community Service, which  “positions the federal government to be a catalyst for impact—mobilizing public and private resources to find and grow community solutions with evidence of strong results.” New Profit and America Forward strongly supported SIF’s creation and launch in 2009-2010.

New Profit’s Pathways Fund, a pioneering program supporting college-to-career opportunities for low income youth, was among the first cohort of SIF grantees in 2010. More recently, America Forward partnered with Third Sector Capital Partners to win SIF’s first open competition for grants for Pay for Success, an innovative new approach to funding and scaling social innovation through cross-sector collaboration.

Unfortunately, there is the potential for these important policy achievements to go away, at a time when innovation and evidence is the overarching political push, given recent decisions by both House and Senate leaders to defund the Social Innovation Fund, including the Pay for Success grant competition, in the current appropriations debate.

All this leads to today’s news: the Social Innovation Research Center, led by Patrick Lester, has released an independent evaluation of SIF’s accomplishments to date with recommendations for how SIF’s approach can be improved to drive even better outcomes in the future. The report (overview here) is a must-read for social innovation practitioners and general supporters of dynamic problem solving. Tulaine Montgomery, a New Profit Partner who leads the Pathways Fund, was interviewed for the report, and some of our key takeaways include:

“One of SIF’s central lessons is that achieving results requires investment.”

This is probably the most important lesson of this report. For those of us working to advance evidence-based approaches and the use of innovative funding structures such as Pay for Success, it is important to be mindful of the shift this is requiring for ‘business as usual’ federal policy and social services provision. If we truly want to move in the direction of a more outcomes-based environment, we need to be willing to invest in the elements required for this shift: capacity building, evaluation development, and knowledge dissemination.

As Tulaine was quoted saying in the report: “[New Profit is] fundamentally a ‘builder’ of organizations, not a ‘buyer’ of programmatic outcomes, and therefore we grant unrestricted dollars to bolster capacity ahead of need.”

“The Social Innovation Fund has already experienced some early success, [but] the program could be improved in several ways.”

SIRC’s report is valuable in part because of the time and care that was taken to shape tangible policy recommendations for improving SIF’s approach and outcomes. The recommendations cover match funding requirements, oversight, transparency, regulatory reform, and capacity building, among other things. We believe it is critically important for the social innovation community to engage with policymakers on these issues, as a means of strengthening the overall SIF approach.

We applaud SIRC for releasing this informative and constructive report, and we look forward to working with the America Forward community and policymakers on some of its important information and recommendations.

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