2016-2017 Social Issue Tracks and Sponsoring Partners

Lead Sponsor: The Margaret Stewart Lindsay Foundation

For our 2016-2017 Social Innovator Accelerator, we will select one nonprofit Social Innovator for each of our seven “social issue tracks.”

Track Partner: Bess Foundation

Many of the biggest steps forward in the social sector come from organizations that are shaping public policy at the local, state, and national levels. Organizations that are working to influence opinions and legislation related to food, environment, voting rights, education, women’s rights and other areas aim to shape the very policies that affect their constituents. They conduct research, educate and explain issues, work with the legislative process, and translate the intricacies of research for the public and for elected officials. Though they use a range of strategies, from confrontation to consensus building, their goal is the same:  to influence public policy outcomes to benefit vulnerable groups and/or the entire population. According to Dr. Lester Salamon from the Center for Civil Society Studies at John Hopkins University, “Of all the functions of the nonprofit sector, few are more critical than that of advocacy, of representing alternative perspectives and pressing them on public and private decision makers”.

In contrast to direct service, where organizations can quantify how many high school students graduated, how many hungry children were fed, or how many homeless veterans moved into permanent housing, progress in advocacy is often difficult to measure. Working to pass legislation and shape government policy is a slow, complex process, but change at that level can be dramatic in its scope and scale, benefiting entire populations and not just individuals. There are many examples of impact through advocacy, such as the first anti-predatory lending act in the country that was passed in 22 U.S. states because of the advocacy efforts of Self-Help, a nonprofit group from North Carolina.

Based on these opportunities to move social change forward at a community or system level, the Social Innovation Forum seeks organizations that use advocacy and mobilization as their primary levers for social change. We are particularly interested in organizations that promote youth activism and those that are engaged in policies related to mental health. The Social Innovation Forum also seeks applicants who are organizing to advance policies that positively affect low-income and under-served populations and communities of color. 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations are welcome to apply.

Track Partner: Boston Open Impact

Over its 13-year history, the Social Innovation Forum has focused on variety of individual tracks targeting specific social issues. While this approach has allowed the Social Innovation Forum to build a diverse portfolio of 75 Social Innovators, many innovative, effective organizations could not apply to the Social Innovation Forum because they did not fit with our social issue tracks in a given year. The “Anything Goes” track provides an opportunity for any organization in greater Boston’s robust nonprofit landscape that meets SIF’s eligibility requirements to apply to become a Social Innovator.

The local nonprofit sector is constantly evolving as new organizations crop up and existing organizations expand and improve their work. While there are countless models for social impact, today’s most effective organizations have several key characteristics in common. High-performing organizations are laser-focused on their missions, committed to financial sustainability, and diligent about collecting and using performance data to continuously 
improve their work. These best practices hold true across a wide range of organizations – and across different neighborhoods, social issues, and stages of organizational development.  

For this track, the Social Innovation Forum seeks nonprofit organizations that possess the characteristics mentioned above and are improving conditions and expanding opportunities for residents of greater Boston. The Social Innovation Forum will heavily favor applicants that have unique potential for high impact and sustainability and that can articulate concrete and well-reasoned plans to expand, replicate, or otherwise increase their social impact.

This track will only accept applications from standalone organizations with budgets under $2 million. Such organizations may submit an application on behalf of the entire organization or on behalf of a specific program within that organization. Organizations with a fiscal sponsor will be considered. However, local branches of national programs are not eligible for this track.

Track Partner: Highland Street Foundation

The social sector plays a critical role in our society by making important contributions to education, workforce development, health care, the arts, and many other areas.  A vibrant and effective social sector depends on strong leadership from both professionals working in nonprofit organizations and volunteers who make service and civic engagement a part of their lives.

Currently, the nonprofit sector is facing a leadership challenge. According to a Third Sector New England Leadership New England study, two-thirds of nonprofit executives plan to leave their jobs in the next five years, while 60% of organizations do not have succession plans.  Investing in leadership development is fundamental to building a new generation of more diverse and better prepared leaders for the sector. A study by McKinsey & Co. found that spending on leadership development is about $120 per employee annually in the private sector versus $29 per employee in the social sector.

Given the importance of board members and volunteers, developing a culture of civic engagement is also essential to a strong social sector. Young people who volunteer in their communities are more likely to vote, stay actively involved in service, seek employment in the nonprofit field, and feel empowered as citizens and future leaders.  Cross-sector programs that provide private sector professionals with exposure to social issues and nonprofit organizations help them build networks and engage more effectively. With appropriate preparation, vast numbers of retiring baby boomers can use their skills and experiences to help organizations achieve their social missions.

For this track, the Social Innovation Forum is seeking programs and organizations that build leadership capacity and elevate levels of civic engagement and volunteerism among citizens in the greater Boston area. Programming may include activities that increase participation in service and volunteerism, training and development of current and future leaders, and cross-sector leadership collaborations. Ultimately, these programs create a strong community fabric that positively affects not only the beneficiaries of service, but also those who serve.

Track Partner: Schrafft Charitable Trust

Southeastern Massachusetts is an area rich in history, culture, agriculture, coastal beaches and abundant nature preserves. It includes, but is not limited to, cities and towns such as Acushnet, Dartmouth, Fairhaven, Fall River, Freetown, Mattapoisett, New Bedford, Rochester, and Westport.  Historically known as the industrial growth center of the region, New Bedford and Fall River were once teeming with textile factories and a vibrant fishing industry.  Less than a century later some of these same communities are struggling with high unemployment and poverty rates.  In 2014, 24% of New Bedford’s citizens and 23% of Fall River’s were living below the poverty line,   while the Massachusetts poverty rate hovered at 11.9% for the same year.  Poverty levels among children under 18 in 2013 were exceptionally high: 36% in Fall River and 34% in New Bedford.   Almost 30% of Fall River and New Bedford residents do not graduate from high school. Unemployment rates in Southeastern Massachusetts cities are significantly above the Massachusetts average of 4.5%,  ranging between 6.5% and 9%.  

For this track, the Social Innovation Forum seeks organizations, initiatives or programs that are working to reduce the opportunity gap in this region of Massachusetts. We seek to support organizations that leverage the history and natural resources of this region, specifically its people, agricultural, fishing or other seacoast resources, to improve the area’s economy primarily through, but not limited to, workforce education, job creation, and small business development. Organizations with a track record of closing the opportunity gap, working in successful cross sector partnerships and/or attracting outside resources to the area are particularly encouraged to apply.

Track Partner: Jon Shevell Children’s Fund

There are approximately 8,000 children of all ages living in the foster care system in Massachusetts.  These children enter the system largely due to abuse, neglect, and the inability of the state to find suitable placement within the child’s immediate family. Many of them are placed in a variety of foster homes without the opportunity to experience a nurturing environment within their families or communities. The foster care experience often lacks necessary supports for children to learn and grow in a safe and enriching environment and particularly to ease into independent adulthood. Due to constantly fluctuating circumstances, lack of adequate support and resources, and experiences of trauma while in foster care, many of these youth face tremendous difficulties especially in securing housing, education, employment, and other supports or networks once they turn 18. Based on a recent survey conducted by the Boston University School of Social Work, 37% of foster care youth reported experiencing homelessness after leaving the foster care system, 54% are unemployed, and 59% reported feelings of depression.  Additionally, these youth are more likely to be victims of violence and crime while struggling with physical and mental health issues.  While traditional child welfare focuses on “protection” of children, a recent paradigm shift suggests that more attention should be placed on “preparation.” This model encourages supporting youth while in foster care in order to ease their transition to adulthood and ensure they are effectively prepared for productive and meaningful lives. 

Given this paradigm shift, the Social Innovation Forum for this track seeks organizations or programs that proactively focus on preparing youth in the foster care system, as well as those aging out of the system, for the transition to adulthood. We are interested in programs or organizations that utilize a range of approaches, including but not limited to, nurturing supportive relationships with adult mentors, educational preparation, providing economic opportunity, building skills for workforce integration, offering opportunities to engage in community service or civic life, and promoting physical and mental health.

This track is sponsored by the Jon Shevell Children’s Fund. Jon was a very gregarious person, known for his contagious sense of humor and willingness to help anyone in need. Jon graduated from Lafayette College, earned a master’s degree at Tufts University and had a brief career playing professional basketball in Europe before joining the business his father, Myron “Mike” Shevell started in 1977, New England Motor Freight (NEMF). At NEMF, Jon served as Vice Chairman and Executive Vice President, was regarded as an industry leader in the areas of sales and marketing, and helped expand the company across North America. Jon was revered by customers and coworkers alike.  He was known as a vibrant, devoted and caring man who was always generous with his time and never forgot a name.  

Jon also was deeply committed to many causes within the community, especially children in need of economic, academic or medical support. He asked that part of his estate be devoted to children or young people whose parents are deceased or unable to care for them. He understood the importance of using his experience and success to help others find their passions, become successful students, develop meaningful careers and discover scientific breakthroughs to benefit future generations. This Track, titled “Supporting Foster Care Children in their Transition to Adulthood” honors his memory.

Track Partner: Gisela B. Hogan Foundation

There is little doubt that the development of cognitive skills, emotional well-being, social competence, and physical and mental health before entering kindergarten is essential in building a strong foundation for success in adulthood. The human brain undergoes rapid development during the first years of life, and children develop 85% of their intellect and personality by age five. Current research has proven that capacities that are developed in early childhood have a significant effect on all aspects of adult human life, from work force skills to social behavior.  However, many young children spend their critical first years struggling to overcome adversity that can lead to disadvantages before they even reach school and that continue to limit their success throughout life when compared to their better-off peers. Exposure to poverty, hunger, homelessness, abuse, neglect, family stress, violence, and other factors can derail healthy development and put a child’s long-term physical health as well as cognitive, emotional and academic success at risk. Data show that children living below the poverty threshold are 1.3 times more likely than their peers to experience learning disabilities and developmental delays through age seventeen.  Unacceptable numbers of children are at risk. In 2014, more than 200,000 children, which is 15% of all Massachusetts children under age eighteen, lived below the poverty line.   Research has identified strategies that can provide children with a better chance for a healthy start. These interventions include basic services such as stable high quality child care, health care, family and parental support, and specialized services for children who are at the highest risk.  
For this track, the Social Innovation Forum seeks organizations or programs that have demonstrated innovative and scalable approaches to meeting the needs of children (ages 0-5) by helping to ensure their positive early development and their physical, social, and emotional well-being. Applicants could include direct service programs that provide services such as housing, food and income security, effective education and childcare, and/or parent education and support, innovative duel-generation models, or organizations that are looking to disrupt the current system through new models to address early childhood disparities. Organizations that take an advocacy approach are particularly encouraged to apply.

Track Partner: Building Blocks Charitable Fund

The whole health of the mother, both during pregnancy and after giving birth, is a critical factor in ensuring a child gets off to a healthy start. The first five years of a child’s life are particularly important to the development of robust physical health, emotional well-being, strong cognitive skills, and social competence, all of which are factors for later success in adulthood. Yet not all Massachusetts infants get off to the best start in life. Many mothers experience their own physical and mental health issues during pregnancy and early parenting, which can have an impact on their child’s growth and development. The pre-term birth rate is 8.6%  (and higher in low-income communities and communities of color ), leading to developmental delays, respiratory illnesses, and infections. Maternal depression affects an estimated 10-15% of Massachusetts women  and can contribute to cognitive, social, and emotional developmental problems in infants and children. As a result of the state’s growing opiate addiction crisis, Massachusetts’ babies are born with opiates in their systems at three times that national rate.  

Based on these findings, for this track the Social Innovation Forum seeks organizations that have demonstrated innovative approaches to improving maternal and/or child health for low-income and underserved populations, including programs that offer an integrated health care approach, which marries complementary and traditional medical models of care and healing. Organizations may include programs that provide direct services in pre-natal care, mental health (including expressive therapies that use art, music, dance/movement, drama, poetry/creative writing), addiction treatment, infant home visiting, parenting support and education, lactation support and breastfeeding education, as well as organizations that advocate for improved policies in these areas.

For complete details and references, please consult the Social Innovator Accelerator Applicant Guide.