2017-2018 Social Issue Tracks and Sponsoring Partners

Lead Sponsors: Barr Foundation, the Boston Foundation, the Devonshire Foundation, and the Margaret Stewart Lindsay Foundation

For our 2017-2018 Social Innovator Accelerator, we will select one nonprofit Social Innovator for each of our eight “social issue tracks.”

Track Partner: Highland Street Foundation

The physically dangerous, socially alienating, and psychologically debilitating experience of homelessness is one that devastates people from all walks of life. People find themselves homeless due to a wide range of challenges, including unemployment, physical and mental health conditions, domestic violence, and family separation. Many times homelessness occurs as a result of systemic failures in health care, education, criminal justice, the economy, and the housing market.  While recent progress has been made to reduce the number of homeless people in Massachusetts, homelessness rose by 29.6% in the Commonwealth between 2007 and 2016, while national rates decreased during that same time period.  Data from a January 2016 report showed nearly 20,000 homeless people in Massachusetts, including more than 13,000 people in families with children, 374 unaccompanied youth, and 949 veterans.

Research has shown that, in addition to providing stability, access to decent and affordable housing can reduce health and other risks associated with homelessness. Preventive measures, including job placement and medical services can also mitigate the negative effects of homelessness.  Mental health services provide a critical resource as well, particularly for homeless children, who are significantly more likely to have mental health problems compared to their low-income, housed peers. 

For this track, the Social Innovation Forum seeks organizations and programs that address homelessness by supporting vulnerable populations and helping them meet their health and housing needs. Programming may include preventative care, advocacy, resource provision, and efforts to facilitate the transition of homeless youth, adults, and families into permanent homes.

Track Partner: Schrafft Charitable Trust

During the 19th century, New Bedford was a booming economic hub and home to one of the world’s most vibrant whaling ports. In the 20th century, however, the city began to decline due to a drop in the whaling industry, relocation of manufacturers, and a failure of industry owners to invest in new technology. New Bedford is still recovering from the effects of this decline and continues to face problems associated with poverty and unemployment. Compared to Massachusetts as a whole, which had a per capita income of $36,895, New Bedford’s per capita income was only $21,665 in 2015.  Similarly, the US Census Bureau reported that 23.4% of the population of New Bedford was living below the poverty line.  For youth, the poverty rate was even higher at 34.1%.   

Poverty is closely associated with lower levels of educational attainment. According to a report by the Brookings Institute, the median lifetime earnings for those with bachelor’s degrees are twice that of those with high school diplomas,  and those without high school diplomas earn significantly less. In New Bedford, students are dropping out of high school at a rate nearly three times the Massachusetts average (Massachusetts’ dropout rate is 10%; New Bedford’s is 28%).  Additionally, only 16% of those who graduate high school move on to receive their bachelor’s degree or higher.  

Strategic and consistent investment in education and related services can help close the achievement gap in New Bedford and reduce exposure to the many negative aspects of poverty. With higher educational attainment, residents of New Bedford can secure stable jobs, avoid poverty, and contribute to the economic vitality of the city. For this track, the Social Innovation Forum seeks programs and organizations that provide opportunities for people in New Bedford to obtain skills and resources that allow them to further their education and widen employment options leading to improved economic outcomes. We are particularly interested in organizations providing education, training, mentoring, and general support to K-12 students (in school or out of school) to help advance educational achievement. Nonprofit organizations providing adult education services are also welcome to apply. 

Track Partner: Boston Open Impact

Over its 14-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 82 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. Organizations with a fiscal sponsor will be considered. However, local branches of national programs are not eligible for this track.

Track Partner: Stifler Family Foundation

The United States is home to only 5% of the world’s population, but has more than 20% of the world’s prison population, making the United States the world’s largest jailer.  From 1978 to 2014, our prison population rose over 400%, due in part to the “War on Drugs” laws which led to a substantial increase in the number of people, particularly people of color, incarcerated. Currently the total prison population in Massachusetts, both men and women, is approximately 9,000. Although the incarceration rate is decreasing from previous years, nearly 40% of prisoners who are released return to prison within three years, indicating that the system continues to fall short. 

In order to reduce recidivism, the incarcerated population needs to be more adequately supported and have ample access to programs that help with re-entry after prison. Critical services such as training classes, counseling, and substance abuse treatment are not always available or accessible to those who need them. For the group of offenders released in Massachusetts between July 2014 and March 2015, about 1 in 5 needing substance abuse treatment and almost 2 in 5 needing violence reduction treatment did not receive these services because the programs were either at capacity or not available at all.  For this track, the Social Innovation Forum seeks organizations that deliver innovative and effective approaches to reducing recidivism. Applicants’ methods could focus on, but are not limited to, prevention services, employment, life skills training, addiction services, mental health and counseling services, reconnection to family, and/or advocacy and policy services. 

Track Partner: MassMutual Foundation

Financial capability is defined by the National Financial Educators Council as “the combination of attitude, knowledge, skills, and self-efficacy needed to make and exercise money management decisions that best fit the circumstances of one’s life.”  It entails a basic understanding of financial choices and existing financial services along with access to tools for future planning and informed spending. Financial capability is an important component of economic stability and opportunity. The lack of financial capability often leads to poor financial decisions – taking on debt, paying high or unnecessary fees, and failing to save for the future. Many Americans experience this reality. In 2016, approximately 30% of Americans, or 77 million people, reported not paying their bills on time and 56% reported not keeping a budget. Additionally, in 2015, 18% of individuals reported that over the past year their household spent more than their income. 

Although research demonstrates the importance of introducing financial education to youth, this is not always prioritized in schools or after-school programs. Massachusetts, for example, lags behind other states in personal finance education and does not implement a standard curriculum or testing in grades K-12. Moreover, many youth do not learn financial basics at home. In fact, only 43% of parents feel prepared to discuss money with their children. Equipping young people with the tools to make better financial choices will enable them to change the way they see their financial and economic circumstances. This is particularly important for youth who live in underserved areas with scarce economic resources, as they are more likely to experience the negative effects of economic instability.

For this track the Social Innovation Forum seeks programs or organizations that are running innovative, holistic, and community-inclusive solutions geared towards helping people to effectively make informed financial decisions and become stewards of their financial future. This can include, but is not limited to, organizations advancing programs, advocacy, coalitions, and/or products or services that seek to build financial capability.

Track Partner: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts 

America is facing a health crisis. Poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and decreasing engagement with the natural environment are contributing to record rates of obesity and chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. In Massachusetts, thousands of residents face barriers which prevent access to healthy lifestyles and environments. Fresh produce and nutritious food are often unaffordable or inaccessible, and as a result individuals turn to cheap, less healthy options that are readily available at local convenience stores and fast food restaurants. Busy schedules and lack of access to fitness facilities and outdoor green spaces also limit residents’ physical activity. Despite being considered one of the healthiest states, more than 20% of adults and 23% of adolescents in Massachusetts reported that they do not participate in any regular physical activity.  These factors contribute to the high annual medical costs associated with obesity among adults, which are estimated at $3.5 billion in Massachusetts  and $190.2 billion nationally.  

Research shows that maintaining a balanced, healthy lifestyle positively impacts health outcomes. Regular physical activity, along with a nutritious diet, is proven to lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. In addition to providing the mental benefits of being outside, easy access to the natural environment has been shown to produce a 48% increase in the frequency of physical activity among adults. Despite these benefits, Americans on average spend only 7% of their time outdoors.  

For this track, the Social Innovation Forum seeks organizations working to help Massachusetts residents maintain healthy lifestyles by increasing healthy eating, exercise, and access to nature. Organizations considered for this track could include those that promote healthy living through fitness, food access and education, and/or outdoor environments. Organizations that address the inter-connectedness of healthy eating, active lifestyles, and outdoor experiences are particularly encouraged to apply.

Track Partner: Immigrant and Refugee Funder Collaborative (Ansara Family Foundation, Barr Foundation, The Clowes Fund, The Hyams Foundation, Landry Family Foundation, Macomber Family Fund, Suhrbier Family Fund, John H. and Naomi Tomfohrde Foundation)

Immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers represent a significant percentage of the United States population and contribute greatly to the country’s economic and cultural landscape. In Massachusetts, the foreign-born population represents roughly 1 in 6 residents of the state with steady growth each year.  This translates to over one million immigrants, which is more than the total populations of San Francisco, Denver, Washington, D.C., and other major cities.  Since 2011, more than 10,000 refugees have come to Massachusetts to escape danger in their homelands, carrying with them both assets and challenges related to resettlement.  The immigrant population plays a critical role in the Boston economy as consumers, business owners, employees, and tax payers. For example, 22 percent of employees in professional, scientific, and technical industries, 56 percent of employees in hotels and motels, 53 percent of employees in home health, and 29 percent of employees in hospitals are immigrants. 

Despite being such a substantial part of our society’s fabric, immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers often do not have access to adequate support for successful integration and advancement. Defined by Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees as “a dynamic, two-way process in which newcomers and the receiving society work together to build secure, vibrant, and cohesive communities,”  immigrant integration includes issues associated with health care, education, employment, language, and citizenship. Without guidance, navigating these issues can be challenging. For example, while citizenship promotes stable communities and social benefits, the process of obtaining citizenship is confusing and expensive, keeping numerous immigrants from embarking on the naturalization process.

The Migration Policy Institute calls immigrant integration “one of the most overlooked issues in American governance.”  In order to have a fair, just, and fully functioning society, resources need to be allocated to the immigrant and refugee populations so they can successfully build healthy and productive lives for themselves and their families and participate thoroughly in their communities. 

For this track, the Social Innovation Forum seeks organizations or programs that promote successful integration and advancement for immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers. We are interested in a range of applicants, including but not limited to those providing workforce development, economic opportunity, education and tutoring, advocacy, legal services, civic engagement, and/or promoting physical and mental health. We also are interested in nonprofits that show a history of collaboration with other organizations to provide the most effective service. Organizations with immigrant leadership are strongly encouraged to apply. 

* Please note that this year in addition to selecting one Innovator for the “Promoting Successful Advancement and Integration for Immigrants, Refugees, and Asylum-Seekers” track, the Social Innovation Forum will invite 6-8 nonprofit organizations from the applicant pool to participate in the Capacity Camp, a condensed version of the Accelerator, which will take place between February and April 2018. Participation in this program will not disqualify any nonprofit from applying to the SIF Accelerator in the future. Please see the “About the Capacity Camp” section in the Applicant Guide for more information.

Track Partner: Liberty Mutual Insurance 

According to a Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission report, 11.6% of the Massachusetts population were living with a disability in 2014,  including cognitive, ambulatory, hearing, vision, and self-care disabilities. People with disabilities bring many assets to our community, yet they face challenges in many areas, such as education, economic self-sufficiency, and health, that can prevent them from reaching their full potential. The employment level for people living with disabilities is 34.4%, as compared to 79% for those without disabilities.  Additionally, 23.7% of people with disabilities have less than a high school degree, while only 7.1% of those who do not have a disability have less than a high school degree. 

The transition to adulthood is a particularly critical time for young people living with disabilities. Studies have shown that student-focused life skills training improves transition-related outcomes for disabled people, including employment, post-secondary education, and enjoyment of life.  Parental and family training also increases successful transitions to adulthood by helping families set expectations and provide support accordingly. For example, young people with a disability who are expected by their parent to gain employment are 32 times more likely to become employed than those who are not. 

For this track, the Social Innovation Forum seeks organizations or programs that work to eliminate isolation, increase integration, promote practical skills, and expand employment and life opportunities for youth and young adults (ages 14-25) living with disabilities. This can include organizations focused explicitly on serving individuals with disabilities as well as organizations working to adapt programming to ensure accessibility to individuals of all abilities. To be eligible for this track, organizations should be based in Boston and/or serve a population that is at least 75% Boston residents.

Learn more about how to nominate an organization or to apply for your organization on our application page.