2019-2020 Social Issue Tracks and Sponsoring Partners

Lead Sponsors: Barr Foundation, The Boston Foundation, The Charlotte Foundation, The Devonshire Foundation

For our 2019-2020 Social Innovator Accelerator, we will select one nonprofit Social Innovator for each of our seven social issue tracks. 

Learn more about how to nominate an organization or to apply for your organization on our application page. Find more information in our 2020 Applicant Guide.

Track Partner: Boston Open Impact

Opioid use disorder (OUD) is a chronic disease characterized by compulsive drug use despite destructive consequences. A complex mix of environmental and genetic factors puts people at risk to develop OUD. Left untreated, addiction is progressive and can result in severe disability or death, creating substantial costs to society. Opioids were involved in 47,600 overdose deaths in the United States in 2017—more than two-thirds of all overdose deaths. With the rise of more potent synthetic opioids, overdoses rates have worsened and fatalities have accelerated. Since 2000, OUD has escalated into a public health crisis that the CDC has declared a national epidemic. Massachusetts consistently ranks among the top five states in the country for opioid-related deaths. It is estimated that 300,000 individuals in Massachusetts currently have an OUD, costing the state healthcare system nearly $1 billion in 2017.

This epidemic knows no geographic or social boundaries, but disproportionately affects some of the most vulnerable populations in our society, including those experiencing mental illness, homelessness, incarceration, and postpartum issues. Despite the prevalence of OUD, the powerful stigma surrounding OUD limits effective and coordinated prevention efforts and creates hesitancy in employers, insurance companies, and medical professionals to recognize and treat the condition. Sadly, for those with an OUD, stigma in the medical profession makes it easier to get high than to seek help. With increased education and reduced stigma, a cooperative, empathetic and large-scale effort can be made to improve prevention and ensure a path to treatment and recovery to those affected by the disease.

What We Are Looking For

On this track, strong applicants will be able to demonstrate some or all of these characteristics:

  • Provide support, training, or respite for those touched by OUD, including those indirectly affected, such as family members, first responders, recovery coaches, caregivers, or medical professionals
  • Empower at-risk populations to make informed choices by communicating risks, options, treatment, and resources
  • Raise awareness to reduce stigma, educate the community about the risk of opioids, and build bridges between diverse perspectives of communities facing OUD
  • Work within a specific geographic or community-based population to focus on building trust and collaboration
  • Advocate for legislation which reduces the flow and importation of opioids, educate and regulate prescribers, or address policy barriers to treatment access or opioid availability
  • Organizations that are making decisions with the full participation of those impacted by this epidemic

Track Partner: JAKET Foundation  

Engagement with the arts is a vital part of well-balanced development for children and adults alike. Numerous studies indicate the positive effect of arts, either through creation or exposure, on every population regardless of age, race, ethnicity, gender, income, or ability. Arts, in general, boost IQ and school-readiness in young children and contribute to career readiness, critical thought, and empathy in adolescents and young adults.  For older adults, arts participation correlates with improved physical and mental health, socialization, and memory retention.  Arts also serve as an important connector to civic engagement. Those who participate in the arts are twice as likely to engage in volunteer activities and more likely to vote.  Arts also can be a powerful source of healing while serving as a voice to those for whom other forms of communication are unavailable. For example, arts engagement is used to help veterans with PTSD or traumatic brain injury recover from traumatic experiences and helps them rebuild meaningful relationships. 

Despite these acknowledged benefits of arts engagement, many barriers exist that keep the most vulnerable populations from experiencing it. These barriers include accessibility to venues, cost of tickets or materials, awareness of available arts offerings, knowledge of the benefits of arts engagement, or lack of funding for arts organizations.  Providing access to the enriching and healing quality of the arts is crucial for ensuring equal opportunity to their innumerable advantages.

What We Are Looking For

On this track, strong applicants will be able to demonstrate some or all of these key characteristics:

  • Engage Massachusetts residents of any age with the arts outside of K-12 schooling
  • Empower program participants through the expression of their emotions, ideas, and thoughts
  • Use art to improve mental, emotional, or social wellness of vulnerable populations
  • Advance exposure to arts among populations with limited access and resources
  • Use arts to increase cultural heritage, civic engagement, and/or community-building

Track Partner: Inspire Boston Funder Collaborative

The conditions in which people live, learn, work, and age – also known as the social determinants of health – affect a range of health outcomes for individuals and populations. These health-related behaviors, socioeconomic factors, and environmental factors are estimated to account for 80-90% of the “modifiable contributors” to healthy outcomes for a population, with medical care estimated to account for the remaining 10-20%.  Social circumstances are also largely responsible for health inequities among different groups of people based on social and economic class, gender, race and ethnicity. 

For children, one of the most critical social determinants of health is poverty. “Poverty and related social determinants of health can lead to adverse health outcomes in childhood and across the life course, negatively affecting physical health, socioemotional development, and educational achievement,”  according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. In Massachusetts, 29% of children live in low-income families, putting them at increased risk of a range of negative health outcomes, including low-birth rate, chronic disease, poor nutrition, exposure to trauma and toxic stress, and behavioral health issues. Thus, interventions at the mezzo (group/family unit) and macro (community) levels that target the social determinants of health have the potential to improve the health of children, families, and communities in under-resourced communities.

What We Are Looking For

On this track, strong applicants will be able to demonstrate some or all of these key characteristics:

  • A model that addresses the social determinants of health in order to improve the social, emotional, and physical health outcomes for low-income children;
  • A community- and family-centered approach that recognizes how the health of neighborhoods and families greatly affects the health of children and future generations;
  • A “two-generation” approach that focuses on creating opportunities for and addressing the needs of both children and the adults in their lives together.

Track Partner: Wellington Management Foundation 

Quality education is imperative to the economic success of any community, yet many children lack access to educational opportunities that will allow them to grow into knowledgeable and successful adults. The transformative power of effective, engaged, and inspiring teachers is undeniable when it comes to enhancing the everyday lives of students and their lifelong educational and career aspirations.

In fact, when parents and community leaders are asked what they want for their children, they overwhelmingly agree that they want excellent educational leadership for their children. Research confirms that an inspiring and informed teacher is the most important school-related factor influencing student achievement. Effective teacher training programs enable educators and providers to develop the knowledge and skills needed to address various learning needs of students, as each one of them has a unique background, unique strengths, a unique path to college and career. Schools, after-school programs, and youth development organizations, all need instructional resources and ongoing training to support their staff in encouraging and engaging student participation. Exploring and applying innovative, new, and better ways to educate students, in addition to teaching the skills they need to succeed in today’s world, can have a significant impact on student outcomes.

What We Are Looking For

On this track, strong applicants will be able to demonstrate some or all of these key characteristics:

  • Offer effective and accessible training and professional development opportunities to new and experienced educators in early learning, K-12 schools, and summer or after school programs
  • Provide educators with unique or innovative learning techniques and approaches, including but not limited to trauma-informed approaches, culturally affirming approaches, design thinking, 21st-century skills, and project-based or experiential learning
  • Train and support educators who focus on specific topics such as civics, arts, evidence-based argumentation, or financial literacy

Track Partner: Schrafft Charitable Trust  

Historically known as the industrial growth center of the region, New Bedford was once teeming with textile factories and vibrant fishing industry. Less than a century later, some of these same communities are struggling with high unemployment and poverty rates. Located just 60 miles south of Boston, the New Bedford community falls behind the rest of the state in key indicators such as education (16% of New Bedford residents have a Bachelor’s Degree or higher compared to 41% in MA), median household income ($38,178 in New Bedford compared to $70,954 in MA), and poverty (23.5% of individuals are living below the poverty level in New Bedford compared to 11.4% in MA) . However, there is strength in New Bedford’s diverse, multi-cultural community, deep history, and cultural resurgence in entrepreneurship and the arts. The city boasts its place as America’s #1 fishing port, the 7th most artistic city in America, and takes pride in its waterfront, museums, and small businesses. By leveraging the assets of the New Bedford community, local leaders are tackling challenges and investing in a brighter future for all.

What We Are Looking For

For this track, strong applicants will be able to demonstrate some or all of these key characteristics:

  • Programs that leverage the strengths of this region (e.g. its people, culture, history, agricultural, fishing or other seacoast resources) to address the area’s most pressing challenges
  • Community-based leadership rooted in understanding and appreciation of local needs
  • Programs designed to facilitate collaborative, community-based efforts to build power and influence for stakeholders with limited access to opportunity
  • Adaptive approaches that are responding to the changing demographics, opportunities, and environments that affect New Bedford (e.g. increased relocation of its population pending South Coast rail line, climate change)
  • Organizations must be operating in New Bedford, but can also serve neighboring areas such as Fall River, Taunton, or Providence

Track Partner: MassMutual Foundation  

Everyone needs help at some point in their lives. Support from family, friends, neighbors, and community organizations is essential in navigating complex financial situations that many encounter in their lives. Connections in the community can open doors to jobs, reveal practical financial advice, uncover paths to reasonable loans, and other resources to help meet people's daily obligations and goals.

In 1995, Harvard Professor Robert D. Putnam defined social capital as “Features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit.” Economic segregation that exists in various communities across the country makes access to social capital incredibly important. More than ever, underserved communities need social capital that connects people from those communities with more resources and opportunities. A 2016 University of California, Berkeley study revealed that social networks play an especially important and positive role in helping low-income individuals find jobs. In particular, it showed that job seekers with connections and relationships are more likely to find work and they typically earn more than their peers without networks.

Social capital pays off economically not only for job seekers but also for the communities in which they live. One county-level analysis found that places more densely populated with volunteer associations, faith-based organizations, and labor and business associations, had higher levels of household-income growth than places with fewer such institutions. In addition, social capital positively affects the quality of life. A network of good relationships leads to happiness, satisfaction, and a meaningful life. A good network improves health and lengthens life. 

What We Are Looking For

Social Innovation Forum seeks organizations that increase financial health by helping repair the fragmentation in the social fabric of our communities. On this track, strong applicants will be able to demonstrate some or all of these key characteristics:

  • Provide opportunities for young people and adults to expand their networks and connect with and learn from people who are not easily accessible in their communities (role models, mentors, etc.)
  • Build community connections between friendship networks, schools, religious organizations, community centers, civic associations, and other institutions through mentoring, resource coordination, and cultural experiences
  • Engage people who are interested in investing in local communities and assisting with a redistribution of wealth
  • Focus on providing opportunities to learn about building, managing, and growing financial resources
  • Provide support in coordinating, navigating, and promoting community resources

Track Partner: Edith M. Ashley Fund at the Boston Foundation  

Access to quality services – including healthcare – that promote healthy and active lifestyles are essential to achieving a high quality of life. However, for 11.7% of MA residents who have a disability, gaining access to these programs and services can be extremely challenging.  The American Journal of Public Health classifies individuals with disabilities as an “unrecognized health disparity population,” with alarmingly limited and unequal access to healthcare and other critical resources. Some of the obstacles include limited financial resources, lack of transportation, physical barriers that impair mobility for exercise, restricted and inadequate information about accessible facilities and programs, and lack of health and fitness professionals who have the training to support people with specific disabilities. As a result, people living with a disability are three times more likely to develop heart disease, stroke, diabetes, or cancer than those who do not have a disability.  

Furthermore, caregivers who provide support to a family member or a friend with a disability also experience poor health outcomes. According to the American Psychological Association, family caregivers experience significant negative emotional and physical health effects with higher mortality rates than non-caregivers.  Over half (53%) of caregivers indicate that a decline in their health compromises their ability to provide care in addition to experiencing economic hardships through lost wages and additional medical expenses.  Family members of people with disabilities who become caretakers experience stress, elevated levels of depression and anxiety, higher use of psychoactive medications, worse self-reported physical health, compromised immune function, and increased risk of early death. 

What We Are Looking For

On this track, strong applicants will be able to demonstrate some or all of these key characteristics:

  • Work to maximize health outcomes, prevent instances of chronic disease and improve social and environmental living conditions for people with disabilities and their families
  • Provide support and respite for caregivers
  • Encourage people with disabilities and their families to participate in physical activity and build healthy habits
  • Offer health services for people with acquired physical disabilities, including veterans
  • Work with individuals who are typically underserved by the resources listed above, including low-income individuals, immigrants, and people of color, which is of particular interest on this track

Learn more about how to nominate an organization or to apply for your organization on our application page. Find more information in our 2020 Applicant Guide.