2020-2021 Social Issue Tracks and Sponsoring Partners

For our 2020-2021 Social Innovator Accelerator, we will select one nonprofit Social Innovator for each of our six social issue tracks. 

Track Partner: Wellington Management Foundation 

In the U.S., first and second-generation immigrant children represent a significant and growing portion of the population. This group faces unique challenges but is often disconnected from social services and other supports.  In 2018, 26% of children in the U.S. were living with at least one immigrant parent, up from 19% in 2000.  Here in Massachusetts, we have seen the fifth-highest absolute growth of children living with immigrant parents during that time frame.   In fact, 2019 data shows that half of Bostonians and one-third of Massachusetts residents are first-generation immigrants (themselves foreign-born) or second-generation immigrants (have at least one parent who is foreign-born).   Although immigrant families represent a significant portion of the labor force, they experience lower rates of both private and public health insurance and higher rates of poverty than non-immigrants, with nearly half of all U.S. children of immigrants living in low-income families.   Additionally, first and second-generation immigrant children must contend with unique stressors, including the loss of previously existing social supports, the need to learn a new language, and the challenges of navigating unfamiliar systems to access services.   Immigrant families often experience trauma, such as from fleeing unsafe conditions in their home countries or being separated from family members during the immigration process.  Children in these families face the increased challenge of coping with these traumas all while negotiating new roles in a new cultural context.  Many schools and programs are ill-equipped to meet the needs of the immigrant families. They don’t offer family liaisons and other necessary social services, lack support of multicultural identities, don’t provide appropriate teacher training, and place too much focus on standardized testing. Ensuring positive educational and career trajectories for these young people requires increasing their access to high-quality trauma-informed and culturally affirming programming. 

What We Are Looking For

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

  • Provide trauma-informed and culturally affirming programming to first and second-generation immigrant youth, up to age 26, through school-day, out-of-school, and/or summer programs.  
  • Promote academic success, social-emotional learning, and/or college and career exploration. Program practices may include family engagement, project-based or experiential learning, civic engagement, job readiness, financial literacy, college preparation and completion support, engagement of Opportunity Youth (who are not engaged in school or work), and more.
  • Organizations working in Gateway Cities are particularly encouraged to apply.

Track Partner: Boston Open Impact 

Over its 17-year history, the Social Innovation Forum (SIF) has focused on a wide range of individual tracks targeting specific social issues. While this approach has allowed the Social Innovation Forum to build a diverse portfolio of over a hundred of Social Innovators, many innovative and effective organizations could not apply to the Social Innovation Forum because their work did not align with SIF’s social issue tracks in a given year. 

The local nonprofit sector is constantly evolving as new organizations are established 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, such as the deliberate focus on their missions, ability to quickly and efficiently pivot and adjust to the new or changing conditions, commitment to financial sustainability, diligence about collecting and using performance data to improve their work, capacity to mobilize and inspire staff, volunteers, and supporters. 

These best practices hold true across a wide range of organizations – and across different neighborhoods, social issues, and stages of organizational development. Over the last five years, Boston Open Impact has supported organizations focused on such social issues as opioid use disorder, immigration, youth development, mental health, and civic engagement. Members of the Boston Open Impact funders group continue to be interested in the aforementioned topics but are also always open to learning about and supporting new and important social issue areas. 

What We Are Looking For

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

  • Improve conditions and expand opportunities for residents of greater Boston
  • Aspire to achieve systems change and minimize the need for future intervention
  • Strive to expand, replicate, or otherwise increase their social impact
  • Focus on collecting and analyzing performance data to continuously improve their initiatives
  • Include members of the target communities or population in the decision-making processes   

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: Wagner Foundation 

The United States is home to 4.3% of the world’s population,  yet has more than 20% of the world’s prison population. As a result, the U.S. leads the world in total imprisonments.   Over the last fifty years, America’s prison population, which now stands at 2.3 million people,  rose by 700%  due, in part, to various “War on Drugs” laws that led to a substantial increase in the number of incarcerations, particularly among minority groups.  In fact, people of color make up 37% of the U.S. population and 67% of the prison population today.  

In Massachusetts, there are currently 8,325 men and women in prison.   Although the incarceration rate is decreasing from previous years, nearly 32% of Massachusetts’ 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 better support and much greater access to programs that help with re-entry after prison. The Council for State Governments says, “Studies show that implementing evidence-based programs and practices can reduce re-offense rates by 10 to 20 percent.”  Unfortunately, critical services such as training classes, counseling, and substance abuse treatment are not always available or accessible to those who need them. Additionally, creating a sense of belonging and self-esteem for those released from incarceration is critically important as they re-enter family and community life. 

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 hardships of re-entry and can demonstrate the ability to improve social, emotional, and economic health for individuals coming out of incarceration by placing wellbeing at the center and minimizing unnecessary tradeoffs.
  • Provide support, training, and a sense of belonging for former inmates.
  • Work in collaboration with those impacted by recidivism. 
  • Support criminal justice reform and other systemic changes that lead to all individuals realizing their full potential.
  • Strive to raise awareness that will reduce the stigma of former inmates and breakdown systematic barriers impressed upon them.
  • Offer support in expanding economic opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals through job training, employment placement, mentorship, etc.
  • Organizations or programs that work both within and outside jail and prison settings are welcome to apply.

Track Partner: The Beker Foundation 

Recent worldwide protests against systemic racism have brought the issues of race, privilege, bias, and injustice to the forefront of everyone’s minds. Angela Davis wrote, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist.” This important shift in mindset is beginning to permeate our collective consciousness and is leading both individuals and institutions to deepen their engagement in actively working to end discriminatory policies and behaviors.
Boston’s history of structural racial disparities has caused and continues to cause real and lasting damage. Boston has been among the most racially segregated US metro cities;  and research has suggested that segregation promotes poverty, which leads to worse educational outcomes. According to “The Color of Wealth in Boston” report conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Duke University, and the New School in 2015 the median net worth for non-immigrant, Black households in the greater Boston region was $8.  In addition, educational opportunity gaps remain a barrier in Boston, where the enrollment of Black students in Greater Boston’s universities was less than 7% in 2015, 4% less than the national average for Black enrollment.  In 2018, a report found that while Black and Latino students make up 75% of the Boston Public School population, they are severely underrepresented in the city’s exam schools.  
While structural changes are necessary to end racial discrimination, individual biases, unconscious or otherwise, are also barriers to equity and cohesive communities. These too must  be actively dismantled.  For this track, the Social Innovation Forum seeks organizations or programs that work to bridge divides in greater Boston, promote tolerance, understanding, and acceptance, and whose work could lead to strong partnerships both within and across communities to address discrimination.

What We Are Looking For

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

  • Approach this work in a thoughtful, intentional, and intersectional way
  • Work to actively challenge bias, stereotyping, and all forms of discrimination in greater Boston
  • Promote education and interaction between people of different backgrounds, ages, and communities
  • Exhibit a history of collaboration with other organizations 
  • Focus on disintegration of constructed barriers in communities

Track Partner: Civic Engagement Funder Collaborative 

Civic engagement is at the heart of a vibrant and healthy democracy. The benefits of civic engagement are felt on both the individual and community levels. Individuals who are more civically engaged develop a sense of purpose, expand their social networks, and build social capital.  When people develop and use the knowledge and skills of civic engagement to make effective change, they improve conditions that lead to greater wellbeing on the community level.  Civic engagement initiatives can support these positive outcomes by building the social capital and skills of community leaders, promoting civic knowledge about access to public institutions, and increasing trust in government and civil society.  

While civic engagement is a powerful method of making social change, underrepresentation, lack of resources, and distrust of government are among factors that lead to unequal opportunity to participate in civic activities.  The lack of foundational knowledge of how public institutions work poses another significant barrier to civic engagement. A 2015 survey of Massachusetts district superintendents found that 59.5% rated the level of civic learning in their districts as “insufficient” and 65% reported offering only “few/limited” or “occasional” opportunities for civic learning.   Voting patterns In Massachusetts reflect unequal participation in civic life, with many communities leaving their power on the table. For example, people of color account for 19% of all eligible voters but only cast 10% of all ballots in the 2018 general election.   

What We Are Looking For

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

  • Build a foundation for civic engagement through education on local issues and government, promotion of media literacy, and effective strategies of engagement with public institutions.
  • Increase confidence in the value of civic engagement, including awareness that community members matter and can affect change.
  • Provide training, tools, and leadership opportunities for effective civic engagement to bring about positive change in their communities.
  • Advance racial and economic equity by empowering communities of color and low-income communities.
  • Pursue strategies that promote trust within communities, engaging a variety of community members, and employ a multigenerational approach.
  • Develop strategies that are replicable in a variety of community settings.

Track Partner: Liberty Mutual Foundation 

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered the realities of day-to-day life. With limited and restricted opportunities for in-person interaction, much of the world has seen an increased reliance on technology and remote connection. Schools transitioned from in-person classrooms to remote learning environments within short time spans in early 2020, leaving educators and students scrambling to adapt to the new settings. The pandemic has also reinforced the inequities of our society, both for school districts and families. Many schools have not had the resources to quickly and effectively transition to online platforms, provide appropriate training for the educators, and ensure that students and families had access to educational materials. In addition, the COVID-19 outbreak has had a similarly significant impact on the after school and other youth-serving programs that were left with no students to serve in person and no physical spaces to operate out of. Organizations providing workforce development programs have had to pivot as well due to the pandemic in order to continue to provide learning opportunities to employees directly related to their work, productivity, and engagement in a way that meets remote expectations. 

There is much uncertainty about the future, but investing in a modern, more flexible way of learning and connecting can ease that uncertainty. For this track, the Social Innovation Forum seeks organizations with education-oriented missions working to provide and improve remote learning opportunities for either in-school or out-of-school programs, along with those focused on workforce development. 

What We Are Looking For

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

  • Provide online learning opportunities along a continuum that range from early education to career training to students and young adults through the age of 24
  • Exhibit adaptability in technology and curriculum
  • Ensure equitable access to education for all students
  • Provide training and assistance to other organizations that offer remote learning
  • 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. Find more information in our 2020 Applicant Guide.