I felt so lucky recently to bring a group of Social Innovation Forum (SIF) funders and supporters on an “Impact in Action” site visit experience to two of our past Social Innovators. As many of you know, SIF vets, selects, supports, and then showcases effective nonprofits, helping them to increase their impact and grow their work. Our SIF staff team sees the results of our work pretty often as we stay connected to our portfolio throughout the years following, but it's rare – even for us – to take a weekday out of the office and feel the effects of the change work up close. What follows are some highlights from our visits.
8:00 am Workout at InnerCity Weightlifting, Cambridge
The day got off to an early start with a workout at InnerCity Weightlifting (ICW), a 2012 Social Innovator. ICW Students "T" and "A" were our trainers, and though it was 8:00 am, they were making us work: two-minute planks, hand weights and kettle bells, and at the end, even some ropes. We were mixed in with a range of trainers, others working out, and the buzz of a busy gym before a typical work day.
It's about social capital and the way that the network moves everyone forward.
Following the workout, ICW Executive Director Jon Feinman told us of SIF's belief in ICW in the early days and what the support has meant both him to others around town. Because of SIF other funders had the confidence to add their support, and as Jon said, SIF has been there beside him all the way. He especially credited the way that SIF models and builds community and is so inclusive, and that has been a cornerstone that he has used with his youth to do the same. It's about social capital and the way that the network moves everyone forward.
T spoke to us about his challenges in the world and early in his life and how trouble kept finding him. He spoke of Jon and ICW and how Jon just kept coming into his circles saying that the gym was there and they'd love to see him. T said he'd never had someone to support him and look out for him, and he slowly began to realize that ICW could be a real support in his life. Fast forward four years: T now has a full-time paying job at ICW and has figured out how to keep his life going in a new direction. He knows his choices, and feels grateful for all that the organization has helped him to do to get on a new path.
11:00 am Cooking Lesson and Lunch at Future Chefs, Boston
From ICW we journeyed across the river to Boston to find Future Chefs, a 2011 Innovator, in their current Albany Street location, where Founder and Executive Director Toni Elka and her team greeted us with aprons and smiles. We washed up and formed cooking teams – a few people cutting chicken; a few whipping cream; some de-seeding pomegranates; and others creating sauces. The kitchen was hopping with youth who were teaching our team the best ways to hold the knives, the tricks of whipping fresh cream, and how to roll polenta in boiled collard green leaves. The smells were terrific, and the teamwork helped us to produce a delicious three course lunch.
Over lunch at long table with staff, students, and visitors all, we heard about the early challenges of Future Chefs, the important work the organization did with SIF in 2011, and the growth that they have enjoyed over the past five years. Toni spoke of drawing on her work with SIF when she’s been “stuck” in her leadership, and how she has enjoyed the opportunity to be a part of a vibrant larger community working throughout greater Boston on social change.
We hope that we have planted new seeds for impact, and that down the road these seeds will bloom into new opportunities and connections for many in our portfolio organizations.
The Value of Interactive Site Visits
Our visitors had a chance on this interactive day to sit side-by-side with program participants, staff, and organizational leaders; to observe; to participate; and to ask questions in a way that was unique. Our guests have emailed to tell us how unusual the visits were and how appreciative they were to have that level of connection to the on-the-ground work of these organizations. We hope that we have planted new seeds for impact, and that down the road these seeds will bloom into new opportunities and connections for many in our portfolio organizations.
SIF hopes to do more of these Impact in Action days in the future, and we hope that we can show more community stakeholders the strengths of our Innovators and the tremendous passion that so many have for creating real impact and change.