Notes from a Social Innovator Consultant

An insider’s perspective on a role that is part researcher, part speechwriter, part number cruncher, part cheerleader, and more.
  • By Wendy Swart Grossman
  • Published on June 08, 2018
Wendy at 2016 Showcase
Wendy Swart Grossman and Innovator Tina Chéry at 2016 Social Innovator Showcase

Each year the Social Innovation Forum pairs the leader of each Social Innovator organization with a consultant to work one-on-one during the first six months of the Social Innovator Accelerator. Guest blogger and longtime SIF consultant Wendy Swart Grossman shares her perspective on the joys and challenges of this unique role.

I visualize the Social Innovation Forum’s (SIF) Social Innovators walking around with big sacks slung over their backs. Inside the sacks are their organizational stories, as well as their individual skills and tricks they have accumulated throughout their professional and personal lives. As one of eight SIF Consultants assigned a different Innovator each year, I am in the trusted position of digging through the sack with the Innovator and together deciding to get rid of the sticky old candy bar wrappers, acknowledge the shiny-but-useless-pennies, and polish and organize the treasure trove of precious gems.

The process begins in December when – through SIF’s own magical rendition of OKCupid.com – SIF matches me with an Innovator. My deliverables and timeline are clean, clear, and concise: a five-minute engaging presentation with a stellar slide deck and a four-page prospectus all to be revealed at the Social Innovator Showcase in May.

In January I start mapping out where the Innovator and their organization fit within their community as well as within the greater society. Through a series of well-defined one-on-one meetings, we pull back the layers of needs and opportunities, their programs, and their hopes and dreams. During this intense process we gain understanding and trust in each other. I rely on the skills and tricks in my own sack that I have accumulated over the years working with a plethora of other nonprofits, political campaigns, and social impact organizations to help push the Innovator and their organization forward. Simultaneously, I dive into the research in search of meaningful data points that will quantify the measurable social impact of the organization over time. Together, we use our combined skills and senses to define the Innovators unique edge on the social issue they are addressing.  

Wendy and Charles Daniels, Fathers' Uplift
Wendy and 2018 Social Innovator Charles Daniels of Fathers' UpLift

Supported by a team that includes graphic designers, presentation coaches and advisors, along with the sage SIF staff, my role is part sociologist, researcher, speechwriter, number cruncher, cheerleader, political strategist, marketer, conductor, and fashion advisor. If done correctly, I guide the Innovator in telling their story in an engaging, visually compelling, and impactful way that motivates the 350 people gathered at the May Showcase.  Ideally, the audience will be inspired to invest the time, tools, and treasures they have in their own sacks with my Innovator.

I have been in this role for five years and each year the brilliance, leadership, and perseverance of the Innovator SIF matches me with blow me away. I welcome the deep dive into a different subject area and relish the intense and respectful relationship I forge with the Innovator. But mostly, I am just thrilled to put to use the skills in my own sack to support the Innovator on their journey as, collectively, we take these small steps towards making our shared world a little more just.  

Wendy Swart Grossman has worked as a Consultant with the following Social Innovators: Veterans Legal Services, Transformative Culture Project, LDB Peace Institute, Project Citizenship, and Fathers’ UpLift. She is a nonprofit and foundation consultant as well as an Adjunct Lecturer in Cultural Entrepreneurship, Creative Economies, and Social Impact at Boston University, College of Fine Arts and the Metropolitan Colleges’ Arts Administration Program.