In the summer of 2012, I joined the Social Innovation Forum (SIF) team as a summer intern. Like many summer interns before and after me, I was tasked with learning about different social issues in greater Boston, conducting research and outreach to local nonprofit organizations tackling those social issues, and helping those groups to learn about SIF’s Social Innovator Accelerator program. I researched hundreds of organizations and helped many through the first round application process.
Going back to Boston College that fall, I was already hooked on SIF’s model, impressed by its staff, and especially in awe of the different nonprofit leaders that I had gotten to know. I was thrilled when the team allowed me to continue to work part-time my senior year and my passion for SIF’s work continued to grow as well.
Still, I could not have imagined that I would spend the next seven years on the Social Innovation Forum team continuing to be educated, energized, and inspired every single day by the incredible nonprofit leaders, funders, partners, and volunteers in our community.
My time at the Social Innovation Forum has been filled with tremendous growth and change both for the organization and for me as a young professional. During my years with SIF, we have spun-off from our parent organization, gone through a rebranding process, moved three times, launched new programs, acquired another nonprofit, and nearly tripled our staff and our budget. All of this exciting growth for the organization provided me with a (seemingly endless!) array of opportunities and responsibilities that have allowed me to stretch, evolve, and be challenged.
One of these opportunities that I am particularly grateful for came in 2016 when SIF’s Executive Director, Susan Musinsky, and I were approached by Professor Mary Cronin at Boston College to contribute a chapter to a book she was co-editing with Tiziana Dearing, titled Managing for Social Impact, which was meant to give a practitioner’s view of social innovation and social enterprise in greater Boston. Through the writing process, I spent hours with Susan unraveling the threads of SIF’s model and closely examining what makes it distinctive and effective. In the end, we landed with a framework that captured the strategy and the spirit behind our work: the “marketplace approach.” Though I have to admit that the phrase didn’t catch on with everyone at first, it went on to deeply affect the way that I viewed SIF’s work and it is now our go-to framing for what makes our community so special.
By taking a marketplace approach, SIF creates a space where “market-goers” (nonprofits, funders, volunteers, and others) can come together to exchange resources, knowledge, connections, and expertise in order to leverage their respective strengths towards long-lasting social change. Our special sauce, as we saw it, was that in the SIF marketplace, it was not that funders or volunteers were seen as givers and nonprofits as receivers. Rather, in every interaction, there was a mutual benefit of learnings shared, connections made, and welcome extended to join a community committed to positive social change.
I believe that one of SIF’s board members put it best when he said, “SIF puts up a big tent in the middle of the town square and people come - some to buy bread, some to share news, and others just to dance.” It’s not that every interaction in the marketplace is transactional, but when it is, it is often the person seen as traditionally “giving” that actually receives so much more.
And true to the marketplace model, it is perfectly clear to me that while I have shown up at work each day committed to giving my all to support some of Boston’s most innovative, effective nonprofit organizations and the funders, volunteers, and other supporters that are part of the SIF community, I have in fact received so much more in return. I have been graciously welcomed into the inner workings of our Social Innovators’ organizations and have learned about different social issues, communities, cultures, and views of the world. I have worked alongside incredibly thoughtful funders and have seen best practices in action when it comes to being a true partner to grantees. I have received unbounded encouragement and growth opportunities from the talented and generous SIF team and have soaked in leadership lessons from those I’ve been lucky to call my colleagues and mentors. I have received more introductions and have had more informational coffees than anyone could hope for, and I have been grateful for each relationship that has expanded my network and continued my education about the social sector. (And as if that wasn’t enough, I even have the SIF Accelerator program to thank for introducing me to my fiancé!)
As I wrap up my time at the Social Innovation Forum and embark on a new chapter, joining the team of a local family foundation and focusing on work to ensure a healthy democracy, I carry with me all of the leaders, lessons, and connections of the past seven years. To all of my Social Innovators, applicants, funders, partners, volunteers, supporters, colleagues, and friends at SIF - thank you for allowing me the privilege of supporting your work. My time working with you has shaped me and has instilled in me the commitment to always learn, question, share resources, and make room for others. Though I am leaving my formal role at SIF, know that you can always find me in the marketplace ready to give and knowing that I will continue to receive so much more.
About the Author
Anna Trieschmann started as a summer intern at the Social Innovation Forum in 2012. Over her seven-year tenure, she did just about every job possible at a small, entrepreneurial nonprofit. In her most recent role of Associate Director of Community Engagement and New Initiatives, Anna engaged volunteers, funders, and in-kind partners in SIF’s work, while developing and testing new types of programming for nonprofits and supporters alike. In May 2019, she said a bittersweet farewell to SIF to pursue an exciting new opportunity as a program officer at a family foundation.