At a special event coming up on Wednesday, Feb. 19, the United Way of Central Indiana (UWCI) with guest host Matt Hunckler will offer the community a look inside UWCIs new Social Innovation Fund and a chance to hear from some of the fund’s first 14 grant recipients. The event—Tech Loves Indy—will be held at The Vogue nightclub in Broad Ripple.

Register now to attend Tech Loves Indy.

The Social Innovation Fund encourages community-based organizations to propose new ideas and scale successful programs that could lead to better possibilities for thousands of individuals and families who are living in or one step away from poverty. The Fund specifically targets initiatives that can accelerate positive outcomes for individuals needing safe and affordable housing; access to healthy food, transportation or education; pathways to better-paying jobs; and improved physical, mental and behavioral health.

United Way’s 12-member Social Innovation Fund workgroup of staff, board and community volunteers received 80 letters of interest from a highly diverse and broad mix of United Way accredited and non-accredited community-based organizations. From those letters of interest, 34 organizations were formally invited to participate, and 14 proposals were approved for unrestricted funding totaling $750,000. Each grant ranged from $10,000-$75,000 per organization. See a full list of the first 14 grant recipients here.

Alan Bacon
Senior Director of the Social Innovation Fund at United Way
“The human services sector is ripe for innovation. Community-based organizations work tirelessly to serve families and individuals in need, which hasn’t allowed enough time or resources to create or scale programs that could make a greater and faster impact. That’s where United Way’s Social Innovation Fund comes in—making innovation a priority and sourcing for initiatives that may not have gotten a chance to scale operations before this opportunity.”

TechPoint reached out to Alan Bacon to learn more about social innovation, how it’s different from other approaches to ending poverty, and why this disruptive new fund is the new frontier in the ongoing poverty battle.

What exactly is Social Innovation?

Social Innovation is the process of developing, deploying, and accelerating effective solutions to challenging and systemic social and environmental issues in support of social and economic upward mobility.

How is Social Innovation different from what United Way does out in the community every day?

Social innovation focuses on forward thinking and seeking out new ideas and concepts. The strategy compliments and supports the overall community efforts and outcomes we aim to achieve every day. We look for this strategy to help accelerate those efforts, infusing more technology and advancement in how we approach fighting poverty in central Indiana.

What kind of results do you expect to see from these first grant recipients?

We expect to see a healthy amount of successes and failures. We understand when you are seeding and incubating new ideas that all strategies may not work or increase efficiency: however, we do anticipate several new strategies and ideas making a significant impact in the community. We are very excited about this first cohort of ideas we are supporting and deploying.

Are there specific aspects of Social Innovation that make it especially suited to combating poverty in the long run?

There are two types of social innovation: sustainable and disruptive. Whereas sustainable innovation improves existing products, disruptive innovation significantly alters the ideology and functionality to an approach or existing solution. Both are necessary to achieve long term sustainable outcomes to combat poverty.

How do you expect this concept to impact philanthropy in general in the future?

This strategy is progressive, and very similar to a startup in the tech sector. It’s understanding that as we face new and different challenges in the community that we must evolve our solutions at a pace to keep up with those challenges. This should impact philanthropy in a positive way due to having a response to the ever-changing needs of our residents in Central Indiana.

What else do you want to share with the TechPoint subscribers/readers?

This new strategy and approach opened doors for more community engagement and volunteerism. The Social Innovation Fund convened a diverse group of leaders across all sectors to help weigh impact and decide what ideas should be funded.

Amongst the work group members were tech community insiders, who were able to bring a rich tech perspective to the conversation. United Way values community input and the Social Innovation Fund workgroup is just one of the many ways we are being inclusive and intentional in that regard.

Interested individuals can get connected to the people and companies involved in the work of the Social Innovation Fund, as well as other areas that help to address poverty in Central Indiana, by attending Tech Loves Indy on Feb. 19, as well as ELEVATE on Feb. 29, presented by GEICO. Elevate is a young professional’s gala that recognizes the community leaders, activists, and philanthropists across six counties in various areas ranging from board leadership to volunteerism. Purchase tickets or visit the official website for more information.