Audacious isn’t usually a word people associate with fighting poverty. Overwhelming, destructive, heartbreaking … these are the familiar words we hear when discussing the root of many of society’s most challenging obstacles. It’s not, however, impossible to put a different lens on fighting poverty and see the fight as an opportunity to innovate—to tackle a problem differently and solve it for good, or better than ever before.

That’s the idea at the heart of the United Way of Central Indiana’s Social Innovation Fund. Through this fund, UWCI is actively seeking opportunities to invest in innovative ideas and solutions coming from policymakers, academics, businesses and social service agencies that are going to have to work together to solve the lasting, systemic problems poverty creates for our communities. Very often, technology is a critical part of innovating in the fight against poverty, which is why TechPoint and many other tech-related companies and organizations are joining forces to support the UWCI’s efforts.

“With the Social Innovation Fund, we’re seeing what types of programs we can create and implement within the community to help galvanize support around innovation and really push the envelope and be more audacious when it comes to our approach fighting poverty,” said Alan Bacon, senior director of the Social Innovation Fund at United Way of Central Indiana. “We’re going to be more expansive in our approach overall. It’s not just about the fund, but it’s about an entire social innovation strategy within the nonprofit sector.”

Last year, that approach included $750,000 in unrestricted funding to 14 community-based organizations. This year, that amount will increase to $1 million. With the day-to-day intensity of serving those in poverty, little time and resources are left for those fighting poverty to test innovative approaches that could expand services to more people in need. These grants from the Social Innovation Fund provide much-needed runway for social services organizations and entrepreneurs to try new things without sacrificing everything they have already achieved, or rolling backwards with their long-term, successful outcomes.

Flanner House, for example, is a social services agency located less than three miles from Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis. It’s an urban farm and food coop that also operates a bodega, cafe and orchard serving low-income families and combating food insecurity. As a UWCI Social Innovation Fund recipient, Flanner House invested in an aeroponics operation that eliminated the need for soil and quadrupled the organization’s food production.

“Just by applying that technology and the new techniques to help with their food production, Flanner House is now having four times the impact they were before,” Alan said. “And it couldn’t have come during a greater time of need because everything has been exasperated by the COVID-19 pandemic, including food insecurity.

Social Innovation Fund Senior Director Alan Bacon introduces the crowd to the inaugural class of grant recipients during the “Tech Loves Indy” event in January.

“Flanner House would have still been able to serve people. It’s what they do. But without that investment from the Social Innovation Fund, without that innovative idea they implemented, they wouldn’t have been able to serve as many with as much during this difficult time.”

Alan explained that many social services agencies have had to quickly shift gears to continue reaching the people who need them most due to the restrictions and new obstacles caused by COVID-19.

“Seeing this community rally and work together to help one another and help those affected by poverty is very encouraging, especially facing unprecedented challenges,” Alan said. “We’re seeing nonprofits pivot, in some cases overnight, in order to totally overhaul their entire strategy to fit a new and very specific and niche caused by the pandemic.”

With continued support and funding from the Social Innovation Fund, as well as the Basic Needs and Family Opportunity Funds of the United Way of Central Indiana, the approach to the fight against poverty has never been stronger or more tailored to meet the needs of our community.

“We’ve seen a lot of emphasis on the essential workers like our healthcare heroes and they are very deserving of recognition for their service and sacrifice,” Alan said. “There are also essential workers continuing to show up every day for the nonprofit space. These individuals are helping people who are suffering from things like a lack of food access, transportation and housing access, and mental health services that are so needed on the front lines. Our community based organizations have really stepped up and I can’t say enough about the impact they are having in the fight against poverty.”

You and your company can take this exciting opportunity to invest in new solutions to accelerate positive change in our community. Join a network of passionate, forward-thinking individuals and organizations committed to incubating new ideas, enhancing technology and expanding small-scale programs to improve lives right here in Central Indiana. Donate to the Social Innovation Fund today!