Communities are powered by the people who live and work in them. Improving the well-being and quality of life of our citizens is dependent upon utilizing the tools and resources we have to provide solutions. As one of the largest and most vibrant industries in Indianapolis, the tech community is also one of our biggest assets. It’s important for tech leaders to be engaged in order to find innovative ways to address challenges we face as a society.

Did You Know? (By the Numbers):

  • There are 237,000 households living in poverty or one crisis away from poverty in Marion County.
  • One of the most prominent challenges facing the Indianapolis community today is combating generational poverty.
  • The top 20 occupations in Indiana in terms of total employment are primarily “maintainer jobs,Z” jobs that don’t pay enough to support a family of four (defined as a minimum of $26.42/hour.)
  • 65% of the households living in poverty are making less than $20 an hour, and two-thirds of those people are making less than $15 an hour.
  • Quality of life is simply not sustainable at that standard.

In an effort to address the needs and quality of life of every family in central Indiana, the United Way of Central Indiana (UWCI) has created the Social Innovation Fund to “incubate new ideas, enhance technology, and expand small-scale programs to improve lives in central Indiana.” The fund also seeks to bring together people—tech leaders, academics, policymakers, businesses and social service agencies—who can use their knowledge to create innovative solutions to addressing this challenge.

More than 150 tech leaders gathered at the Vogue last week for the “Tech Loves Indy” event to learn about the Social Innovation Fund. UWCI was joined by emcee Matt Hunckler of Powderkeg, who helped introduce the Fund and its purpose to the crowd, along with DJ Godzillest who kept the energy high and entertained.

Representatives from two of the first 14 Social Innovation Fund recipients, the Kheprw Institute and Crossroads Education presented on their initiatives to demonstrate how the fund will make an impact on our city. Inhotep Adisa of Kheprw Institute shared how the fund and his organization will help further support entrepreneurs in the community by building community wealth, not just monetary capital but also cultural, social, and creative capital. Kevin Berkopes of Crossroads Education similarly shared that investment in the community will help provide resources for low resource areas so students can get an equitable education, helping develop the next generation of leaders.

“We’re in a unique position both to help serve and support people as well as find solutions to solve poverty,” said Alan Bacon, Senior Director of the Social Innovation Fund. “To fight poverty at its core, we have changed how we think; we are thinking like a startup. This fund is our response to the challenges we face, and we’re thinking about how we can use innovative ways to combat poverty from a different lens.”

Shelly Towns, Jeb Banner and Lauren Petersen pose for a photo before the Tech Loves Indy Social Innovation Fun event at The Vogue in Broad Ripple.

Voices from the Community

Shelly Towns, Chief Administrative Officer, OurHealth
Shelly Towns, Chief Administrative Officer at OurHealth and long-time board member of UWCI, noted the changes she’s personally seen in how UWCI is addressing this challenge with the community. “The United Way of Central Indiana has worked hard to reset the understanding of who the United Way is, and they have changed the model of how they get funded and how they fund,” said Shelly. “The agility, creativity, and innovation of this group will make your hair stand up. They have strong leadership and are here to demonstrate how they’ll make an impact, not just tell.”

Jeb Banner, CEO, Boardable
“The tech scene hasn’t been involved, but we want to get you involved,” said Jeb Banner, CEO of Boardable and UWCI board member. “I’m confident the merging of central Indiana’s entrepreneurial spirit with previously untapped technologies from our industry will ensure that as a community we are working together to not only serve those in poverty, but are also actively working to decode and dismantle the problems that create or sustain poverty in the first place.”

Lauren Peterson, Senior Director of Relationship Management, TechPoint
“It was a delight working with TechPoint board members, and fellow United Way of Central Indiana board members, Shelly Towns and Jeb Banner to spearhead this initiative,” says Lauren Peterson, Senior Director of Relationship Management. “Our goal was to unite 150 brilliant problem-solvers and leaders in our tech community and introduce them to the Social Innovation Fund with a goal of reaching new 30 companies. This event was a big moment for our community as we celebrated local, social entrepreneurs and invited the tech ecosystem to help support and fuel new solutions to generational poverty by seeding the next round of funding. I was motivated and excited by the resounding ‘I had no idea’ comments from attendees and look forward to seeing how we as a tech community continue to show up for causes such as this.”

All corporate gifts made here will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the Eli Lilly & Company Foundation. If you’d like to make a personal investment in the Social Innovation Fund, you can do so here. Or if you’re looking to get more involved and advocate, reach out to UWCI to learn more.