Social Innovation Forum

Register for the 2014 Showcase

Explore Current Social Issue Tracks


Sponsoring Partner: Boston Open Impact

Over its 10-year history, the Social Innovation Forum has worked across a variety of social issue areas by focusing individual tracks on specific social issues. While this approach has allowed the Social Innovation Forum to build a diverse portfolio of nearly 60 Social Innovators, many innovative, effective organizations have not had the opportunity to apply to the Social Innovation Forum because they do not fit with any of our social issue tracks in a given year. This “Anything Goes” track is specifically open to tap into Boston’s robust nonprofit landscape and to provide an opportunity for any organization that meets SIF’s eligibility requirements to apply to become a Social Innovator.

The local nonprofit sector is constantly evolving as new organizations crop up and existing organizations expand and improve their work. The Massachusetts Nonprofit Database shows a 45 percent increase in the number of Massachusetts public charities from 1999 to 2009. A 2012 report from the Boston Foundation counted 34,366 registered 501(c)(3) organizations in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that provide employment for 16.7 percent of Boston’s workforce. While there are countless models for social impact, today’s most effective organizations have several key characteristics in common. High-performing organizations are laser-focused on their missions, committed to financial sustainability, and diligent about collecting and using performance data to continuously improve their work. These best practices hold true across a wide range of organizations—and across different neighborhoods, social issues, and stages of organizational development. For this track, the Social Innovation Forum seeks nonprofit programs and organizations that possess the characteristics mentioned above and are improving conditions and expanding opportunities for residents of Greater Boston. The Social Innovation Forum will heavily favor applicants that are poised for growth and can articulate concrete and well-reasoned plans to expand, replicate, or otherwise increase their social impact.

Note: The open track is intended for programs and organizations that do not fit any of this year’s other social issue tracks. Organizations that apply for other social issue tracks will automatically be considered for the open track.


Sponsoring Partner: Bank of America Charitable Gift Fund - General Fund

Numerous tragic and violent events across the United States have prompted a recent upswell in the national discourse about mental health services. Researchers have identified a range of barriers to sufficient mental health care including financial cost, stigma, and uncertainty related to seeking mental health services, lack of linguistic and/or cultural competency, and a lack of geographic proximity to mental health professionals. In fact, as many as 89.5 million Americans live in federally designated Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas where mental health care is elusive and often unattainable. Despite Greater Boston’s robust medical infrastructure, access to mental health care varies widely; and members of low-income communities, young and old, frequently find themselves unable to get the care they need. Children and teens face a unique set of challenges related to accessing mental health services. Almost two-thirds of teens with a lifetime mental disorder fail to get professional help, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

In recent years, cutbacks in public funding for mental health care in Massachusetts have further exacerbated this problem. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the general mental health fund in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts decreased by $63.5 million between 2009 and 2010, limiting the state’s capacity to meet the mental health needs of local residents. While mental health solutions are often highly individualized, some established best practices include providing employment opportunities for those with mental illness, offering mental health services at schools and in the workplace (e.g., on-site counseling, stress relieving activities, and referrals to psychological services), co-treating related and/or underlying issues (e.g., trauma as a result of violence or abuse), and conducting advocacy for those seeking mental health care (e.g., accessing medication, navigating social benefits, and finding practitioners). For this track, the Social Innovation Forum is seeking nonprofit programs and organizations that utilize best practices to expand access to mental health treatment and preventive care, dispel the stigma associated with mental illness, and help those affected by mental illness lead independent, healthy, and productive lives. This track is open to programs and organizations working in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and/or Vermont.


Sponsoring Partner: Highland Street Foundation

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, over 350,000 veterans currently reside in Massachusetts. While veterans are eligible for both federal and state-level public benefits, these interventions are often inadequate in addressing some of the toughest obstacles facing this population. The transition from a combat environment back to civilian life is seldom facile; issues such as unemployment, physical disability, and mental health challenges are often exacerbated within the veteran population. In 2012, the national unemployment rate was 7.6 percent compared to 9 percent for male veterans and 12.6 percent for female veterans. In addition to bleak employment prospects, veterans often face insufficient access to mental health services upon their return from deployment. Furthermore, veteran suicide rates have reached epidemic levels; a veteran commits suicide every 69 minutes. This startling statistic translates to 25 veteran suicides per one active duty member killed by enemy combatants. For this track, the Social Innovation Forum seeks programs and organizations that utilize innovative approaches to help veterans make successful transitions back into civilian life. Strategies may include providing access to gainful employment, vocational training, mental health and disability services, and support for veterans’ families, who often share the struggles of those who have served.


Sponsoring Partner: The Devonshire Foundation

Although the field of impact investing is still being defined, it is clear that the market for impact investments is significant. Impact entrepreneurs with sustainable enterprises are actively seeking ways to access the capital they need to grow and achieve profitability and scale. Investors and philanthropists have articulated interest in channeling capital to build and support social enterprises, and are looking for opportunities to invest. A recent study estimates that individual investors represent about $120 billion in market opportunity for impact investing. Yet, as impact investing is in its early stages, mechanisms for investments that generate positive social impact as well as some level of financial return are not fully developed, and a significant gap exists between social enterprises seeking capital and investors who are looking to support these enterprises through investment. For this track, the Social Innovation Forum is focused on addressing this gap by expanding access to capital for social enterprises—connecting organizations to the capital they need to grow and address social issues. The Social Innovation Forum is seeking applicants with nonprofit, for-profit, or hybrid organizational structures that are working to address a social issue through the products and services they sell. We are particularly interested in enterprises that are at an inflection point in their development and are seeking to capitalize using approaches beyond traditional philanthropy (e.g., debt, equity, and Program-Related Investments).


Sponsoring Partner: Schrafft Charitable Trust

The effects of climate change—increased temperatures, sea level rise, reduced air quality, changes in precipitation, and more frequent or intense extreme weather events—have already affected Massachusetts to an alarming degree and will have an increasing impact on basic needs such as food, water, health, and shelter in the coming years. The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs emphasizes that children, seniors, people of low income, and other vulnerable populations will be among the most susceptible to climate change’s damaging effects. Fortunately, we can reduce the severity of such future outcomes by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and supporting adaptation strategies in urban areas. For this track, the Social Innovation Forum seeks a nonprofit program or organization dedicated to building sustainable cities, employing one or more proven strategies to address the challenges of climate change. These strategies include but are not limited to: promoting a sustainable regional food system; transforming school food systems; improving community access to local, healthy, affordable food; expanding public green space; increasing the use of clean modes of transportation, including cycling, walking, and alternative-fuel vehicles; reducing water and energy consumption; increasing recycling rates; reducing industrial emissions; generating clean energy; and constructing green buildings. The Social Innovation Forum will favor innovative products, services, or practices designed to address the effects of climate change in low-income, urban communities throughout Massachusetts.


Sponsoring Partner: Amelia Peabody Foundation

Massachusetts is home to 26 “Gateway Cities,” communities that once featured flourishing industrial sectors and employment opportunities but now have high poverty rates and many underemployed young workers. According to the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC), 30 percent of Massachusetts residents who live in poverty reside in Gateway Cities, even though these areas contain only 15 percent of the Commonwealth’s population. Young people in Gateway Cities are particularly vulnerable. They represent 71 percent of Massachusetts students attending failing schools, and they have lower average MCAS scores and high school graduation rates than the average Massachusetts student. Even so, the MassINC Gateway Cities Innovation Institute identifies “disproportionately young and underutilized workers” as one of the Gateway Cities’ most promising assets. Vigorous efforts to support youth academic success and career development provide one pathway to revitalize Gateway Cities and improve their prospects for the future. For this track, the Social Innovation Forum seeks a program or organization working with at-risk youth ages 12 to 21 in one or more of 17 Eastern Massachusetts Gateway Cities. We are especially interested in applicants whose programs include at least one of the following evidence-based components: academic support, college preparation and financial aid planning, and workforce development. Programs may also incorporate complementary services such as mentoring, perseverance/resiliency building, financial literacy education, and family support. Applications will be accepted from programs and organizations operating in Brockton, Chelsea, Everett, Fall River, Fitchburg, Haverhill, Lawrence, Leominster, Lowell, Lynn, Malden, Methuen, New Bedford, Quincy, Revere, Salem, and Taunton.