Social Innovation Forum

2014-2015 Social Issue Tracks and Sponsoring Partners 

Lead Sponsors: The Margaret Stewart Lindsay Foundation and Fiduciary Trust Company


Sponsoring Partner: Boston Open Impact

Over its 10-year history, the Social Innovation Forum has focused on variety of individual tracks targeting 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 could not apply to the Social Innovation Forum because they did not fit with our social issue tracks in a given year. The “Anything Goes” track provides an opportunity for any organization in Boston’s robust nonprofit landscape 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 number of Massachusetts public charities increased 45% from 1999 to 2009, based on the Massachusetts Nonprofit Database. 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% 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 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 have unique potential for high impact and sustainability and that can articulate concrete and well-reasoned plans to expand, replicate, or otherwise increase their social impact.

Note: This track is intended for organizations that do not fit any of this year’s other social issue tracks. Organizations that apply for the Anything Goes track should not apply to any other track this year. This track will only accept applications from standalone organizations. Programs will not be considered, although the parent organization may submit an application if its budget is under $2 million. Organizations with a fiscal sponsor will be considered.


Sponsoring Partner: Highland Street Foundation

According to the Greater Boston Arts and Business Council, the Greater Boston area contains more cultural and arts than any other metropolitan city in the US. In spite of a strong artistic infrastructure, access to the arts is largely unattainable for many residents. Arts institutions are disproportionately concentrated in wealthier neighborhoods and fail to represent Boston’s increasing diversity and cultural stratification. Back Bay is home to almost 300 art organizations in addition to 230 in the nearby Fenway area, while traditionally low-income areas suffer from a deficit of arts and cultural organizations; there are just 59 arts and cultural organizations in Roxbury, 115 in Dorchester, and 23 in Hyde Park. Grassroots movements and nonprofits must act to counteract the unfortunate reality that access to the arts is currently largely contingent upon one’s race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. In addition to ensuring equality in the artistic sphere, increased access to the arts can contribute to academic achievement in at-risk populations. A study by the National Endowment for the Arts found that teenagers and young adults of low socioeconomic status demonstrate higher academic achievement and college attainment levels when an arts education is incorporated in their curriculum. 

For this social issue track, the Social Innovation Forum is seeking organizations that foster inclusivity and place artistic and cultural expression for marginalized communities at the core of their mission. Programming for this track may include propagating arts education, exposure through concerts, cultural festivals, or museum visits and other initiatives that benefit low-income and underserved populations.


Sponsoring Partner: State Street Foundation

While Boston has been a national leader in connecting its youth to education and employment, there are still too many young people who lack effective pathways to sustainable employment and self-sufficiency in adulthood. Projections show that in 2020, 65% of jobs will require post-secondary education, leaving options limited for those who have not advanced beyond a high school diploma. Overall, nine percent of Boston youth, ages 16-24, are considered “disconnected,” as they are not in school or not employed. Minority youth are disproportionately in this category. As compared to their white peers, African American youth are twice as likely, and Latino youth three times as likely, to be disconnected. Disconnected youth face significant challenges that also have social and economic impacts for the broader community, as cycles of poverty persist and contribute to public costs for health care, housing, law enforcement, and social services. According to research, each disconnected youth will impose a taxpayer and social burden of more than $700,000 over the course of their lifetime, aggregating to over $8 billion for disengaged youth in greater Boston alone. Despite this data, or perhaps because of it, disconnected youth have also been termed “opportunity youth,” as an investment in them represents an opportunity to regain the economic loss, to connect them positively with the community, and to prevent negative social impacts such as increased crime and violence. Because traditional school and employment opportunities have been unsuccessful for opportunity youth, creative outreach and consistent follow-up support are essential. Innovative approaches are needed to build post-secondary and career pathways to success. Dropout prevention, alternative education options, occupational training, and meaningful employment programs tied closely to the labor market are most successful when accompanied by culturally responsive, trauma-informed wraparound services, mentoring, and case management. 

For this track, the Social Innovation Forum is seeking programs and organizations that provide effective education and workforce development for disadvantaged youth and young adults, ages 16-24, including a focus on “opportunity youth,” in Boston and Quincy.


Sponsoring Partner: John W. Alden Trust

Intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) affect one in ten American families. IDD cover a wide range of mental and/or physical impairments that are identified at a young age and indicate an individual’s need for specialized services and supports that are of lifelong or extended duration. While the causes of IDD are sometimes unknown, they can result from cerebral palsy, epilepsy, autism, or other disabling conditions; chromosomal disorders, such as Down syndrome; or from social and educational factors. Children and youth with IDD receive services through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), but the transition beyond IDEA services to appropriate education, employment and housing in adulthood can be particularly challenging. Systems and services tend to be uncoordinated or fragmented, and families report that they feel like they "have been dropped off a cliff" once their children become adults. Employment, an important component of both financial and emotional well-being, presents a significant challenge. A recent survey noted that only 44 percent of intellectually disabled adults are currently in the labor force, as compared with 83 percent of nondisabled, working-age adults. Living as independently as possible is also a key element to transition, yet there is a housing crisis across the United States as families of young adults with disabilities struggle to find affordable, secure, supportive housing solutions. 

For this track, the Social Innovation Forum seeks applicants that address the needs of young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities as they transition to adulthood, including opportunities for post-secondary education and training, meaningful employment, self-determination, leadership and advocacy, housing, and family and community support. Programs and organizations that work with low-income and underserved youth are of particular interest on this track.

*Please note that due to the strong interest in this issue area, we will have two sustainability-focused tracks for the 2014-2015 program year.


Sponsoring Partner: Osprey Foundation 

There are many components that go into building a healthy, sustainable, and equitable future for individuals and communities. Sustainable communities ensure that all residents have access to the essential ingredients for economic and social success: living wage jobs, good schools, affordable and energy efficient housing and transportation choices, strong social networks, safe and walkable streets, parks and playgrounds, and nutritious and healthy food. Often, due to financial, historical, and political factors, advances in sustainability can be out of reach for underserved communities. For example, while Massachusetts has been a leader in energy efficiency, the cost of clean, efficient energy is a barrier for low-income communities. Every Massachusetts resident who uses public utility services pays into a statewide energy efficiency fund. Yet, lower income families, who often live in older and draftier homes, cannot afford to participate in utility sponsored energy efficiency programs such as weatherization. Ecologically hazardous sites and facilities are disproportionately located and concentrated in communities of color and working-class communities, generating negative health impacts and creating barriers to development. Low-income communities also struggle to access fresh, affordable food. According to the USDA, more than 23.5 million people live in areas referred to as “food deserts,” that are more than one mile from the closest grocery store. Lacking access to affordable healthy food, people may substitute cheaper, highly-processed foods that are lower in nutritional value, leading to malnutrition and other health problems.

For this track, the Social Innovation Forum seeks a nonprofit program or organization that advances sustainable and equitable community development by addressing the economic, social, and environmental justice issues that limit participation for all. Given that these issues are so interrelated, we are most interested in applicants working at the intersection of food, energy and smart growth and those who are able to find ways to touch on at least two of these three core topics. We are especially interested in organizations using a multifaceted approach, including advocacy and direct service as a means of creating greater social impact.


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. Those who live in cities face heightened risk for a host of exposures, including heat waves, air pollution episodes, and floods. Fortunately, we can reduce the severity of such future outcomes by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and supporting adaptation and resiliency strategies in urban areas. For this track, the Social Innovation Forum seeks a nonprofit program or organization dedicated to building sustainable cities by employing one or more proven, direct service strategies to address the challenges of climate change as they impact urban areas. These strategies include but are not limited to: improving access to local, healthy, affordable food; expanding green space for public use; increasing the use of clean modes of transportation, including cycling, walking, and alternative-fuel vehicles; reducing water consumption; increasing energy efficiency; increasing recycling rates; reducing industrial emissions; generating clean energy; and promoting green building practices and sustainable building design. 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 eastern Massachusetts.