It’s been exactly one month since I sent my first message, Calling All Innovators, as Executive Director. And what a month it has been! I have had dozens of conversations and my brain has been working overtime. Since then I’ve fanned out to numerous events, celebrated ProBono Week, and had a lot of coffee with our Board, our grantees, our fellows, and our partners. So much energy, so much is happening in this space, giving real credence to the “social” in social innovation.
Quite simply, the social innovation and entrepreneurship scene in DC is booming. Our metro area ranks as one of the top 10 in the country for small business growth—both in terms of total revenue and employees. We are home to a booming nonprofit scene—more than 3,500 in DC do mission-driven work internationally, nationally and locally. That crowded field means the competition for funding is fierce. The truth is, DC Social Innovation Project is a small fish in a sea of thousands. We have no staff, a relatively small budget, and support a handful of projects each year through our strategic blend of grantmaking and pro-bono expertise. At present, I am contracted to work just 10 hours a week. What, then, you might ask is realistic for an organization of our size to accomplish in this space that really matters?
Yet in the past 30 days, I’ve been bowled over not by our limits but by our abundance. Instead of thinking about how little we have in the traditional sense, I’m now hyper aware of the resources that we could be tapping: our vast internal network of fantastically smart volunteers who have a wealth of energy, creativity, and insight to bring to bear on big challenges. Our value proposition to partner with local area firms to cultivate up-and-coming consultants through powerful pro-bono expertise service. We have truly incredible innovation practitioners through our grantees who are shaping DC’s innovation ecosystem from the inside-out to solve community problems, particularly east of the Anacostia River where poverty is most acute. We have leadership who helped shape the social enterprise scene in DC into what it is today. We have history, credibility, and a successful track record. These are all of the assets that make us small but mighty. And I’m not alone in this awakening: Two of our grantees Food For Life and Young Doctors DC were highlighted last month by CNN Money as some of the most innovative start-ups helping to address major challenges in our City.
We are clearly doing something right. But we could be doing more. Our size means that we HAVE to rely on partnerships and link more strongly to each other to tackle the problem of poverty in the District. We have strong relationships with organizations that collectively could be unleashed together in even more targeted ways. This spirit of generosity and shared leadership is in our wheelhouse because it is embedded in DC Social Innovation Project’s DNA.
As we go deeper in the months ahead to double down on our impact, we will call on each of you to help us. We will ask you to give of yourself—time, networks, ideas, and financial support to help us take this model to the next level and create waves of change in communities. As a woman I know once wisely said: We are better together and we need each other.
Melissa, DCSIP Executive Director