Join Our Team

helloSummer is in the air! We are looking for a few good grantees and now are happy to announce that our annual fellowship cycle is open! Every year we hire fellows to help us fulfill DC Social Innovation Project’s mission and provide leadership in the social innovation space. This year, we are looking for a new team member to help us engage our community of supporters, volunteers, and partners. Our Strategic Engagement Fellow will be responsible for helping develop quality educational programming, networking events, and find the best people to help light up the District of Columbia.

We are recruiting a highly talented and committed individual who gets how to support and build incredible communities committed to change. The Strategic Engagement Fellow will be responsible for connecting and supporting our rock star volunteers and grantees, our partners who are helping us raise the profile of social entrepreneurship and innovation, and our donors and community investors who make our work possible.

We provide mentoring, the connection to our leadership team, and a small monthly stipend; you provide the initiative, energy, and brilliant ideas.

You in a nutshell (AKA–our ideal candidate):

  • You love to design opportunities to cultivate and engage game changers
  • You have an abundance orientation and value collaboration to create powerful results
  • You know and use the magic words “please”, “thank you”, and “how can I help” often and to great effect
  • You deliver what you promise with flair and no drama
  • You are a people person who loves volunteers because together we can make GREAT things happen
  • You get the power of philanthropy–asking someone for a gift is energizing
  • You embody the social entrepreneur and believe that every challenge is an opportunity to innovate

If this is you, we can’t wait to meet you! Step up and apply today! All candidates have until July 17, 2015 to apply for this annual fellowship. Please send a 200 word note describing why we should choose you and your resume to info@dcsocialinnovation.org.

Open For Business: Apply for a $25,000 Grant Today

“IT ALWAYS SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE–UNTIL IT’S DONE.”

–Nelson Mandela   

Today we are announcing the opening of our Summer 2015 call for applications. For the next 30 days, we will solicit as many ideas to find our next grantees that will join the DC Social Innovation Project Innovation Family. Will you be among them?

Over this long hot summer, we will explore some of the coolest cutting edge ideas to tackle poverty. We cannot wait to be bowled over by great ideas. If you’ve never started something but have always wanted to–now is the time. If you are sitting at your computer, reading this and wondering if you have what it takes to change a life–give us a shot. If your organization has always thought, wouldn’t it be great if we tried something new? This might be your moment to find out.

Our role is to incubate GREAT ideas and community-based innovators. We do that by providing unique social capital grants valued at $25,000 to provide seed funding and expertise that give good ideas a running head start. We don’t require a track record, we don’t require a big bank account. We require ingenuity, grit, and the courage to step up and try something new. For once in DC, it’s refreshingly not about who you know but about the great ideas inside of you.

Maybe you’ve never gotten a grant before, or never even written a grant. It didn’t stop Malcolm Woodland, founder of Young Doctors DC who used our grant to put in motion his incredible idea to build a bridge to college for young men of color while delivering life saving health clinics. Don’t let it stop you.

Today, on the 150 anniversary of Juneteenth, we will get to sit down with dozens of incredible organizations making a difference in communities of color. It will be wonderful to spend four hours at today’s My Brother’s Keeper Probono Lab to dive in, dig deep, and do good with some great organizations. But we want more.

We have 30 days to be astounded by all the good ideas in our community. Help us light up communities in the District through the power of innovation. Apply today or share this post with a friend to encourage them to apply.

Sincerely,

Melissa Ann Ehrenreich, Executive Director

Three Things You Can Learn from Our Early-Stage Entrepreneurs

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Click to listen to DCSIP participate in DC Young Entrepreneurs podcast

Recently, I sat down with Kat Colvin of DC Young Entrepreneurs to record their very first podcast. Kat invited me to share the lessons we have learned from some of the finest people on the planet–our DC Social Innovation Project grantees (download the podcast for free today!). Our incredible family of innovators includes people who embody the grit, the creativity, and the genius necessary for success.

Here’s the thing: There is no tougher time in an idea’s life cycle than the first terrifying year of early-stage incubation. All of our innovators—successful or not, have learned the hard way about what it takes to crack the first stage of success.

As we gear up to announce our next grant cycle to make two new social capital grants valued at $25,000, I want to share with you three of the many lessons our grantees have taught us about what it takes to make a successful leap into social enterprise:

  • Write Your Way to Success. Our entrepreneurs (or treps in DCYE’s lingo) have taught me that the leap to innovation starts with a very cheap tool: a pen. I have heard over and over again from our grantees how the act of completing our application created a powerful experience. It made it real. It required our grantees, some for the first time ever, to strategically identify what they wanted to do and how it was different. If you’ve ever had an idea, consider our application process a tool to help you crystallize your great idea.
  • Unique Questions Create Great Solutions. There are good ideas and there are GREAT ideas. The best ideas are created when we use the power of curiosity to ask open-ended, specific questions. Good questions like these, help us explore problems as opportunities to innovate. Our grantees are developing new solutions because they are thinking smartly about the power to combine two ideas in new ways, developing new bridges to link new trends to tough problems, or redefining a challenge as an opportunity. Great open-ended inquiries can lead to specific, innovative ideas that can transform how we tackle common and pressing problems to change the equation.
  • Be Lean Together. For so many early-stage successes, their staying power is inextricably linked to their connection to their innovation tribe. Particularly in the prototyping stage, finding good partners who can link, amplify and build on your service model is one of the best investments in success that you can make. It may feel like a lonely world out there, but the DC space is crowded with a capital C. So find your tribe of organizations working on a similar issue or in your local community, articulate how you can be a good partner to fill a niche in the solution supply chain and then partner, partner, partner. Even better, include these folks in your ideation process to make sure you are asking the right questions and understanding what has worked and what has not on your issue. You will be amazed at how it can double—if not triple—your impact in the first year alone.

We hope these ideas and even more shared in the podcast helps get your creative juices flowing to develop bold, unique approaches to tackle poverty in the District!

What’s Lean, Green and Red all Over?

Last week we celebrated our birthday. It’s been five years since our co-founders filed the paper work to start DC Social Innovation Project. And what a ride it has been propelled by our extremely lean staff and YOU. Our supporters and volunteers.

What started as a small idea has turned into a movement in DC that you have helped create. We’ve supported 13 early-stage projects and entrepreneurs through our unique social capital grants that provide $25,000 in seed capital, pro-bono services and expertise. Your gifts of time and expertise have been pooled to contribute more than $325,000 to tackle poverty right here in our City. That’s a lot of green.

Earlier this month, we were OVER THE MOON, when our current grantee, Street Sense, was featured in a long-story piece on PBS Newshour. National attention, most certainly deserved, for their work to re-invent themselves to more effectively tackle poverty, an initiative we are proud to support.

Stories of reinvention and new solutions have come out of the woodwork in the past eight months. Our impact can be read all over. Whether it was the CNN Money piece on leading start-ups in DC tackling poverty that featured our grantees Young Doctors DC and Food For Life, the Washingtonian article on why we think social enterprise is booming in DC, or the Washington Post article about hyper-local sensation DC UrbanGreens and countless others—our grantees are getting the recognition for pushing the innovation envelope.

We are gearing up to announce our next grant cycle to invite a new generation of innovators to join the DC Social Innovation Project family. But we can’t do it without you. Please make a small gift today to become a Community Investor and ensure we can keep the lean, green start-up machine going to tackle poverty. Just three coffees a month can help power leadership and new solutions to tackle poverty. You won’t find a better more delightful deal in the District.

Grantee, Street Sense, Takes the National Stage

street sense bog post

The best thing about being an incubator is seeing the ideas that start with the tiniest spark become big solutions that take the world by storm. This week, we were overwhelmed by pride that one of our grantees, Street Sense, did exactly that and was featured on a long story piece on PBS Newshour. If you missed it, watch it now. Seven minutes is all it will take to be inspired by an innovator in our backyard who took a brave leap into the new world.

What would you do if you woke up one day and realized your core product was not good enough? Would you close your doors or would you roll up your sleeves and head to the whiteboard to find your competitive advantage?

The reason why I am bowled over by Street Sense is because they are refusing to stand still. So many of us who have bought a paper from one of their vendors have been inspired by the dignity that the Street Sense model represents. But it is not enough. In the high-cost DC metro area, Street Sense realized that they need to help their vendors find higher-paying jobs that are relevant in the digital economy. So quite recently they asked the question—what if we were not just a newspaper? What if instead we became a new media company built for the 21st century?

That’s a heady question for an organization who is known as the people who make a newspaper. It sparks a re-invention process that can be scary, that has a lot of risk because it is stepping out into the unknown. Like any great entrepreneur, Street Sense is looking to develop a diversification of products to move the dial on homelessness. One of those products, a micro-blogging jobs program, is where DC Social Innovation Project is partnering to develop a clear standard that will position their product in the market so their vendors can be more successful. Street Sense might seem on its face like a traditional nonprofit but they are a shining example of a social entrepreneur who sees a barrier and discovers an opportunity. You can hear me talk about more about what it takes to be a social entrepreneur on our recent podcast with DC Young Entrepreneurs.

Earlier this week, the chair of our Board of Directors, Darius Graham, was remarking that we have the cuties babies. Over the past five years, we’ve bet on 13 organizations just like Street Sense. So many ideas that come to us are not quite ready to walk. They may have a big strategic challenge, they may be just a kernel of an idea, or they may seem like a leap of faith. But we see the potential and invest our strategic capacity to and helped them to get up and run.

Together with your help we are helping grantees turn big ideas into solutions. So join with me today to congratulate Street Sense on taking a running leap into success by sharing this story and celebrating the power of social innovation. Good things are happening in our amazing City.

New Grantees, Little Bets & Big Challenges

We were thrilled to celebrate the newest additions to the DC Social Innovation Project family last week at our new grantee reception. And by this, I most definitely mean an all-star new class of grantees. But I also mean one of the most impressive gatherings of up-and-coming probono consultants you will likely find in the DC metro area. And I include our supporters and a new circle of friends of DC Social Innovation into this growing family. Together, we are taking the first small bites to tackle some of the biggest challenges in poverty.

  • The Paper Project is supporting middle school engagement and empowerment by launching student-run newspapers in low-income schools. Wise Young Builders is using carpentry to build math skills and confidence among DC’s poorest children. These programs matter because DC’s high school dropout rates are the highest in the nation– 40% of all students don’t graduate and low-income middle school engagement is increasingly emerging among experts as a critical intervention opportunity to reverse this trend.
  • Street Sense’s Digital Hope project is creating new digital careers for DC’s homeless with a goal of doubling the income that its vendors currently make selling its paper. This is critically important to their mission because entry-level, minimum wage jobs are no longer enough to pull DC’s homeless population out of poverty. DC families would have to work 132 hours per week, 52 weeks a year at the minimum wage just to afford rent for standard 2-bedroom apartment in DC.

Our role at DC Social Innovation Project is to empower bootstrapped entrepreneurs that are working to strengthen communities. Our grantees provide tools to shift DC residents from survival mode to success mode with full embrace of their power and agency. Building up communities from the inside-out is a highly effective strategy to empower communities and foster long-term success that sticks. It is about dignity and hope.

We believe that ideas and creativity are the building blocks of social change. Block by block and program by program we are taking little bets to transform communities who struggle daily to find access to food, jobs, and housing. We are thrilled to continue the journey of innovation with these new grantees and look forward to sharing our discoveries with you!

In Partnership,

Melissa Ehrenreich, Executive Director

p.s. Help us give more grants of hope and transformation by signing up today as a Community Investor, your small, monthly donation can make a world of difference to DC residents!

Elevating Voices on Poverty Issues: A Q&A with Digital Hope

It begins tomorrow- the official launch of our consulting projects for our newest cohort of grantees. Get to know all of our grantees better! Street Sense is not new to the DC social innovation scene, but their new marketing professionals program is. We are proud to include Digital Hope ( formerly Street Sense Digital Marketing Certification Program) as part of our newest cohort of grantees.

Participants in the Street Sense Digital Hope Program meet for class

Participants in the Street Sense Digital Hope Program meet for class

Describe your professional background and current job.

Brian Carome has served as executive director of Street Sense, DC’s street newspaper, since November 2011. He has over 30 years of senior management experience at non-profit homeless service and child welfare agencies in the Washington, DC metro area. Previously he served as Executive Director at Housing Opportunities for Women, Project Northstar and A-SPAN. Additionally he worked at New Hope Housing, Sasha Bruce Youthwork, the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless and the Father McKenna Center. Brian helped design and implement several innovative transitional and permanent supportive housing programs in partnership with local and federal agencies, including the National Institute of Mental Health, and the US Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services. He has lectured on homelessness and at risk populations at the Catholic University of America’s School of Social Service and Georgetown University Law School. He holds a BA from Boston College and an Executive Certificate in Non-profit Leadership from Georgetown University’s Center for Public and Non-profit Leadership.

Tell us about your program that received support from DCSIP: what does your program do and what are its goals?

Digital Hope, part of our growing media center, is a new marketing professionals program that trains a small class of veteran writers from our newspaper to hone their skills in order to write blogs commercially.

Providing and refining digital skills is necessary for anyone to enter today’s workforce. Learning how to leverage these skills independently and online goes a step further to remove other employment barriers individuals may face, such as the expectation of a certain appearance or a spotless past.

What accomplishments has your program made so far?

The group has already completed work for a California health clinic and used lessons from that work to inform the class’ structure. Work for a new client began January 29, 2015.

Any specific success story of a participant in your program that you’d like to share?

Ibn Hipps became a Street Sense vendor soon after his release from a prolonged prison sentence. In his late 40s, upon release from prison, Ibn was both homeless and unemployed. Seeking a better life for himself, and eager to begin contributing to the upbringing of his children, he found his way to Street Sense and began taking advantage of the opportunities the organization offers.

Ibn begins his work day well before 9 AM, during the morning commuter rush hour, distributing the paper. He also began making time to write for the paper during breaks from his work. It was through his writing that he came to the attention of Adam Motiwala, the workshop’s creator. Late last year, Ibn cleared of parole after five years.  In speaking about his work with the Street Sense Digital Hope program, Ibn says, “When you talk about making money you have to talk about commitment. This isn’t just for me, it’s for my kids.”

So many people see a problem in their community but don’t do anything about it; what motivated you to actually do something?

Street Sense has been changing the story of homelessness for over 11 years. We understand that the men and women living outside in our community desperately want opportunities to work and to contribute. Ours is a simple model. We harness the talents, aspirations and willingness to work hard of men and women who’ve become homeless and have been left behind by the economy. Through our work we’ve had the privilege to discover that these men and women when given the chance can be defined by their talents and their character rather than their housing situation.

What did winning the early support from DCSIP mean to you personally?

Receipt of the DCSIP grant helped confirm that we are on the right track with this new project.

What impact did DCSIP and the support you received have on your program? Did it help attract more resources or help your program grow in some way?

In addition to providing the materials necessary to expand the program, DCSIP and the match funding, and the technical assistance that comes with it, will be used test the sustainability and scalability of the project. In the meantime, it will provide a clear avenue for participants in 2015 to pull themselves out of poverty.

Read more about Digital Hope here and find them on their website.