The Social Innovation Fund—a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service—matches federal investment with significant philanthropic funding to support evidence-based solutions to pressing social problems. The Fund is currently facing some opposition in Congress. Since its launch in 2009, Jobs for the Future has been the recipient of two Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grants. From where Jobs for the Future sits, and reflecting on our six years of experience with the initiative, we see the SIF as a critical vehicle for public-private partnership investment in small but powerful community-based organizations to address challenges facing our country.
Opportunity Works, JFF’s Social Innovation Fund initiative with the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions, is supporting seven community-based organizations in high-need communities across the country. The initiative builds pathways to postsecondary credentials for opportunity youth—young people ages 16-24 who are disconnected from education and work—with a specific focus on boys and men of color. JFF is proud to partner with these organizations by providing funding—80% of our federal grant dollars go directly to community-based organizations—and technical assistance, and by undertaking an evaluation to build evidence for what works for this vastly underserved population.
The SIF is a critical vehicle for this work for three primary reasons:
- The SIF requires that funded interventions be evidence-based. Congressional authorizers can be confident that these federal dollars are supporting activities that have already shown impact. The activities also undergo careful evaluation to ensure they demonstrate ever-increasing impact.
- The selection process for subgrantees is extensive and results in a portfolio of community-based organizations that are nimble enough to attack pressing local challenges while strong enough to manage federal funds. Some have accused the SIF of investing in the “Fortune 500” of the nonprofit sector—which is far from the truth: the bulk of federal dollars go to small nonprofits embedded in the community.
- The SIF leverages significant private sector investment in effective solutions, requiring a 1:1 match at the national level and an additional 1:1 match at the local level. Some projects, such as JFF’s SIF project with the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, require an even higher proportion of local investment. This level of match funding galvanizes the philanthropic sector around promising solutions.
Through this SIF Opportunity Works investment alone, we will reach thousands of young people who are currently out-of-school and out-of-work—and, at the same time, build a powerful body of evidence for what works for opportunity youth.
Like any federal program, the Social Innovation Fund is not without its quirks. However, it would be a mistake for Congress to back away from this important uniting of federal funding and social innovation. Efforts such as the SIF, Pay for Success, and other “tiered evidence” initiatives should be the wave of the future—not a thing of the past.