Making the Case for Investing in Innovation In Social Services

When we think of innovation, we think of modern-day visionaries like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, historic figures like Marie Curie or Thomas Edison. We think of companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon. We don’t usually think of the non-profit service sector as the bastion of innovation. Yet, it is here where I believe the most profound innovation can take place.

Many people think of innovation as the creation or invention of something entirely new. I believe innovation is much more complex and interesting. I am fairly certain that the cure for polio, the invention of the light bulb or the iphone didn’t come to their inventors in a flash. They came as a result of try after try after try and often months, or years, of experimentation and revision.  Yes, sometimes there are ah-ha moments, but most of the time, innovation comes about in an effort to solve a problem or meet a need and happens incrementally.

In the nonprofit arena, innovation exists on both a small- and a large-scale measure. Creating a resource rapid response team to help individuals find a critical service when they need it is an innovation. Crafting a job opportunity board based on an individual’s personal interests, skills, and experience is an innovation.  Implementing an effort like our PrepNow! to help foster parents create a college-going environment in their homes is an innovation. Building an at-home coaching partnership for families caring for a loved-one with dementia is innovation. These are just a few that we have pioneered here at Fedcap. These innovations are precise and they are folded into the existing social systems. They make a difference.

What if we as a whole society were to invest our time, money, energy and talent into creating innovative solutions that social services nonprofits exist to solve? What if we were to invest in our nonprofits the way we do in for-profit companies—only the “profit” to shareholders is measured in lives improved?   What is the precise intervention needed that will inspire the hearts and minds (and pocketbooks) of society at large to rally around a solution to poverty? What would happen if there were a paradigm shift that made the impulse to cure poverty as intense as the impulse to buy the latest piece of electronic equipment?

It would be quite a revolution if we were to invest in innovation in the social services the way we invest in stocks and bonds. But then, isn’t innovation really a revolution?

I welcome your thoughts.

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