President Obama Champions Social Innovation

    • July 8, 2009

On June 30, 2009, President Barack Obama highlighted innovative nonprofits programs that are making a difference in communities across the country. A variety of nonprofit and foundation leaders around the country attended the event which took place at the White House.

The President promised that the White House will do its part to support grassroots organizations that are successful in their efforts to improve communities."Solutions to America's challenges are being developed every day at the grassroots. And government shouldn't be supplanting those efforts, it should be supporting those efforts," Obama told representatives of nonprofit programs during the White House gathering.

The President said he was asking Domestic Policy Council director Melody Barnes and the White House innovation team to travel across the country to discover and evaluate the best programs making strides in such areas as education, training and health care.

Obama noted that the community service act he signed into law contained a $50 million social innovation fund that he plans to use to provide aid to the most promising nonprofits in the country. "We'll invest in those with the best results, that are most likely to provide a good return on our taxpayer dollars," he said.

Among the nonprofits invited to the event were More Than Wheels (Formerly Bonnie CLAC), a New Hampshire organization that helps struggling people acquire fuel-efficient, affordable and reliable vehicles; the Harlem Children's Zone, which helps children get an early start on a good education; Genesys Works, a Houston-based group that trains and helps low-income high school students get entry-level technical support jobs in major corporations; Nurses for Newborns, providing a safety net for at-risk families through home visiting by experienced, registered nurses; and HopeLab, a California nonprofit that combines rigorous research with innovative solutions to improve the health and quality of life of young people with chronic illness.

More Than Wheels, founded in 2001 by Robert Chambers and Leo Hamill, is a grantee of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Vulnerable Populations Portfolio, which is committed to meeting emerging health needs of communities by identifying smarter, cost-effective approaches to address problems of the most vulnerable. Since 2001, More Than Wheels has helped over 1,000 individuals through its finance program, about 73 percent of whom are women.

HopeLab is also a grantee of the Foundation. The Ruckus Nation idea competition was the first phase of HopeLab’s effort to address the effects of childhood obesity by increasing physical activity in tweens. The competition gave people around the world—including kids—the chance to share ideas for products to get tweens moving. The competition was cosponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which supports innovative ideas that may lead to future health and health care breakthroughs. Hopelab received more than 400 promising ideas from all over the world, representing 37 countries and 41 U.S. states. The Ruckus Nation competition was only the first step in HopeLab’s effort to develop fun new products and policy recommendations to get kids moving. With a second grant from the Foundation's Childhood Obesity Team, HopeLab is now moving the best ideas from the competition into product development.

Sharon Rohrbach, an RWJF Community Health Leader and founder of Nurses for Newborns, was also invited to the White House event.