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Baltimore’s social impact ecosystem is thriving on a sense of ‘urgency’

Baltimore's social impact scene is on the come-up. March 28, 2016 Category: FeaturedMediumPurpose


Lead Reporter Tony Abraham will be in Baltimore on Monday, March 28, covering the Light City conference. More stories from Baltimore to come.
Baltimore’s social impact community is on the come-up.

According to Darius Graham, director of Johns Hopkins‘ Social Innovation Lab incubator, that rise can be attributed to a collaboration — energy and enthusiasm fueled by recent social uprisings and the potential that lies in the city’s upcoming elections.

Speaking of rise, Graham was a presenter at‘s Rise Conference last fall, where he spoke about innovation in urban service models. The work he spoke of then is indicative of what he believes to be a constant model for creating social impact in Baltimore: grassroots initiatives.

“There’s a lot of grassroots community action happening that wouldn’t fit in the traditional 501(c)(3) or social enterprise model,” he said. But other than that, there’s no real model particularly “specialized to Baltimore.”

But there is a spirit of collaboration in Baltimore that might be rare elsewhere.

“Baltimore has a robust community of social impact folks — whether it’s grassroots community stuff, nonprofits, social enterprises, foundations,” he said. “It’s robust, yet small enough that you can connect with the people you want to connect with and collaborate with the people you want to collaborate with.”

A lot of that collaboration is happening in Baltimore’s Impact Hub — the “physical manifestation of that energy and momentum,” according to Graham — and the Hub’s community outreach initiatives, which are seeking to rope in changemakers from different professional backgrounds like arts and culture.

The death of Freddie Gray, Graham said, was an injustice that resonated with the city's change agents and triggered momentum around creating action.

“There’s so much energy and enthusiasm around doing new things, creating new things, collaborating to make a social impact in Baltimore,” he said. The death of Freddie Gray, he said, was an injustice that resonated with the city’s change agents and triggered momentum around creating action.

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The community existed before Gray’s death, he said, but it gave the community a sense of urgency.

“I think those events created a new urgency and even a new momentum and opportunity,” he said. “I think for people in the social impact space, it showed us — or at least me — that yes, this work we’re doing is hugely important and is hugely urgent.”

As for issue areas, Graham said there are a few that seem to be prevalent among local social entrepreneurs. Last year’s Social Innovation Lab cohort of 10 saw projects focusing on education, community health and economic opportunity. But Graham said there’s also a lot of attention around re-entry, both from a nonprofit and social enterprise perspective.

And policy, he said, is not a barrier. With the upcoming elections, it’s an opportunity for the city’s forthcoming elected officials to create and implement policy that will enable the social impact community to maximize its potential.

Stay tuned for more news from our charming southern neighbor next week as we cover the first day of the Light City conference.

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