(Photo by Melissa Skolnick)
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“How do we solve the most pressing issues that are impacting our communities?”
Katherina Rosqueta, the founding executive director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy (CHIP), asked this question at the inaugural Franklin SP2 Social Innovation Prize pitch competition held last Friday.
Six teams of students across schools at the University of Pennsylvania were tasked with presenting an innovative project that would address one of the topics featured in the SP2 Penn Top 10 Social Justice & Policy Issues.
Known as the Penn Top 10, the initiative highlights analysis from experts at Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2) as they address some of the biggest social justice and policy issues in the United States.
The Franklin Prize is about “looking at SP2 as this school of unsung heroes who are doing work that is truly innovative and can really potentially solve these complex problems that we’re facing,” said Julie Franklin, a member of the board of overseers at SP2 whose donation launched the prize.
“They’re actually saying, ‘What are the problems we have in society, and how can we fix them?’”
Full disclosure, this reporter served as the creative consultant for the Penn Top 10 last year. Through my role, I focused on developing multimedia for the initiative’s website. I analyzed each of the academic articles put forth by the featured SP2 scholars and adapted them into short scripts, which would be converted into animations, and I interviewed and filmed each of the experts.
It was fascinating for me to help play a part in adapting academic information so a wider audience could gain access to the information in order to spark conversations around concrete solutions for achieving social justice. I was excited to hear how students competing in the inaugural Franklin Prize would transfer ideas from the Penn Top 10 into practical solutions for Philadelphia.
Each team had the opportunity to pitch their project idea and receive feedback from a panel of judges. You may recognize them: former mayor Michael Nutter, Nonprofit Repositioning Fund ED Nadya Shmavonian, Osage University Partners Managing Partner Marc Singer and M. Night Shyamalan Foundation ED Danielle Wolfe.
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Here are the teams and descriptions of their projects:
- DreamMAPPERS (Interventions for Youth) — “A platform that fuses digital technology and real-world relationships to increase the graduation rate at Strawberry Mansion High School.”
- Fresh Box (Urban Food Deserts) — “A technology platform that connects low-wealth, low access Philadelphians living in food deserts to a wider variety of grocery options.”
- From Prison to Professional (Mass Incarceration) — “For years, incarcerated men have sewed for companies such as Victoria’s Secret, Walmart, Target, and even the U.S. military. Costura helps former prisoners get hired to do the same work, but at a fair wage.”
- New Beginnings Community (Mass Incarceration) — “NBC seeks to address the issue of community reintegration by providing the tools necessary to maintain long-term recovery, housing, and economic stability as an instrument of restoration to those seeking to reestablish their lives.”
- RKADE (Mass Incarceration) — “An afterschool program with gaming component where youth are given an affordable and recreational space to be motivated and receive additional support, such as mentorship and education.”
- Transforming Work: Reconnecting Opportunity Youth (Redefining Work) — “A pilot program aiming to increase long-term employment potential for disconnected Philadelphia youth.”
Throughout the event, a few overarching themes arose from students, panelists and event organizers. The following are two crucial ways to ensure that social innovation leads to concrete action:
1. Build upon past research and established resources.
According to Shmavonian, social innovation is “a clear statement of a societal problem that leads to a focused solution and that builds in a new or adaptive approach to serve the public good.” She said she’s also a fan of implementation research and adaptation as a source of innovation.
Benjamin Young, a student in the College of Arts and Sciences and member of the Fresh Box team, also emphasized that it’s important to make the wheel better — instead of reinventing it — by using tools that already exist.
“I think the best way to frame social innovation is taking infrastructures that already exist, and kind of melding them to fulfill a specific social need,” Young said. “And that’s exactly what we did [with our project]: We took existing systems and we mashed them together to make this new system. … It’s one step to solving one aspect of that problem for a specific target population.”
— Melissa B. Skolnick (@Meli_Skol) May 12, 2017
2. Collaborate with and listen to those directly affected by the issues.
Anne Ferola, the director of education and strategic partnerships at CHIP, said that more recently, the social innovation projects she’s seen have been emphasizing the importance of collaborating with the communities these issues are directly affecting.
For example, the New Beginnings Center team collaborated with two formerly incarcerated individuals to address long-term recovery, housing and economic stability within community reintegration.
After a rigorous competition, the Fresh Box team’s project addressing urban food deserts won the inaugural prize of $15,000. Franklin said she and the organizers hoped the team would spend the next year or two developing and implementing their project.
— Melissa B. Skolnick (@Meli_Skol) May 12, 2017
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