By: Stacie Mills, Associate, GreenLight Fund Bay Area
In 2012, GreenLight Fund was honored to be the recipient of a Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). Not only were we grateful to be one of four selected out of hundreds of applicants, but in 2012, CNCS saw the great potential in a Boston-based organization to transform program innovation across the country. The expansion of GreenLight Fund Bay Area is, in part, due to the funding received from the CNCS.
This federal government grant acts as a catalyst for impact, using evidence-based programs to enable social innovation nationally. The SIF definition of “’social innovation’ means ‘new ways to solve old problems that are faster, cost-effective, data-driven and lead to better results for the public good.’” GreenLight Fund’s primary focus is scaling socially innovative solutions when they have the potential to meet critical, unaddressed needs locally for children, youth and families. As venture philanthropists, we saw this grant as an opportunity for our portfolio organizations to have a strong, scalable and innovative foothold in our local Bay Area communities by creating lasting change. Knowing social innovations face daunting barriers to replication, we applied the GreenLight Method to select two organizations to be SIF portfolio organizations – Genesys Works and uAspire. When brought to the Bay Area, these two organizations replicated innovative approaches and brought evidence-based progress toward closing the achievement and opportunity gaps in our communities.
Over the course of their first five years in the Bay Area, Genesys Works and uAspire partnered with external evaluators to rigorously evaluate the effectiveness of their models – a SIF requirement for receiving the funding. This included refining logic models, identifying key research questions to study, subject and comparison group selection, data collection, analysis and reporting. In the case of Genesys Works, they used a well-designed implementation, outcomes and impact study vis-à-vis a quasi-experimental design, while uAspire conducted implementation and impact evaluations through a Randomized Control Trial. As a result of these extensive evaluations, both organizations achieved a moderate level of evidence by the CNCS, what both aspired to achieve at the outset of the evaluations in 2013.
We’ve learned a lot in the last five years. As our SIF grant winds down, let’s reflect on some key takeaways from both portfolio organizations.
- Overall, had a 93% student internship retention rate
- Positive impact on high school graduation rates: 99% of Genesys Works students in the sample graduated from high school compared to 84% of comparison students in one group and 89% in another group
- Statistically positive impacts on college enrollment and persistence
- Participating students reported improvements in school and classroom confidence, as well as a better comprehension of postsecondary options and opportunities
- Program students completed a greater number of FASFA/CA Dream Act applications with accuracy, received higher rates of Cal Grants, and leveraged various types of aid as compared to students not participating in the program
- Program students had a significantly higher understanding of the financial aid process stating they were “clear on the steps to get financial aid for college”
- Program students had higher beliefs that college can be affordable compared to non-participating students
- Program students were more likely than non-participating students to persist through one year and into the second year of postsecondary education
Beyond the metrics, one defining goal surfaced during this process: listen to the community to help transform the lives of children, youth and families in high-poverty urban areas by creating equal opportunity to achieve success. SIF funding links to our goal in three ways:
- Support children, youth and families by proving a continuum of best-in-class programs during critical moments
- Elevate community voices by listening and creating better collaboration to convey improved solutions at a faster pace
- Expand entrepreneurial programs that continue to have a significant, measurable impact nationally on the challenges facing our communities
Margaret Hall wrote about the potential benefits of why a subgrantee should apply for this grant, stating organizations had the ability to make a significant, measurable difference for thousands of children and young people in communities they care about. Genesys Works and uAspire have impacted the lives of over 11K youth and counting here in the Bay Area. We will continue to share what we’re learning and we look forward to a new year of collaboration, proven results and progress in the Bay Area and nationally.