This week, Jonathan Greenblatt, director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation (OSICP) announced that he would be stepping down from this post to head the Anti-Defamation League. Launched in 2009, OSICP had its blueprints in the pages of Stanford Social Innovation Review: In 2008, Michele Jolin called for “innovating the White House” through an agency dedicated to social entrepreneurship—a vision that advocates for innovative policy solutions to entrenched social problems like America Forward and others shared and championed. Under Sonal Shah, founding director, and Greenblatt, the OSICP has delivered remarkably on these original aspirations: It has supported the expansion of national service, created a Social Innovation Fund (SIF) that has leveraged hundreds of millions of dollars to scale proven nonprofits, and fostered the pay-for-success and impact investing movements within the federal government and beyond. These achievements are notable for many reasons, not least in that they have enjoyed—and promoted—broad, bi-partisan support. In the wake of the midterm elections, this presents an extraordinary opportunity for the next director: the chance to build on OSCIP’s innovative approach to policy change and public-private partnerships, and thereby solidify the Obama Administration’s social innovation legacy.
Harnessing Human Capital
OSCIP’s initial work focused on promoting civic participation. By assisting the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) rollout of the 2009 Edward M. Kennedy Act (a three-fold increase in AmeriCorps funding) and expansion of AmeriCorps into new initiatives (such as FEMA Corps, Senior Corps, STEM, and justice AmeriCorps), OSICP has helped shape the trajectory of service and harness what President Obama recently described as “America’s single greatest asset: our people” to strengthen local communities. This fall marked the 20th anniversary of the AmeriCorps program—a milestone celebrated across the country and with the enthusiastic participation of Presidents Obama, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. Continuing to elevate civic engagement should be a priority for the next OSCIP director, particularly through initiatives that link service to other domestic policy priorities like job creation and economic recovery, such as the recently announced Employers of National Service program.
Scaling Proven Solutions
The OSCIP also joined forces with CNCS to create the first federal SIF to scale proven community programs in areas of economic opportunity, healthy futures, and youth development. By requiring “evidence of impact” and nonfederal funding matches as award criteria, the SIF has been catalytic: Over five years, $243 million in federal investment has leveraged an additional $540 million in philanthropic funds—critical growth capital for 217 community organizations in 37 states.
Promoting Pay for Success
This fall, a new round of SIF grants focused on pay-for-success grants that will fund work with cities, states, and nonprofits to evaluate and develop financing mechanisms such as social impact bonds, for which pay for success has become a kind of shorthand.
Making government payments contingent on measurable results is part of a larger push for “evidenced based” policy-making. Outside of government, some of the most persuasive voices in this movement are OSICP alumni and architects. Just this week, Jolin, now a Results for America managing partner, published Moneyball for Government—a call for better use of data, evidence, and evaluation to inform policy. Meanwhile, Sonal Shah, now executive director of Georgetown’s Beeck Center for Social Innovation and Impact, released “Drive Impact,” a study of outcome-focused government policies across the world.
While much evidenced-based and pay-for-success policymaking innovation in the United States occurs locally—in states and cities where social services are often delivered and paid for—the federal government can and should continue to scaffold this agenda. Accordingly, the next OSICP director will have an unusual opportunity to champion a set of domestic policies that have been endorsed across the aisle. The 2014 omnibus spending bill included the largest allocation for the SIF to date, and the 2015 budget plans for similar levels of funding.
Furthermore, pay-for-success legislation is pending in both houses of Congress. In June, Representatives Todd Young (R-IN9) and John Delaney (D-MD6) introduced the Social Impact Bond Act—legislation to create a $300 million fund at the Department of Treasury to accelerate state-level SIB financing across the country. The next month, Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced the Pay for Performance Act, similarly directing federal dollars to state and local pay-for-success strategies. The next OSICP director must continue to work closely with partners like America Forward’s Pay for Success Task Force on the passage of this legislation.
Imprinting Impact Investing
Enthusiasm for pay-for-success financing is closely allied with the larger impact-investing field, which seeks to harness private capital for public purpose. Here too, OSICP has played a seminal role, working across the federal government to identify and coordinate policies to unlock greater philanthropic and commercial investment in human and physical capital. From the office’s inception, Shah and Greenblatt have led interagency social innovation working groups to explore and promote impact-investing initiatives at the Departments of Treasury and Labor, the US Small Business Administration, OPIC, USAID, and elsewhere. In the last year, OSICP has also helped facilitate international efforts to enhance the impact-investing marketplace, including the work of the G8 Social Impact Task Force. Both the US National Advisory Board findings (“Private Capital, Public Good”) and the larger G8 report (“Invisible Heart of Markets”) offer a number of policy recommendations that OSCIP can advance within the federal government and the philanthropic and investment communities at large.