Most entrepreneurs start out with a great business idea and a fire in their belly. Social entrepreneurs add an extra element to the equation: a desire to make a deep and lasting impact on their communities. United Way of Metropolitan Dallas knows that the spark of innovation often comes from new leaders in philanthropy whose ideas can take off if given an extra boost.
That’s why their GroundFloor program supports ideas that fill gaps in the Dallas nonprofit landscape, while helping to promote education, health and financial stability across the community. Their fellows, who have included urban farmers, chefs, teacher trainers and micro-lenders, receive not just funding but also support from United Way staff, mentors and one another. Just as important—this fellowship comes with those all-important connections to more than 1,000 corporate leaders and other service providers, so new nonprofits can continue to grow and scale their work.
United Way of Metropolitan Dallas created its innovation fund with the help of seed capital from companies like AT&T, EY and Mary Kay Cosmetics, as well as local venture capitalists. Prospective fellows submit business plans and then pitch a panel of mentors and investors, “Shark Tank” style. If they make the cut, the funding comes with some strings—they’re expected to meet certain goals and benchmarks, and help the community in return. Here’s a look at some of GroundFloor’s current and recent fellows:
The Akola Project (2016): What started as a program to help women in Uganda make jewelry, while also educating them about health, finance and wellness, has hopped the Atlantic to Dallas, where it hires women who have faced obstacles to full employment, including prior incarceration, drug abuse, and sex trafficking.
2ndSaturday, a 2015 grantee, started out in 2009 as a volunteer opportunity for just nine people at a West Dallas home. It’s now a monthly service event for hundreds of volunteers and a business that enables former felons to become financially stable by providing them with employment opportunities.
Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation
In an effort to better coordinate care for families, the Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation (2015) has developed a software program that allows caseworkers and physicians to share vital information about individuals’ needs, choices and living situations that could impact their ability to stay on track. This approach helps teams ensure that individuals are staying on their medications and making healthy food choices. They can also use the program to offer people rides to upcoming medical appointments or help them find free furniture.
The Principal Impact Collaborative
The average principal at an urban school lasts 2.5 years. That kind of leadership turnover makes it difficult to make headway on long-term academic improvement. The Principal Impact Collaborative (2016) provides networking and professional development opportunities for principals from districts and charter networks to work together in teams on specific projects. At the end of the two-year program, principals will share what they’ve learned with other educators across North Texas and mentor another local principal who wants to try out the idea at his or her school.
The model creates a ripple effect—improving just the school of the participating principal, but also the schools of those they mentor.
For more information about GroundFloor, visit thegroundfloor.org.