Mauricio Cifuentes – The Social Innovation Fund: Implementing Effective Bottom-up Solutions

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“The Social Innovation Fund: Implementing Effective Bottom-up Solutions”

In the spirit of public service, economic efficiency and equity, the $100 million should go to the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS) to expand its Social Innovation Fund (SIF). This federal program is innovative in itself and has the capacity to deliver results solving the real issues affecting local communities today.

Established in 2009 under the Edward Kennedy Serve America Act, the SIF sponsors community-based projects that have proven to be effective at increasing economic opportunity, healthy futures, and youth development.

Stewardship of taxpayer funds is imperative for good governance especially in these fiscally challenging times. One important consideration in allocating the $100 million is to examine the marginal benefits obtained from allocating the funds to a given program. In other words, this money must go where citizens get the most bang for their buck.

If we were to divide this $100 million among the U.S. population, everyone would get roughly 33 cents. Likewise, this amount would be a drop in the bucket for other federal and state agencies. For example, the 2012 Department of Health and Human Services budget is $892 billion and according to the Department of Defense, the Pentagon spent $1.5 billion in Afghanistan over the course of eight months on fuel alone. At the state level, California spent $10.3 billion on protecting natural and cultural resources and $40 billion on K-12 education.

The SIF will extend this $100 million, for it sparks community collaboration through a powerful multiplier effect. The program requires that each dollar approved must be matched one-to-one by the grantees and again by their sub-grantees from private and non-federal sources. This shows that despite the perceived insignificance of $100 million nowadays, the Fund can effectively deliver value to taxpayers by creating partnerships for change.

In addition to the great marginal benefits of the Fund, the program targets the most critical needy areas. By channeling funds directly to local communities, through organizations such as AIDS United and regional United Way chapters, the federal government can reach demographic areas that do not receive the necessary national attention. The idea is not to reinvent the wheel, but to use already established effective organizations and avoid creating more layers of bureaucratic red tape.

Finally, the strength of the SIF stems from its allocation decisions based on results, not on activity. With only two years of operation and a $50 million budget, this pilot program has already received great reviews by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). The highly competitive grant selection under “fair and objective” rules, as stated in the OIG report, is key to continue impacting communities under tight fiscal constraints.

In summary, allocating the $100 million to the Corporation for National & Community Service would be the best use of taxpayers’ money because no one knows more about a community than its citizens themselves. By implementing bottom-up solutions through existing organizations, the expansion of the Social Innovation Fund is an easy and cost-effective approach to many critical issues in America today.


Read other finalist essays for the GovLoop/NASPAA Scholarship.

– Evan White – “Promise Neighborhoods for a Promising Future”

– Mark Van Horn – “Using Computer Games to Simulate Policy Problems in the United States”

– Jay Sher – “Federal R&D Prizes for Technological Investment and Innovation”

– Danny Vasconcellos – “Government Getting it Right: The GAO”

– Kevin Sonoff – “Primary and Secondary Education: The Path to Recovery”

– Maggie Healy – “Funding the Information Age, Beyond Infrastructure”

– Alex Luboff – “A Fiscal, Social, and Environmental Sustainability: Urban Agriculture Fighting Poverty”

– Joseph Towner – “Community Service Grants”

– Elizabeth Selbst – “Fund Local Land Banking to Reverse Urban Sprawl”

– Neil Patrick Reilly – “A Boost to Rentals and Public Housing”

– Lee Blum – “The World’s Best Vocational Institute”

– Brian Footer – “Local Government Grant Program”

– Peter Thomas – “Government Knowing Its Constituents”

– Daniel Turner – “Invest in the Future”

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Mauricio Cifuentes-Soto

What I should have added to my essay is the accountability/investment aspect. The British are doing something similar; if the program does not deliver what it was supposed to do, then the government gets its money back. I think that a sort of control like this would perhaps improve the quality of the program and increase efficiency.