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Bottom-Up Innovation Institute for Social Entrepreneurs from Low-Income Communities

Facilitate innovation BY the community, FOR the community through an institute that provides exposure to research methods, design thinking, tips for shaping policy, workshop facilitation, technical support, connections, mentorship, and seed funding.

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WHAT: Create a non-profit organization who's mission is to facilitate bottom up research and innovation by the community and for the community!

HOW: Through an innovation institute of sorts that provides exposure to research methods, design thinking, tips for shaping policy, workshop facilitation, technical support, connections, mentorship, and seed funding to selected community fellows.

WHO: Fellows would come from low-income or otherwise at-risk communities. They would ideally be people who are currently unemployed or under-employed. Fellows would be self-nominated, or nominated by others, or even sought out and invited to come to the institute for a 2-week comprehensive workshop in which they connect to other fellows, receive support articulating their story, are trained in community research methods and design thinking.

BIG PICTURE IMPACT: By attending the institute, community fellows would learn the methods for progressive social change through actual short-term projects. Then they would begin to design either a research project, an intervention, an organization, a funding proposal, and community network, etc. of their choice. They would receive support from the innovation institute in making relevant connections, legal and business consulting, and seed funding. The network of institute alumni would be maintained and drawn on as mentors for future projects and brought together for annual conferences. The fellows would also serve as advisors to different major policy making bodies. The institute would form connections to big influencers in the country and convinces them to place a fellow on their board or include them on important committees (i.e. corporations and universities and local government). 

Ultimately the goal is to facilitate social entrepreneurship by informal leaders from the target communities.

What resources (money, time, people, technology, etc) will your concept need to be successful?

Grant money from large foundations or government agencies. Individual donations. Budget expenses would include: -overhead costs of rent and facility usage -salaries of administrative staff and full-time instructors -consultant fees for visiting instructors -seed funding for fellows -materials for workshops -website maintenance and programmatic communications Staff: -Administrative staff to do outreach and selection of fellows and cultivation of alumni network -Innovation instructors (fulltime) -Visiting innovation instructors (short-term consultants) -Board of Directors made up of community members and former fellows -Multidisciplinary team of innovation curriculum advisors

What steps could you take to implement this idea today?

1) Identify small group of founding board members from target communities 2) Create group of innovation advisors to draft curriculum 3) Seek funding for pilot project 4) Hold a series of 2-3 retreats with the innovation curriculum advisors and community board members to design pilot project of institute 5) Pilot project for 1-2 week institute with small class of community fellows. Use a borrowed space for institute. 6) Evaluate impact on individuals and community and use lessons learned and success stories to seek further funding

How can your idea be scaled so that it's implemented in cities around the world?

The innovation institute could begin locally or regionally and become a network of innovation institutes or centers worldwide with a common mission and base curriculum and alumni network of community fellows.


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This is a wonderful idea! I really like the notion of empowering people with design and business. And something like this is definitely needed to help people in the US and other place gain the entrepreneurial skills to create small businesses. I have two possible sources of inspiration to investigate:

(1) Women's Initiative for Self Employment provides high-potential, low-income women with the training, funding and ongoing support to start their own businesses and become financially self sufficient. This is a similar concept in the SF Bay Area, and they are looking expand to Chicago and New York:

(2) Stanford's Design School offers a class called Lean Lauchpad, which is taught by Steve Blankenship. While not focused on low-income, it might be a great place to start on how to teach entrepreneurship:

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