DC Social Innovation Project

Darius Graham from Washington, DC

The Project

DCSIP identifies and invests in innovative ideas for tackling pressing social issues in Washington, DC. Through two competitive grant programs, we solicit applications from community members and early-stage organizations with innovative approaches that have the potential to transform our community. Our grantees benefit from a range of resources that we convene and provide, including seed funding, legal services, management consulting, and more. These capacity-building resources help them launch or grow their programs. DCSIP works to address the dearth of resources available for innovative ideas implemented locally by small or early-stage ventures. While resources to support innovation have proliferated, these resources are not available for the types of organizations we support. Through our surveys of this demographic in DC, 85% find it difficult to find support for their innovative projects; 100% find DCSIP essential to their work; and 100% said they would innovate more if more funding were available. We break down barriers and provide access to resources such as pro bono legal assistance from major law firms and pro bono strategic consulting from major consulting firms; resources that are almost always only available to long-standing organizations with a proven track record. Our vision is to make funding and resources available in order to help empower community members to use their passion and expertise to improve their local community.

The Progress

This year we concluded our first year of operations in which we convened and awarded approximately $100,000 in funding and pro bono services to help launch six local social ventures. Among these ventures are an organization providing resources and training for area residents who are starting small, food-based businesses; a program for African-American male high school students to learn about the basics of healthcare and conduct supervised mobile health clinics in their Anacostia neighborhood to help address health disparities; and a new technology platform to connect students, teachers, parents, and tutors to help track a student’s academic progress. Because of the capacity-building services we provide in addition to the seed funding, each of these ventures has plans to continue or expand. Additionally, all have secured additional funding for their venture beyond what we provided. In fact, one of the ventures we helped launch with a $1,500 seed grant and a team of consultants that led a strategic planning process has since secured federal grants of more than $80,000 to expand. Looking forward, we will continue offering seed funding and services to support six new ventures annually in Washington, DC. Additionally, we are poised to replicate our model in other cities as early as 2013 in order to help even more people to improve their communities.

The Fearless Changemaker

I, Darius Graham, have enjoyed the journey of taking DCSIP from an idea to where it is today along with the help of a great team. When I moved to Washington, DC and began working as an attorney at a large law firm in 2010, I was struck by the disparities that existed within this city – especially the abundance of money, resources, and opportunities in one part of the city and a dearth of all three in other parts. It was difficult for me to go about my day-to-day life and not do something about this frustration. With many sacrificed evenings and weekends and a determination to see our concept flourish, what began as an idea, is today an organization with more impact and potential than I initially imagined. Before officially beginning the work of DC Social Innovation Project, I partnered with a colleague (Omar Hashmi) who has been instrumental in helping refine our programs and maintain relationships with key partners. Additionally, our work has been further aided by a six-member board of advisers -- seasoned professionals from the fields of finance, law, and philanthropy -- who have provided valuable insight. Our current success and accomplishments via our first year of operations illustrates both my personal ability to lead this organization into its next phase, as well as our collective ability to recruit the necessary people and resources to help this organization reach its full potential.

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