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Sally Osberg Writes on the White House Social Innovation Event

July 1, 2009

By Bruce Lowry

Skoll Foundation CEO Sally Osberg writes from Washington after attending the social innovation event yesterday at the White House:

Pretty great day—for social entrepreneurship, community-based solutions, what works! A great crowd, full of Skoll friends and family.  I was very glad to be there—solidarity, celebration, commitment.

Super program. Geoff Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone was powerful: humble and honest about realizing 10 years ago that what he was doing was NOT really making a dent, and on fire about what he now knows about what DOES work and how those lessons need to spread—block by block, community by community – until every child in every neighborhood is succeeding. Robert Chambers, one of Civic Venture’s “Purpose Prize” winners, told his story of founding a financial training/car-financing-dealership alternative to the predatory practice of car salesmanship that rips off the poor. Pat Christen of Hope Lab did a great job teeing up a youngster who described how the “gDitty” was getting him to run circles around his sister—incentivized to become more active by a gadget that awards him points for being active. Particularly compelling was a testimonial by a  19-year old “client” of a Houston-based organization called Genesys Works—Vanessa Nunez—whose life has been transformed by a job, college, and realization of her own potential.  She really brought home what making a difference looks like when that difference is made.

The President was terrific. After first sharing with us the news that the Iraq transition had begun and was going well, he got down to the business at hand, “what we can do to uplift our communities.”  His remarks hit all the right notes; they struck me and everyone there as absolutely authentic. He knows what he’s talking about, having seen social entrepreneurship work in Chicago during his community organizing days, and from having surrounded himself with those who aren’t just believers, but doers. He was deft at connecting with all the speakers and then connecting their work to big picture issues he cares about: education, energy, health. And he was unequivocal in stating that government’s role is one of supporting and evaluating those “best ideas that come from the bottom up,” that have proven their effectiveness with “real, measurable results,”  even going so far as to criticize the all-too-common public sector practice of imposing “top-down, one-size-fits-all solutions that usually don’t fit anybody.”

In short, a rousing launch. Kudos to Sonal Shah and Michele Jolin of the new Social Innovation Office for making it happen.

And just to close with a real-time call-to-action the President seemed to come up with spontaneously:  it’s time for us “all to go all in.” I liked that a lot.

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