Inspiration, Ideation, Impact: United Way’s Social Innovation Fund

By Alan Bacon, senior director, Social Innovation Fund

The Social Innovation Fund is how we’re translating conversations about systemic and complex issues into long-term, sustainable solutions that combat poverty. Here at United Way of Central Indiana, we’ve defined social innovation as the development of new ideas, approaches, programs and/or projects with the potential to deliver measurable and scalable impact on our community.


One thing is for certain, though. With our goal of ending poverty in Central Indiana, we can’t do it alone. That’s why the input we receive from some of our region’s most brilliant minds, from neighborhood leaders to community partners, is imperative to see our vision come to fruition.


As we enter an environment that provides endless opportunities for us to serve even more individuals and families than ever before, we’re arming problem solvers with the audacity – and the information –to be successful in this space.


Check out some of these frequently asked questions about the Social Innovation Fund below:


The focus areas for the Social Innovation Fund mirror the focus areas of the Basic Needs and Family Opportunity Funds. Are the requirements or restrictions for funding the same?

The goal of the Social Innovation fund is to create meaningful impact in our community by fostering innovate solutions to long-standing problems. The goal behind aligning the focus areas of the funds is that the Social Innovation Fund will act as a platform to help launch new or scale existing projects and ideas. Once these projects find their footing, our goal is to find space for them within the other United Way Impact Funds. The requirements for Social Innovation funding are less restrictive than those of the other funds to promote diverse ideas and form projects that will later align with the funding requirements of other funds.


What are the limits on United Way’s meaning of “innovation”? Is United Way truly open to brand new ideas and projects that have never been tried before? 

Since we’re stepping into a space that is constantly evolving, we’re less concerned with limits and more interested in the creativity behind the ideas that people generate. That said, the Social Innovation Fund is open to sustainable innovation as well as disruptive innovation. Here’s what we mean:


  • Sustainable innovation improves existing products. It does not create new markets or value markets but develops existing ones with better value. An example of sustainable innovation might be the use of technology to help support an intake process at a local community after school program.


  • Disruptive innovation is an idea or construct that significantly affects the way a market or industry functions. An example of a modern disruptive innovation is the internet, which significantly altered the way companies did business, and furthermore, negatively impacted companies that were unwilling to adopt it.


What is the vision for the Social Innovation Fund after this initial year? How would you add innovation in future years? 

The Social Innovation Fund will generate new ideas and solutions. A key concept within the Social Innovation Fund is the evolution of projects initially supported by the Fund being scaled to align with either the Basic Needs or Family Opportunity Fund in years to come. As the community gets more involved with social innovation, we hope to see a larger investment in the ideas that produce measurable impact that will align with our other impact initiatives like the Basic Needs and Family Opportunity Funds.


Where can we find information regarding Social Innovation Fund requirements such as the Letter of Interest (LOI) requirements, evaluation rubrics, etc.?

All of these materials can be found on the Social Innovation Fund portal. For additional questions or more information, contact Alan Bacon.


Join us as we sprint fearlessly into the future of Central Indiana with the Social Innovation Fund.



Learn more about the Social Innovation Fund