Nearly two years ago, Baltimore community development advocate Frank Knott reached out to Miller Center. He had been asked by Father Robert Hussey, S.J., Provincial Superior of the Maryland Province, to look into whether the work the center does supporting social entrepreneurs globally could be applicable in an urban American setting, serving social entrepreneurs in Baltimore and solving problems in their neighborhoods. Intrigued and compelled by the request, we have been accompanying Frank as he dug deeply into the work we do, surveyed the Baltimore ecosystem to identify gaps, and formed Innovation Works.
On March 5, 2019, Innovation Works (IW) and Miller Center announced a strategic partnership to support IW’s goal to launch 250 social enterprises, create 5,000 jobs, and facilitate $100 million of investments into Baltimore by 2029. On June 18-20, 2019, we took the next step together by delivering our first Innovation Works GSBIⓇ Boost program to 28 Baltimore-based social enterprises. The program was a tremendous success; you can read more about it here. A big takeaway for me was the deep commitment by everyone – the social entrepreneurs, mentors, partners, and the IW team – to Baltimore City and making it a thriving place to live and work. The harmony around this commitment was palpable.
As you all know, events like this aren’t a success without a lot of planning and leg work. Frank and the Innovation Works team did a lot of the spadework in connecting with all of the social entrepreneurial activities happening across Baltimore, forging the partnerships to fuel the ecosystem, and being mindful of not reinventing the wheel. This is evident in the quality of the social entrepreneurs and the Innovation Works mentors that have been recruited and trained with support from Miller Center.
When we first started talking with Frank, the question in front of us collectively was how to take our global model and make it local, even hyper-local. The context of Baltimore, with over 280 neighborhoods that are very separate and distinct from one another, had to be embraced. One of the ways that Innovation Works has addressed this challenge is by creating Ignite Hubs. Ignite Hubs are located in neighborhoods through partnerships with organizations already working in these communities. Within Ignite Hubs, community members are encouraged to identify the specific needs and challenges of their neighborhood, and are given support to turn their ideas into solutions. As that happens, these nascent social enterprises can be prepared for a Boost workshop and other Miller Center GSBI accelerator programs that Innovation Works will run. Figure 1 is the framework that IW created, with GSBI programs fitting in the Grow and Scale phases.
Figure 1. Innovation Works Framework
What’s next? A subset of the social enterprises that participated in the June Boost program will be selected for an Innovation Works GSBIⓇ Online program starting in August. Innovation Works will manage the cohort, with support from us, using our learning management platform. The social entrepreneurs will be accompanied by both a Miller Center and an IW mentor. Joint mentoring will continue to strengthen the IW mentor’s understanding of our curriculum and methodology. Miller Center is committed to a long-term relationship with IW – strengthening and deepening our partnership, and learning together how to refine a local/global model to solve urban problems in communities across the US.
I’d like to thank Steve White who co-facilitated the workshop with me. Steve’s continued contribution to the center is invaluable, and his commitment to social entrepreneurs is unparalleled. I’d also like to thank Mervat Mina and George Economy, two Miller Center mentors who live in Washington DC. They traveled to Baltimore twice for IW mentor trainings and were mentors, alongside IW mentors, for the IW GSBIⓇ Boost workshop. Their support of the Miller Center / Innovation Works partnership is deeply appreciated.