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Waiting for Obama

“Possibly within the next month, President Obama will launch the White House Office of Social Innovation,” reports Andrew Wolk in his welcome new blog. Indeed, according to the White House website, the Office already exists.

Wolk, chief executive of Root Cause, a non-profit that supports social innovators, notes that this initiative has the potential to significantly accelerate social impact. This is because of our old friend leverage. As he points out, at the federal, state, and city levels, “government provides three levers that ultimately drive the progress we make on critical social issues: (1) government makes the laws, (2) government has access to major systems like schools and healthcare, and (3) government provides the majority of funding.

Hopefully, Obama will find someone to head the Office who is imbued with the spirit of philanthrocapitalism, and has good relationships with leading philanthropists and social entrepreneurs. (As well, of course, as paying taxes, hiring legal nannies, and agreeing with the direction of the administration’s policies.)

Hopefully, too, the Office will find inspiration in the efforts of New York City’s philanthrocapitalistic mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who has embraced philanthropically-funded social entrepreneurship as a solution to the frustrating inability of government to be innovative. One way that the new Office might “market test” its initiatives, and ensure that they are not being guided by short-termist politics rather than long-term social innovation, would be to require that private-sector co-investors be found before the green light is given to providing public funds to social innovators.

As Wolk concludes, “this is an exciting time – let’s make sure that the rigor we all hope to bring does not get lost in the fanfare of this incredible moment in history. Stay tuned…”

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