This is Technically Baltimore’s weekly One Big Idea. We’d like to use this space to allow technologists, community organizers, activists and other thought leaders in Baltimore city propose one idea for making this city a better place to live and work.
This week’s One Big Idea comes from social entrepreneur Rodney Foxworth, who says Baltimore needs “to establish a culture of social innovation and social entrepreneurship throughout the city.” Foxworth sits on the board of directors of Social Enterprise Alliance, Maryland Chapter, and Fusion Partnerships. He also serves on the national advisory board of Digital Harbor Foundation. He also works as a writer and consultant in Baltimore.
So how do we do that? Foxworth explains.
Watch Foxworth discuss his One Big Idea, or read his statements below the video.
We’re a city beset by social problems and we’ve mastered the art of social service—my former colleagues in the workforce development world describe Baltimore as a “social services city”—but we haven’t figured out how to catalyze our collective entrepreneurial ability to solve these problems and see them as opportunities.
So where do we begin?
- It starts with cross-sector participation. We need to break down silos and broaden the pool of problem-solvers and make sure not to limit this work to government and the nonprofit sector. Unsectored is an exciting group in D.C. that can serve as a great model here. Secondly, we need to identify, cultivate and resource social innovators and entrepreneurs across the sectors. They’re out there. We know many of them. But we really need to equip them with the guidance and resources necessary to improve their chances of success. There are many great models for Baltimore to follow, including Unreasonable Institute and StartingBloc. We also shouldn’t make the mistake of overlooking innovators and entrepreneurs who act within existing organizations. We need to guide them and help them grow professionally—if we don’t, we risk losing them and their positive impact.
- Investors, individual donors and foundations should embody a culture of risk-taking, not risk-tolerance—risk-tolerance really isn’t good enough. Changemakers need patient investment that will allow them and their organization to grow. We need to discover what does and doesn’t work, so funders and investors need to seed innovative and new approaches to solving social problems. That requires risk. Foundations also need dedicated personnel responsible for helping grantees establish an entrepreneurial culture and mindset grounded in innovation. The Case Foundation is a perfect example of this.
- Lastly, we need a place for social innovators and enterprises to cross-pollinate, incubate, and accelerate their work. The Impact Engine and Panzanzee in Chicago are great examples of this, as is GoodCompany Ventures in Philadelphia. There are many other great examples across the country.
Some of this work is already underway but we need to amplify it. Baltimore is a perfect laboratory for social innovation and if we take these steps, we can really put ourselves on the map for something positive and begin solving some of these seemingly intractable problems.