The Evolution of Social Impact Solutions: Lessons from Kresge Foundation’s Annual Report

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Lessons from Kresge Foundation’s Annual Report

One of the most pressing stressors of pursuing a social impact solution is not knowing how things will turn out. Social impact initiatives build what they can based on the information and insights they can gather. Crafting a flawless solution is not exactly easy in the middle of balancing what the concern is and what the concern is not. Of course, social enterprise is not about a flawless solution, but about adapting to the needs of social impact as we learn more.

The three themes below represent our exploration of how to approach social impact when stakeholders see the concern differently:

  • Looking at a concern from multiple angles
  • Taking stakeholder perspectives into account
  • Paying attention to how a concern evolves/ what may pop up during solution implementation

Exploring such themes help open us to new paths, and we can reaffirm these paths by finding similar examples that exist in real time.

Not long ago, the Kresge Foundation revealed their new digital report, People + Places, Now + Then, which showcases the social impact of investing in the two assets that energize communities: networks of people and the spaces that connect these people. This 2022 annual report mentions the initiatives, collaborations, problem solving, and future aims of Kresge’s latest efforts.

For social entrepreneurs, Kresge’s multimedia report is worth taking a look at simply for ideas on how we communicate social impact and the work we do. For today, the report holds a few key lessons on the relationship between social impact concerns, social impact solutions, and stakeholder perspectives that provide tangible examples of what it means to pursue a positive-sum game.

What’s in the People + Places, Now + Then report?

Very briefly, here’s what you may want to know about the report in general. 

Kresge’s report is built like a mini website. The content focuses on specific cases of social impact while providing a separate section to look at decades of change in 9 categories: American Cities, Arts & Culture, Detroit, Education, Environment, Health, Human Services, and Social Investment Practice. Each case and category gets its own spotlight in the form of an easy-to-read blog post accompanied by pictures, videos, and voice notes.

The report includes links to letters from President & CEO Rip Rapson and Board Chair Cecilia Muñoz, as well as a link to the financial report that offers transparency in how the foundation allocates their resources.

A major point that introduces the report would be the five featured stories on specific cases of social impact amplified by Kresge’s contribution. This includes:

1) HOPE Toledo Promise 

HOPE Toledo Promise talks about a relatively new scholarship program that takes a generational approach to higher education by focusing on helping students and one parent or guardian pursue a degree.

2) The Guild

The Guild is about a community-owned real estate model expanding affordable housing and entrepreneurship opportunities in Atlanta as a push for improving quality of life and resource access.

3) Memphis Medical District Investment Fund

Memphis Medical District Investment Fund is about supporting economic activity across more than a half dozen neighborhoods to redirect resources and create a more inclusive and vibrant district.

4) Prosperity Now

Prosperity Now is about transforming human service organizations into power brokers who drive racial economic equity across generations by collaborating alongside community members and change agents.

5) Resilient Eastside Initiative

Resilient Eastside Initiative is about promoting community development organizations and community education around environmental challenges while also providing recess for health and well-being.

Out of the five, we’ll be looking at the HOPE Toledo Promise story for lessons about the evolution of social impact solutions.

3 Lessons from HOPE Toledo Promise

This featured story starts with an introduction to Jerrie Conner and the conflicting dilemma of being a single parent who wants to get a degree while holding a belief that it’s too late for her and the most she can do is give her children a chance to get one. Kresge’s report goes on to describe the solution (the scholarship program) for this situation along with its origin, benefits, and challenges.

Lesson #1: Amplifying and Expanding Existing Efforts

HOPE Toledo Promise began as its own program. The graduating class of 2020 from Scott High School are the first benefactors of the pilot program where graduates receive funds to cover tuition, room, board, fees and books after the application of eligible financial aid. College promise programs are built differently depending on who’s running the program, but ultimately, the programs contribute to an “affordable college ecosystem.”

In this situation, two of Jerrie’s children, Dylane and Erin, graduated from Scott High School. Jerrie’s youngest daughter Alayna still attends the school.

Seeing potential in expanding access, HOPE Toledo Promise organizers thought that in addition to Scott graduates having access to the scholarship opportunity they’d offer one parent or legal guardian the same opportunity. This is where Jerrie is able to join her children in pursuing their individual aspirations, “creating a two-generation family approach to mitigate poverty and educational disparity.”

Lesson #2: Unforeseen Circumstances are Redirection 

The report taps into the conversation of why it’s useful to consider the aspects of a stakeholder’s reality that social impact solutions don’t directly address. Kresge mentions that assistance like free tuition alone doesn’t close equity gaps. This seems to point to other associated costs and privileges outside of tuition, such as groceries, travel, books, a place to study, and work schedules. 

One of Jerrie’s children, Erin, is also a mother herself with her young toddler, Noe’l. HOPE Toledo Promise provides wraparound services with their social impact (assistance that adds to the experience or helps support it). Among the range of assistance is child care services, which applies to Erin and other stakeholders as the program noticed many of the participants have young ones who need to be looked after.

With this support, Erin started attending college in Michigan around an hour away from home in Ohio. The initiative provides a solution and wraparound services, yet they did not see how much influence other pieces of the puzzle could have:

“…after trying to navigate pick-up and drop-offs without reliable transportation and lacking a network of family support in Michigan, Erin unenrolled from EMU despite her scholarship and ability to do the academic work.”

Being the resourceful people they are, the report shares how Erin and the initiative chose to redirect their energy. Erin returns home where she is around her mother, sisters, and more access to support. This allows Erin to refocus and set her intentions to enroll in esthetician school. Taking time to rethink the solution’s strategy helped Erin and the initiative regain ownership in the solution and what works best for the time being.

Lesson #3: It Does Take a “Village” as They Say

In the previous lesson, we got to understand that a network of directly impacted stakeholders make a huge difference in the implementation of a social impact solution. The same is true for the indirectly impacted portion of stakeholders.

The phrasing “indirectly impacted” refers to stakeholders who are connected to the concern, but not attached necessarily. For example, the report discusses the multiple collaborations and discussions across a wide range of stakeholders, like community college staff. 

The report mentions five primary institutions that make up nearly 80% of the scholarship program’s enrollment: Central State University (a historically black college), Lourdes University, Bowling Green State University, the University of Toledo, and Owens Community College. The report describes how their communication with staff members is based on transparency, trust, and “student centeredness” as the collaboration seeks to support, monitor, and improve/ pivot the social impact:

“Owens staff work closely with the HOPE Toledo team to identify necessary student interventions and coordinate support services beyond simple academic advising. The two organizations meet regularly to review students’ progress, financial aid and class schedules as a means to get ahead of any potential issues that may delay course progression.”

Learning as We Evolve, Evolving as We Learn

We’d like to repeat that social enterprise is not about a flawless solution, but about adapting to the needs of social impact as we learn more. The solutions and contributions of your initiatives will teach you a lot as the social impact of your collective efforts evolve. As you learn more, you are able to consciously evolve the impacts you create.

One more thing: We didn’t want to distract you on the scroll down, so here are the official links to the individual featured stories…

1) HOPE Toledo Promise 

HOPE Toledo Promise talks about a relatively new scholarship program that takes a generational approach to higher education by focusing on helping students and one parent or guardian pursue a degree.

2) The Guild

The Guild is about a community-owned real estate model expanding affordable housing and entrepreneurship opportunities in Atlanta as a push for improving quality of life and resource access.

3) Memphis Medical District Investment Fund

Memphis Medical District Investment Fund is about supporting economic activity across more than a half dozen neighborhoods to redirect resources and create a more inclusive and vibrant district.

4) Prosperity Now

Prosperity Now is about transforming human service organizations into power brokers who drive racial economic equity across generations by collaborating alongside community members and change agents.

5) Resilient Eastside Initiative

Resilient Eastside Initiative is about promoting community development organizations and community education around environmental challenges while also providing a recess for health and well-being.

Lessons from Kresge Foundation’s Annual Report
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