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December 18, 2017

Year 2 of The Shift Moves Three Innovative Concepts Forward

Question: How do we bring together resources to move bold ideas forward?

Answer: The Shift – United Way’s three-month idea incubator, which supports creativity, collaboration and change in our community using a fast-paced, design-driven startup model. 2017 marked Year 2 of The Shift, which is powered by United Way and social innovation partners Design Impact. 

This past August, skilled volunteers were split into three teams and given a high-potential idea concept to work on for 12 weeks, with the goal of creating a tangible project that can be implemented in the community. The three concepts selected were focused on issues important to United Way’s work to create opportunities for everyone to thrive, and to support children, families, and individuals experiencing poverty. The Shift recently held its Demo Day, where the teams presented their projects to over 100 community members at Rhinegeist Brewery.

Cincinnati’s Table

The vision of Cincinnati’s Table is to bring communities together under one roof and around one table to share a meal and build social capital. Specifically, Cincinnati’s Table is helping to build connections for immigrants in Cincinnati outside of their own communities in a way that everyone understands – through food. 

The team told the story of Alejandra, a woman they met through their prototyping. Alejandra has lived in Cincinnati for over 10 years and virtually has no relationships outside of her immediate family. It’s hard for anyone to move forward without that social capital piece. So, the team worked to answer the question: How do we help communities build that social capital, particularly inclusive of immigrants?

Why food?

• Universal Language – Food universally evokes emotion and nostalgia
• Levels the Playing Field – It can be leveraged in a way to help level the playing field and bring everyone to the table
• Fuels Connections – This allows sharing of self, thoughts and opportunities – social capital

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The goal is that Cincinnati’s Table becomes a movement that is both adaptable and organic, and can be hosted by different organizations at schools, churches and community centers. The team has put together a starter kit for any organization that would like to host a meal. After a meal, hosts will report back measured outcomes and photos to be galleried and aggregated online. Cincinnati’s Table will be looking to hire a part-time coordinator to help grow and sustain the movement.

Sidekick Co.

Sidekick Co. initially started as a concierge-style service to low-wage workers to address the daily struggles that can lead to unemployment. Early on, they found that transportation can be a big barrier for employees, and often the toughest barrier to overcome. So, Sidekick Co. decided to focus solely on transportation solutions.

“The three examples of the concierge service were transportation, childcare and healthcare assistance. We discovered pretty quickly that was way too encompassing and way too large for us to take on as a team, so we chose to focus on transportation because we found that was the most pressing issue,” said Paraag Maddiwar, member of Sidekick Co., and former P&G employee who now runs his own consulting company. “We felt transportation was our best opportunity to make more of a permanent, lasting impact, as opposed to a one-off or two-off type of thing.”

The tagline for Sidekick Co. is “Apply for the job you want, not just the job you can get to.” They did some research and worked with organizations like JANCOA Janitorial Services and Nehemiah Beacon of Hope who have been experimenting with ride sharing for their employees. Most employers do it out of necessity, but the idea for Sidekick Co. is to be a third-party service on behalf of employers with a proven business model that can be replicated by multiple employers.

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Sidekick Co. has been working with Cincinnati Works, who could potentially offer this as a service to the employers they work with. The idea would be to get a van, match that van with an employer, create logistics software to help plan ride sharing and do it in the most convenient and efficient way to make it affordable for both the employer and the employee. It wouldn’t be a free ride, but a ride that will be much easier than a bus where a rider would have to shift and make the commute much longer.

The ultimate goal of Sidekick Co. is to partner directly with employers to create a financial coaching program and provide a pathway to transportation independence. Their next steps include extending the pilot to 4-5 companies, hire part-time drivers and a part-time coordinator, purchase additional vans and implement a funding model for both employers and employees.

Lights On! Walnut Hills

Lights On! Walnut Hills is a community driven initiative to increase safety through light. This project came out of a neighborhood design project United Way had previously done alongside Design Impact, LISC and the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation to determine top of mind issues and come up with solutions with residents of Walnut Hills. One of those issues was safety, specifically, if there are ways artists could address safety. 

The Lights On! team really embraced prototyping and started by setting up a tent in the community on a Friday night to hand out glow sticks and converse with residents. It didn’t go quite as planned, as they got some cold shoulders from residents and ultimately had to move their tent. The team got discouraged, but learned that they needed to harness the energy of Walnut Hills by involving the residents in their decision making.

“One of the difficult portions of The Shift was making decisions really quickly and understanding what the data and information we were getting from each prototype meant for the end product,” said Chris Uihlein, member of Lights On! who works for United Way agency partner Strategies to End Homelessness. “In any group, especially a group of strangers, you’re going to have some growing pains, but we never treated any difficult point in this project as failure and we learned from it. If something was difficult it wasn’t the end of the world because this was not meant to be easy.” 

Through prototyping, Lights On! came to realize that a Lighting Coordinator was going to be an important piece to make this project a reality. Once a lighting need is identified by the community, the Lighting Coordinator would convene a meeting to assess the needs of the residents and community at large. The Coordinator would then get input from community residents, artists, designers, engineers, etc. to solve the issue and create a design proposal, which would lead to a light installation in the community. 

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The Lights On! team is currently working to identify a Lighting Coordinator and a trusted community partner in Walnut Hills to help move the project forward. 

“The most rewarding experience for me through The Shift was being able to work with these strangers – these strangers turned colleagues,” said Uihlein. “Everybody brought their skills to the table every single time we met up – whether that was design, problem solving, generating ideas, community connections – everybody brought what they had to the table and used that to our advantage. We were really fortunate to have the kind of people on our team that really cared about this project and really wanted to do the best that they could for it.”

United Way will continue to work with each of these teams in 2018 and beyond to help shepherd these projects in the community.