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September 19, 2016

Getting Shift Done

How can we mobilize retirees as a resource to help local families in need? How can we build a regional business environment that creates employment opportunities for returning citizens? How can we provide free and low-cost meals to low-income families?

These are questions being answered by some of our corporate and community partners participating in The Shift—a three-month idea incubator and social innovation challenge piloted by United Way of Greater Cincinnati—to shift efforts to support creativity, collaboration and change in our community.

“The lack of resources in research and development in the social sector is one of the main factors which led to The Shift, particularly, the time, skills and talents of people who want to help,” said Mike Baker, community impact director, United Way of Greater Cincinnati. “We’ve had certain high potential ideas before, but with no real way to move them forward. Some of our biggest corporations (Macy’s, GE, PNC Bank, US Bank), as well as local startups, are supporting and allowing some of their employees to be a part of this.”


The Shift participants come from a diverse pool of United Way corporate and agency partners, entrepreneurs and folks from the startup community. The participants were split into three teams of seven, with each team working on a specific concept. Prior to the official launch of The Shift, the team members had very little idea what they’d be working on, but merely they were participating in a social innovation challenge.

“The Shift is like a dark horse, in that we didn’t know exactly what we were working on when we signed up, and we don’t really know what is going to happen by the end,” said Sarah Rieger, a Shift participant from the Alzheimer’s Association. “But we know we have the opportunity to create change that can hopefully be sustainable, as well as replicated, while moving the needle in a real way where we can start bringing our poverty rate down.”

At the launch on September 12, participants wore name tags with a colored star signifying which team they were part of. 30 initial idea concepts were narrowed down to three. The concepts are grounded in the community and were chosen by the community.


The Concepts

Community Grandparents

A volunteer program run by retirees that offers childcare services and other last minute help (transportation, shopping, etc.) to families in need. “Grandparents” would be on call to respond to emergencies as needed.

RWD FFWD (Rewind Fast forward)

RWD FFWD works to build a regional business environment that creates employment opportunities for returning citizens. RWD FFWD is an incubator that supports small businesses and start-ups oriented towards employing returning citizens; the organization also offers wrap around services like second chance business reviews and returning citizen employment training for existing businesses. Moving beyond these direct services, this new organization is a catalyst for policy change and renewed opportunity in our region.


Rolling Meals

A food truck serves meals and travels to different low-income neighborhoods daily. On weekdays, the food is available at a low cost; on weekends, it’s completely free. The truck is run by teens, who earn their driver’s license and employment in their own neighborhoods. The truck always plays great music so you know when it’s nearby!

“It’s really cool that resources are being put into people that have ideas and people really willing to make changes in our community,” said Shannon Yung, member of the “Rolling Meals” team. “I’m really excited about the potential to make change.”

The Shift began on September 13 and will take place over a 12-week period with facilitated work sessions every other week with various mentors and content experts from the community. The curriculum is being led by our partners at Design Impact. Throughout the process the teams will present their ideas to the mentors and facilitators for feedback, test them in the community and ultimately pitch final ideas to various community stakeholders and nonprofits. United Way will shepherd the implementation of the final ideas.

In recently partnering with Cincinnati Startup Weekend for the “Social Edition,” United Way was introduced to a new audience. The Shift hopes to further develop United Way’s relationship with the burgeoning startup community in our region to put potential ideas or products into the community to work for the benefit of those we’re trying to help.

“We’ve been exposed to some of the brightest, most creative minds in our community,” said Baker. “Our hope is that these people who have not previously been engaged within the social sector can help us move forward ideas within the areas of education, income and health.”

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