What the business sector can learn from innovative nonprofits – Inside INdiana Business


Nonprofits in central Indiana are being forced to adapt. As they face record needs combined with a pandemic drop in giving, nonprofits are looking for ways to reinvent how they serve their communities. They shift gears, focus on creative problem solving, unexpected partnerships and innovation, and the corporate sector can learn a lot from their entrepreneurial spirit as well.

The Stanford Social Innovation Review defines innovation as “a break with practice, large or small, leading to significant social change”. Right now, there are nonprofits at work in central Indiana that intentionally break the mold and create new solutions to solve vexing social challenges. They think like entrepreneurs, who Forbes identifies as “those who identify a need – any need – and fill it”.

The Meridian Foundation created the Arago Honors awards to inspire innovation among nonprofit organizations. In its inaugural 2021 year, eight nonprofits were recognized with $10,000 each in unrestricted funding. Last year, the leaders of the eight Arago Honor recipients were intentional problem solvers across a wide range of missions. Their work should be used as a guide on how to solve multiple problems simultaneously. A few common threads and characteristics define their work and within them are lessons that the business community can glean to better understand the impact of innovation. For instance:

Creative partnerships

Good alliances can help strengthen an organization (or business) and expand the mission to a new and broader audience. Partnering with others can increase your manpower, allow you to better utilize combined resources, and take advantage of additional slots.

A willingness to try something different

Stepping out of the familiar and into the unknown is often the start of innovation. Stepping out of your comfort zone can be scary, but changing an essential aspect of the way things were done before can lead to new revenue streams, respond more effectively to customer demand, or deliver a new solution.

Meet customers where they are

It takes innovation to reach the people who need you where they are. Opening a field or satellite office, selecting employees who feel comfortable in the areas they are working to improve, or creating new opportunities for engagement are all ways to intentionally solve problems and create greater impact. .

Some of Indianapolis’ most creative and respected nonprofit leaders are driving disruptive innovation that can drive long-term change and benefit in their communities. While many nonprofits approach their innovation process incrementally, others are mobilizing quickly; both paths reward risk taking and can improve outcomes. The Meridian Foundation created the Arago Honors Awards to encourage nonprofits to think outside the box by envisioning new conversations, funding, frameworks, and assessments that will lift the status quo and positively impact our community.

The eight nonprofit leaders in the inaugural class of Arago Honors each addressed solutions to their specific problem in their industries – health, assisted aging, workforce development, food insecurity, early education, acceleration new ventures, artistic entrepreneurship and racial equity – embracing best and new practices. We encourage the business community to find its own way to accelerate its culture of innovation.

Donna Oklak is the founder of the Meridian Foundation and the Arago Honors program. Information on the foundation and the prices are available at https://www.indymeridianfoundation.org.


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