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Getting the Best Possible Failures in Philanthropy

1/27/2020 |

Experimentation and learning are in Barra’s DNA.  The late Robert L. McNeil, Jr., the former Chairman of McNeil Laboratories, created the foundation and encouraged innovative thinking and testing. With these roots in the scientific method, we know that failure is part of the process of learning. Some of the best learning comes from efforts that fail, but go on to advance the field in significant ways.

In the coming year, look for more from us – and you – about learning.

Read the article: Getting the Best Possible Failures in Philanthropy

Convening: Innovation High Schools

9/14/2018 |

The Barra Foundation’s Catalyst Fund supported four innovative high schools in Philadelphia – Big Picture Vaux, Building 21, Science Leadership Academy and the Workshop School. During the 2017-2018 year, ImpactED, in partnership with the Foundation, engaged in an intensive year of learning about these school models. There’s no single definition of what is meant by an “innovative” approach to education. Successful innovation requires iteration and work to cultivate an environment where both students and educators are encouraged to take necessary risks and learn from their failures. On Monday, June 18, 2018, education leaders gathered for a conversation about what it takes to implement and sustain innovative school models. The following are video presentations by the leaders of each school, describing their school’s values and learning model:

Sharing the Story of Impact: Innovation High Schools

6/14/2018 |

Given Barra’s desire to share learning as part of the innovation process, the Foundation decided to embark on its first “thematic review” to look back across four Catalyst Fund-supported education models: Building 21, Science Leadership Academy, The Workshop School and Vaux Big Picture. During the 2017-2018 school year, ImpactED, in partnership with the Foundation, engaged in an intensive year of learning about these school models. At a June 18, 2018 convening, speakers from each school and The School District of Philadelphia shared key lessons learned from this work and explored the necessary conditions – at the school and system level – for fostering school innovation.  Case studies, photos, videos and stories from each school are now available online.

First Step Staffing’s “Unusual Deal”

1/15/2018 |

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Harold Brubaker covered First Step Staffing’s acquisition of the Philadelphia operations of the for-profit company On Time Staffing, with the goal of using the staffing firm to employ homeless individuals and people recently released from prison.

“There are a lot of people who are homeless or have just gotten out of jail, or prison, and really want to work,” First Step chief executive Dave Shaffer said Thursday. “We’re the link to allow that to happen.”

Click here to read the article.

First Step acquires staffing business to serve homeless & returning citizens

1/11/2018 |

First Step Staffing, a nonprofit social enterprise based in Atlanta, today announced its expansion into Philadelphia. Founded in 2007, First Step’s mission is to secure sustainable income for individuals transitioning out of homelessness, including veterans, re-entering citizens, and others with significant barriers to employment. In the first 12 months of operation in Philadelphia, First Step expects to employ 500 homeless men and women in the area and grow to serve more than 1,000 by year three.

“We are excited and eager to take our model – using a business approach to help solve a social concern – and implement it here in Philadelphia where the poverty rate is the highest of the top largest cities in the country,” said Dave Shaffer, First Step Staffing CEO. “Ultimately, we aim to be a true resource and collaborative partner for the organizations and passionate individuals who are already working to help Philadelphia’s homeless men and women take steps toward financial sustainability.”

The Philadelphia acquisition was funded by philanthropic dollars, including a Catalyst Fund grant from The Barra Foundation, support from the City of Philadelphia, investments by a consortium of socially minded members of Investors’ Circle, and a senior acquisition loan from four Community Development Financial Institution (“CDFIs”), including the Nonprofit Finance Fund, Reinvestment Fund, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), and Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation.

Read more about First Step Staffing’s launch in Philadelphia here.

 

Innovating Intentionally

8/10/2017 |

Event Recap

Innovating Intentionally is a celebration of Barra’s grantees, a showcase of exciting innovations from our network and an opportunity for nonprofit leaders to connect across disciplines.

This year’s event was hosted on June 29th at the beautiful Barnes Foundation and featured several exciting innovations from our grantee network. Shelley Bernstein from the Barnes gave the keynote presentation. Shelley, who is Deputy Director for Digital Initiatives & Chief Experience Officer, described how the Barnes is using observation, pilot testing and evaluation to improve the visitor experience in a number of ways. She also shared some of the challenges and rewards related to recent projects as the organization shifts to visitor-centered thinking throughout its operation.

Tina Wahl, President of The Barra Foundation, reflected:

“A couple of weeks after the event, the leader of Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia, Corinne O’Connell, emailed us to ask for an introduction to Shelley at the Barnes. Corinne was excited to apply the museum’s ‘visitor-centered thinking’ to her work in housing and retail. Two weeks out and the presentation was still on her mind. To us, this is a strong signal that an event has been a success: this is exactly the kind of cross-sector inspiration that we aim to facilitate.”

Following the keynote, four grantee organizations presented Ignite-style presentations on projects that are leveraging technology to solve problems and seize opportunities in the fields of Arts & Culture, Education, Health and Human Services. Ignite presentations are fun and fast: “Rapid five-minute presentations, accompanied by 20 slides ticking down at 15-second intervals, inspire the crowd with ingenuity, humor and imagination—ideas that are a call to action, that turn the past upside down, that point the way by which you help make a better future.” As always, the program was followed by a networking reception to reconnect, introduce and thank colleagues from Barra’s network.

Event Photos & Videos

8/10/2017 |

Thank you to everyone who joined us for Innovating Intentionally at the Barnes Foundation. We hope you will enjoy these photos and videos from the event.

We are grateful to the nonprofit and foundation leaders who took time out from their busy schedules to learn from and reconnect with their colleagues. In particular, we are thankful to our presenters, who invested time, talent and creativity to share their innovation stories. Each eloquently demonstrated that it is indeed possible to address persistent problems with new ways of thinking.

  • Shelley Bernstein, The Barnes Foundation, Toward Visitor-Centered Thinking at the Barnes
  • Andrew Siegel & Dan Treglia, StreetChange
  • Aaliyah Green Ross, The Schuylkill Center, NaturePHL: Prescriptions for Play
  • Kelly McGlynn, MANNA, Food is Medicine
  • Tracy Buchanan, Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, The TechniCulture Experiment
Event Videos & Photos

Visit Barra’s YouTube channel to watch their presentations and Flickr for photos of the event.

Build an Innovation Engine in 90 Days

5/6/2015 |

Harvard Business Review spotlighted Philadelphia’s Settlement Music School in a recent issue dedicated to innovation. Founded in 1908, Settlement Music School is an historic institution that has deliberately embedded innovation into its organizational culture and programs. Even the best-designed programs can face challenges and Settlement shares how they self-assess and adapt. Click here to read their story and learn how to build your own innovation engine.

Harvard Business Review, December 2014 Grantee: Settlement Music School, 2013 Barra Awards

ACCESS Cards Connect Philadelphians to Art

2/13/2015 |

Generocity caught up with Art-Reach’s Melissa Roderman to learn how their innovative program makes art more accessible. “ACCESS Admission is Art-Reach’s latest initiative. It’s a way for us to more deeply engage individuals in the community who are facing financial adversity. The program is tailored to meet the needs of ACCESS Card holders,” said Melissa Roderman,  Art-Reach communications & engagement associate. “It breaks down a huge financial barrier that exists in engaging with the arts in our region, and it has the potential to serve a really large portion of our city’s population,” she added.

Click here to read the full story.
Generocity, December 2014 Grantee: Art-Reach, Catalyst Fund 2014

Building a Resilient Sector

9/24/2014 |

“Innovation is a fad.” Sound familiar? Richard Evans debunks the myths around innovation and identifies how grantmakers can support adaptive change. Read more.
Grantmakers in the Arts, Fall 2013 

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