04/23/2014 01:43 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Time is Ripe for a Nonprofit Revolution

In The Metropolitan Revolution, Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley argue that cities and metropolitan areas are hubs of change. They point out that cities are fostering economic development and growth in a way that Congress is unable to due to stagnation. In essence, Katz and Bradley find that cities and metros are driving innovation by engaging diverse partners to assist with identifying societal issues and subsequently developing and testing solutions to address such.

2014-04-22-innovation2.jpgI share the authors' view that municipalities, along with an array of strategic partners, are incubating many of the policy innovations that we see taking place across the nation, especially with regards to supporting emerging industries. This progress regarding economic development is, however, taking place in parallel to social change in metropolitan areas throughout the country. Critical partners to supporting this social change are nonprofits that respond to social problems with innovative solutions that serve to sustain and increase the capacity of cities and metropolitan areas:

  • In New York City efforts have been taken to alleviate poverty by organizations such as the Robin Hood Foundation. The Foundation's investments in emerging organizations aimed at ending the cycle of poverty have had a radical impact on the life outcomes of people experiencing, among other things, homelessness. Consider for instance the fact that 92 percent of people who participate in Robin Hood-supported housing programs do not return to shelters. Another example of a successful nonprofit-based solution to homelessness is the Ali Forney Center, which supports homeless LGBTQ youth; in fact, just last year the organization celebrated the incredible success story of a young man who graduated from law school.
  • With regards to creative responses to criminal justice issues, Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles is helping to change the outcomes of people who have experienced gang involvement. By providing meaningful job training and support services, Homeboy Industries is helping men and women who have been in gangs change the direction of their lives while also altering how society thinks about people who have been involved with organized crime.
  • In communities across the country, innovative education nonprofits are having a measurable impact on the lives of students. While government leaders are debating the implementation of the Common Core, nonprofits such as KIPP are helping young people to achieve remarkable educational outcomes. In fact, of those students who attend a KIPP school 40 percent graduate from a four-year college compared to the national average of 33 percent.
  • Nonprofits serving people with developmental disabilities are also proving to be critical partners at the metropolitan level, especially with regards to developing supportive job training programs. The nonprofit I work for, Quality Services for the Autism Community (QSAC), partners with another nonprofit, Adaptive Design Association (ADA), to offer adults with autism a supportive training environment where they learn valuable vocational and socialization skills while building furniture for children with physical disabilities.

As our nation looks for solutions to address social and economic problems, cities and municipal governments are not the answer as much as they are cultivators. Local government leaders can help to foster successful solutions in their communities by providing an environment that welcomes and encourages the contributions of nonprofit partners (in addition to for-profit partners) as has been done in New York City, Los Angeles, and in other communities throughout the country. For years, nonprofits have been developing and testing innovative responses to lower rates of recidivism, improve the educational outcomes of low-income children, and provide opportunities for people to break out of the cycle of poverty among an array of other issues. Through these experiences, they've built a critical knowledge of these issues while also developing best practices and successful models that could help to radically improve our communities.

As cities continue to play a more prominent role in policy innovation, nonprofits should put forward their successes and failures so as to help play a formative role in the future of our society. The time is ripe for a nonprofit revolution and the entrepreneurial spirit that embodies such to help develop, implement, and evaluate solutions to the most pressing issues facing our communities.