Happy New Year! We love the holiday season here at DC Social Innovation Project because it’s a time of togetherness, giving and appreciation. We especially appreciate the contributions of time, talent and treasure our donors and voluteers make into our work. Without them, the innovative work our grantees are doing to create jobs, create pipelines to education and tackle poverty would not be possible. That’s why we’re introducing some of the people who have bet on big ideas in the District through the “Digging Deeper” series. Next up a Q&A featuring Jacob Levine of City First Enterprises.
Tell me a little bit about yourself. How long have you lived and worked in the District and what do you do?
I was born in D.C in Mt. Pleasant when it wasn’t quite so pleasant. Then was I moved across the border to Silver Spring, MD. I went to college in Texas and came back to DC in 2013. When I came back I was really interested in community development and how and why cities change and why some people benefit and others don’t. DC had changed since I left – in a lot of ways that were great and in a lot of ways that were scary and I wasn’t even being displaced or losing my home. I was concerned for what that might mean for the city so I went to work at City First Enterprises – a nonprofit investment organization that invests in affordable housing, green energy, community organizations.
What social issues do you care most about? Why do these issues matter to you?
Equal Opportunity in this or any other city. This inherently includes housing, education and access to jobs. I’m aware daily of the privilege and opportunity that I had growing up – the chances I had to meet people and the things I didn’t have to worry about – namely, a roof over my head or food on the table. I want to make sure that other people don’t have to worry about those things either.
Tell me how you first got involved with DC Social Innovation Project? What interests you most about the organization?
When I moved back to the area in late 2013 I really missed feeling connected to the city. I was missing that group of people that I had developed in Houston that were all interested in different facets of how to improve the city and how and the lives of people in it. One of my colleagues mentioned DC Social Innovation Project and I reached out to Darius. He invited me to a meeting at MLK Library and we talked about planning an event. Having worked at a small nonprofit, I knew budget and capacity were issues and wanted to get involved. I appreciated the idea of providing start-up/growth capital to nonprofits and social enterprises that don’t immediately have access to the big dollars and providing them pro bono support by way of people. Small organizations can always use an extra set of hands because there’s always more than you can do alone. This volunteering evolved into me serving on the Associate Board.
Why do you give to DC Social Innovation Project?
Because a little bit here has a bigger impact than a little bit elsewhere. At this point in my life I’m not in a position to give more than a little bit, so if I’m going to give what I have, I would rather give it to an organization that’s really going to feel the difference. I can really add some capacity to the organization through my donation.
Who is your favorite DC Social Innovation Project grantee and why?
I really like ScholarCHIPS because of the founder’s story. I sympathize with the fighters out there. The people who are willing and hungry to be resourceful. If they can’t find opportunities, they create opportunities. They then have enough self-awareness to look back and say “Hey I was able to create something for myself and now I want to pay it forward and help others that are in my situation.”
If you had the mic to tell your friends about why ending poverty in the District is important, what would you want to say?
It’s important for a million and one reasons, not least of which is because the beauty of this city is the opportunity and the diversity of people, places and ideas within it. When people are living in poverty you don’t have those opportunities. You can’t contribute to that community of ideas and products and places in the same way that you could if you had resources. We won’t be a good city or community if we’re leaving people behind.