re·solve (verb): to solve or end a problem or a difficulty

When my colleague Omar Hashmi and I first had the idea for DCSIP back in 2010, we noticed two things. First, we were alarmed by the inconceivable level of poverty in one of the richest, most powerful cities in the world. Looking around from our law offices at Akin Gump, we also felt a bubbling level of millennial energy. People just like us were growing increasingly aware of our responsibility and ability to positively impact our city. We had a simple idea that we could combine these unlikely forces, add a little capital, and help jumpstart some new ideas from within communities to make a dent. A socially-inclusive startup incubator.

Now five years later, parts of DC don’t even look the same as where I used to walk. That first influx of millennials has turned into a tidal wave and now DC is one of the top three cities in the nation with the most educated millennials as well as one of the most expensive places in the country to live. With this social and financial wealth, however, pockets of poverty have increased and grown more entrenched. There are other indicators which should shame us as the nation’s capital: Our infant mortality, mass incarceration rates, and education levels are disparate across racial and economic lines. If you are black or brown and poor, your DC just doesn’t look or feel the same.

But five years later—I also see hope. Consider these amazing stories this year from the incredible ventures we have helped incubate:

  • Young Doctors DC was highlighted as a promising program by the American Association of Medical College. As co-founder Malcolm Woodland’s program has focused on cultivating community health capacity in Ward 8 teens to counter the 2.5% of black medical school enrollment rates. “The aspirations of African-American boys and girls and youth of color,” he says, “are just as high, if not higher.”
  • FoodForLife (FFL) released its report that it has generated 34 new jobs for disconnected youth. Marisa Stubbs highlighted the twists and turns for us of one of her students who began with FFL culinary training, ended up in jail, and then back out into a position at one of the hippest restaurants in DC thanks to FFL connections. “So many people have believed in me, “ her student said of his journey, “It’s time for me to believe in myself.”
  • WiseYoungBuilders launched their expanded summer academy and found the math scores of their 8-12 year old campers improved by 85% through building and construction. As Priest’s mother said, “He really needs this–not only for the skills he gets—building, math, but also it is a brotherhood that does a lot for him…now we feel like it’s a family.”

All these stories say to me that just as DC Social Innovation Project has the back of our 13 venture leaders, and they in turn have the back of countless others in DC neighborhoods. Collectively, they’ve unleashed love, courage, and great ideas into some amazing places—communities defined not by the federal poverty line but by their potential.

As we dug into crafting our strategic plan for the next five years, it became abundantly clear that our value is at this small but wholly transformational level. We want to dive deeper. We want to work at the neighborhood level to uncover great, emerging ideas by people in the best position to unlock community brilliance and potential. We are doing this because we have learned that this is how communities can best harness the power of innovation and revitalize in-place. We don’t count our success by looking at a balance sheet, we count it by looking at the number of people we are able to reach, inspire and transform. We look for new job opportunities created within communities. We want to see new energy and enterprise flowing within communities. We don’t look for quantity—we look for quality. We focus on transformational programs that create healthier, more resilient communities, kids, and streets.

Lasting change happens from the inside-out with a partnership approach that is respectful and equitable. In the months ahead we will be talking to community members and partners on where our model would be welcome at a neighborhood level and bringing our resolve and approach to bear. 2016 is going to be a great year and the start of a whole new level of intensity of DCSIP’s work. We invite you to join us.

Darius is co-founder and board chair of DC Social Innovation Project. He is the inaugural Director of the Social Innovation Lab at Johns Hopkins University, an incubator for mission-driven ventures tackling local and global challenges. Darius also serves in the advisory capacity of Social Entrepreneur-In-Residence in the Center for Social Value Creation at University of Maryland, Robert H. Smith School of Business. Darius was previously an associate in the corporate restructuring group at the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP and has served as a mayor-appointed commissioner on the District of Columbia Commission on National & Community Service. Darius has been recognized as a Global Shaper with the World Economic Forum and is an alum and trustee of the Institute for Responsible Citizenship. Darius is author of the award-winning book, Being the Difference: True Stories of Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things to Change the World. He received a B.A. summa cum laude from Florida A&M University and a J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley – School of Law where he served as an editor of the California Law Review and as editor-in-chief of the Berkeley Journal of African-American Law & Policy.