Boston is a place where people seem to be constantly finding new ways to tackle old problems. Often overlooked though are the innovators trying new solutions to seemingly intractable social challenges.

Earlier this week, the VDC hosted a meeting with Julie Zack, Colette Stanzler and Andrew Wolk of Root Cause, a Cambridge nonprofit organization that advances enduring solutions to social problems by supporting social innovators and educating social impact investors. The convener was Benyamin Lichtenstein, joined by Arthur Eisenkraft, Donna Friedman, Darren Kew, David Levy, Shelley Metzenbaum, Celia Moore, Daniel Phillips, and Maureen Scully of UMass Boston.

Wolk, also a lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School, is pushing for establishing a Massachusetts Office of Social Innovation, putting into place policies to find and support unheralded, creative, successful models of social innovation that have the potential to make a big difference. This was among the topics of discussion at our meeting.

Wolk told of President Obama’s announcement last month that he would push for funding of a Social Innovation Fund, fulfilling a campaign pledge. A coalition Root Cause is an active member of, America Forward, organized by New Profit Inc., another Cambridge based nonprofit organization, first proposed the Fund.

The $50-million Fund made it into the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act passed this past spring but still requires Congressional approval as part of the next federal budget. Administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service, the fund will provide grants to existing grant-making institutions that will invest in growing innovative, results-driven non-profit programs and expand their reach throughout the country.

“States interested in taking advantage of the administration’s focus on social innovation would be smart to examine a social innovation agenda,” Wolk said he said at a June 30, 2009 news conference at the White House.

Social entrepreneurs leading organizations involved in America Forward share a set of characteristics. They are visionaries who generate innovations with the potential to transform a problem or field; possess exceptional abilities to rally the human and financial resources to transform their vision into a reality; and deliver high-quality social impact. These social entrepreneurs believe they have powerfully demonstrated their models, and with an infusion of financial and strategic resources can take their social innovations to scale.

The individuals at the VDC meeting decided to create a social innovation working group at UMass Boston, and plan to meet again on Wednesday August 5th, then connect with Andrew Wolk, to explore opportunities and add momentum to social innovation in Massachusetts. – WJB