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Social Innovation at Innovate Springfield

Hello from Innovate Springfield! In previous months, we’ve introduced our mission , our history, and our two programs: Business Incubation and Social Innovation. We already dove into business incubation, so what in the world is social innovation?

Simply put, we believe that by working together, we can make our community a better place for everyone, but especially for community members who are less-advantaged.

What does our social innovation work have to do with our business incubation work? When we ensure that all people in our community can pursue their dreams, tearing down barriers and giving them equal opportunities for personal and educational achievement, our community gets stronger. Supporting a child in infancy leads to improved outcomes in school, which makes sure that students are ready to start their college and career endeavors with confidence. A strong community builds a strong economy, in which everyone can engage equally.

We’ve found that the prospect is easier said than done. There are a multitude of issues to be addressed, including:

  • maternal health and mortality,

  • infant health,

  • access to quality preschool programs,

  • kindergarten readiness rates,

  • third grade literacy achievement gaps,

  • access to mentorship for elementary, and middle grade students, college and career readiness,

  • and so much more.

These problems on their own are tough, but when many achievement and access gaps are caused by generational and structural inequality, they get even tougher.

How does anyone get started when it comes to issues like these? Well, we certainly can’t do it alone. We believe in collective impact, the highly structured, data-driven, collaborative effort of organizations to achieve impact on large scale social problems.

Way back in 2005, three organizations banded together to create the Continuum of Learning, a partnership that works together to make sure that all Sangamon County residents are Ready to Learn, Ready to Work, and Ready to Succeed. It grew to seven members:

  • Innovate Springfield,

  • The Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln,

  • The United Way of Central Illinois,

  • Springfield Unit 186,

  • The UIS Center for State Policy and Leadership,

  • The Springfield Chamber of Commerce, and

  • The Land of Lincoln Economic Development Corporation (now the Springfield Sangamon Growth Alliance).

With such a diverse group of partners, the Continuum and the community needed a set of concrete goals to work toward.

In 2015, the Sangamon Success report was born. This recipe for collaboration brought together members from across the county to codify 25 recommendations from prenatal to career that the Continuum could work toward with their community partners.

Many successful programs and initiatives can be traced back to the Sangamon Success report, including the Nurse-Family Partnership, the Ready to Learn initiative, the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, and quality mentoring program support. These are just a few of the programs working to expand access, create equitable experiences, and improve educational outcomes for students in Springfield and beyond.

Though the pandemic has disrupted some of our programs, we are continuing to work for you! The Ready to Learn initiative is screening preschoolers. 186’s Camp Kindergarten is using innovative methods to help incoming kindergarteners get ready for their first day, whether in the classroom or remotely. The AP Equity program is helping high school students take AP tests for no cost, helping them achieve their college dreams.

Together, we can support one another, collaborate on new solutions, and ensure that every Springfield citizen has an equal opportunity to succeed.

Have an idea that can help us reach our goals? Check out the Sangamon Success report, and then e-mail our Social Innovation Program Director at We’d love to have you on the team.

You can keep up with us between blog posts by subscribing to our weekly newsletter and by following us on Facebook and Instagram.


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