At United Way Dallas, Social Innovation Drives Lasting, Systemic Change | United Way of Metropolitan Dallas

At United Way Dallas, Social Innovation Drives Lasting, Systemic Change

collage of volunteers

In a world that’s constantly changing—particularly now in the midst of a global pandemic—United Way of Metropolitan Dallas continually looks for new ways to address the challenges that come with that change. 

And as the world spins, we pivot to adapt to those new challenges while also bringing bold new solutions to pervasive problems.

In 2020, our social innovators have had to answer questions such as:

  • What if your program provides meals to kids or seniors, but they don’t have transportation because of COVID-19? (You flip to delivering meals to them instead of them coming to you.)
  • What if you can no longer provide your main service, building out neighborhoods, because of social distancing requirements? (You temporarily switch to making personal protective equipment.)

These are examples of social innovation, and it’s a key part of United Way’s strategy to strengthen education, income and health.  We define social innovation as the development of novel solutions to social problems that are more effective, efficient, sustainable or just than current solutions. We flip ideas on their heads, turn them sideways, twist them inside out—all to find solutions we’ve never seen before, to both systemic, persistent problems and new challenges.

We look for ideas that fill gaps in education, income and health—by ferreting out needed services that are lacking altogether, or by finding nonprofits with great ideas that are having trouble reaching/serving their constituents. Then, we tackle those challenges collaboratively, by bringing together creative thinkers and entrepreneurs with funders, civic leaders, existing nonprofits and more. We’re all better together.

Our social innovation work puts us at the forefront of philanthropic and nonprofit success across the region. We use our amazing resources, reputation and connections to promote and support new ideas and new players who perhaps have not had access to funding before. We’re willing to take a little more risk, see if a new thing works, and along with our partners, we’ve seen some impressive results!

‘ It’s Not Simply a Funding Issue ‘

We’re drilling deep into systemic challenges, some of which have affected the North Texas community for years or even decades. 

“Addressing these challenges will require monetary resources, but it is not simply a funding issue.  Human capital, capacity building and a strong network are all elements that we focus on when thinking about enabling our community’s organizations,” says Ann Montgomery, vice president of innovation and design at United Way Dallas.

At United Way, we carry out social innovation work through our Social Innovation Accelerator and our Nonprofit Success Initiative, along with Southern Dallas Thrives, a partnership with the PepsiCo Foundation and Frito-Lay North America. 

young men sitting in kitchen laughing

Social Innovation Accelerator

young men sitting in kitchen laughing

The Social Innovation Accelerator, launched in 2013, invests seed funding and resources to support North Texas innovators whose organizations address issues of education, income and health. 

By tapping into creative thinkers with big ideas, and helping them be successful, we’re helping the entire community succeed. The Social Innovation Accelerator fellows get access to mentoring and funding that enable them to more quickly drive communitywide, lasting change.

In 2017, we partnered with Accenture to amplify the Social Innovation Accelerator’s impact via funding, technology and mentorship crucial to our fellows making impactful change. 

This is hardly a “submit an application, get a check” kind of program. Each year, 10 selected participants first take part in Boot Camp and mentoring sessions starting in the fall. Then, usually in April (this year postponed to Oct. 28), five nonprofits are selected for The Pitch, in which they make their cases before judges and a live audience for an additional $225,000 in funding. 

We’ve also already selected and are working with the 2020 class of Social Innovation Accelerator fellows.

Since 2013, the United Way Social Innovation Accelerator has invested nearly $4.5 million in nearly 50 North Texas social entrepreneurs. With the support of United Way’s community connections, credibility and nearly 4,000 mentoring hours, our alumni have gone on to raise an additional $15.25 million and forge nearly 700 partnerships, earning local and national recognition.

Many of our fellows have emerged as national leaders in the social innovation space.

Some of the projects Social Innovation Accelerator fellows have fostered to create positive outcomes include:


Provides academic managers who assist with degree plans, budgets and progress, addressing the 90% dropout rate of at-risk college students.

My Possibilities

Provides community employment and work experience to adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities through a for-profit transitional employment retail center.

Bonton Farms

A farm and produce store in the midst of Southern Dallas’ food desert, providing healthy food, nutritional programs and employment…

Rosa es Rojo

A program that makes wellness and prevention accessible to the high-risk cancer population of Latino women in North Texas

southern dallas thrives header

Southern Dallas Thrives

southern dallas thrives header

The unemployment rate in Southern Dallas is more than triple that of the Dallas-Fort Worth average and nearly 30 percent of residents there live in poverty. More than 90 percent of Southern Dallas students are disadvantaged and over 45 percent of children are not kindergarten ready.

Southern Dallas Thrives addresses challenges from multiple angles, with an interconnected, comprehensive approach. For example, giving a kid great child care not only prepares them for success in school, it enables their moms to join the workforce. And when women thrive, households thrive.

Within the next three to five years, the Southern Dallas Thrives initiative aims to:

photo of back of woman's head/hand raised in a classroom

Nonprofit Success Initiative

photo of back of woman's head/hand raised in a classroom

Our Nonprofit Success Initiative aims to fuel social innovation through existing nonprofits by strengthening collaboration among them, to achieve quicker, deeper change. Cohorts are formed each year, with 10 nonprofits learning how to work together (rather than duplicating efforts) and align outcomes.

We work with the agencies on capacity-building training—everything from board development to networking, relationship building and marketing. We hope that through these annual cohorts, agencies can build their expertise and muscle to step up to a new level.

Stay Connected

Through these and other programs, United Way Dallas builds a rich tapestry of social innovations among nonprofits seeking to change outcomes in a wide variety of issues, all directly or indirectly related to education, income and health, the building blocks of opportunity for all North Texans.

Sign up here to get reminded about The Pitch on Oct. 28! Sign up here to get reminded about The Pitch on Oct. 28! You can watch the live stream as this year’s Social Innovator Accelerator fellows bring us their best and brightest ideas.

This article was published on: Sep 21, 2020