When I think of innovation, especially in terms of how it applies to CAP, I see it as a tremendous asset.
CAP’s mission is helping low-income families achieve self-sufficiency—giving people the knowledge and tools to become economically stable. The role of innovation is a way to come up with new and effective strategies to solve a problem in a cost-effective way for a large group of people, so it plays directly in to our mission.
Innovation is a part of CAP’s DNA and culture. It’s a way of thinking that extends throughout the organization—it is a strategic goal of the agency, because innovation fosters new ideas and opportunities.
The benefit of innovation can be seen in Tulsa Initiative. The research from this groundbreaking project will allow us to go one step beyond because the project is specifically aimed at stopping the cycle of intergenerational poverty. In addition to helping families now, we’re planning for the future.
If there was a tried and true successful approach to ending poverty, we would copy that instead of trying to reinvent the wheel—but we don’t feel that wheel has been invented yet, so we have to keep thinking of new and different ways to re-invent the “wheel” that will solve this issue.
It can be a challenge to make innovation work because we have to adapt so quickly to a new and different approach, and sometimes the resources are not available immediately for that change. With innovation, non-profits must be willing to allow for more than a marginal degree of risk and failure tolerance. We must work outside our own boundaries and comfort zones to create impact. It’s important to remember that “failure” is still momentum and action that can lead to better and innovative solutions from lessons learned. The allowance of some failure establishes a benchmark for some risk tolerance. Innovation happens from mistakes and successes.
The blog that our TI staff has established here is itself a tolerated risk. It is an open channel of communication through which we can express our questions, our answers, our ideas, our successes, and – yes – our failures. (As you can see below in Micah’s post!) It is not filtered through our professional communications staff, posts are not vetted by supervisors, and we’ll try very hard to speak with our own voices, not that of an organization. I hope you get a sense of CAP’s spirit of curiosity out of this blog and that you’ll be inspired to participate in this broad endeavor we call Tulsa Initiative.
CAP seeks to be cutting edge in the way we do things in our rapidly changing environment, so change will always be what we are about. But we and our partners have to commit to excellence—we don’t want to be static and rest on our laurels. As an agency dedicated to improving the economic stability of low-income children and their families, we should continue building relationships with a community that shares our ideals, aiming for superior performance, and embracing innovation every day.
Steven Dow is Executive Director of Community Action Project of Tulsa County.