Earlier this year I served as a “citizen reviewer” for the Connect for Health Challenge.  The Connect for Health Challenge brought together Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation and InCommons, an initiative of the Bush Foundation, to fund projects that aimed to improve health by fostering social connections (an issue I’ve discussed in previous posts).The Challenge’s grant review process was not typical.  A typical grant review process would include a several page detailed proposal, supporting financial and organizational documentation and decisions made by the foundation board (with input from staff).   It can be slow, very competitive and often not very transparent.  It is not unusual for the same organizations get funded year after year.

The Challenge involved shorter applications, less documentation and different types of citizen participation in the review process.

According to InCommons’ website, its goal is to provide a way for people to share innovative ideas and solutions to tough community problems.  It aims to

  • Recognize innovative ideas for solving problems
  • Let community members determine what’s important
  • Help identify and connect people already working on tough problems
  • Shed light on solutions in overlooked places
  • Provide a transparent process for grant-making

I attended an event recently which honored the organizations that submitted Challenge grant proposals.  As luck would have it, I ended up sitting at a table with staff from The Family Partnership, which was awarded the one $100,000 grant (twenty $20,000 grants were also awarded) for its Native American Somali Peacemakers project.  This project brings Native Americans and Somali together in the Powderhorn and Phillips neighborhoods in order to build social connections and improve neighborhood safety.  The project grew out of a desire to address incidents of conflict and misunderstanding between the groups.  Congrats and good luck to the folks behind this promising project.

I’ll discuss in a subsequent blog my thoughts on this process and my personal experience as a citizen reviewer.