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Innovation Mission highlighted in Plain Dealer

Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer published the following story about The Innovation Mission, a newly launched initiative from the Sisters of Charity Foundation to use innovation to disrupt the cycle of poverty. Also featured on, the story highlights the five fellows selected for the initiative and outlines their program goals.

Innovation Mission puts ideas to solve poverty into action

These proposed advocacy programs, which fight the root causes of poverty, are being developed through The Innovation Mission: Fighting Poverty with Big Ideas. This new executive-loan program is a partnership between the Cleveland Leadership Center and the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland.

Rather than attempt to tackle the problem of poverty as a whole, the Innovation Mission focuses on specific barriers making it hard for low-income families to climb the economic ladder, said Marianne Crosley, president and CEO of the Cleveland Leadership Center, which offers civic leadership programs to boost civic engagement.

The Innovation Mission is advancing unique ideas for fighting poverty.

“Each of the proposals has significant ways it can impact the complex conditions people face as they live in poverty,” said Susanna Krey, president of the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland. The grant-making foundation works to reduce the root causes of poverty, homelessness and health disparities.

Krey and Crosley began talking in 2016 about creating a loaned executive program that could empower people to advance their ideas on fighting poverty. Interest in the Leadership Center’s information sessions, held this spring to explain the program, was so strong that people had to be turned away, Crosley said.

About 30 proposals were submitted for the pilot program, and finalists gave their pitches for a panel of community leaders this fall. Five Innovation Mission fellows were selected and began their 18-month fellowship in November, Krey said.

Each fellow receives up to $15,000 to research and develop their projects, and their workplaces also receive a $15,000 stipend from the Innovation Mission, Krey said. At the end of one year, the fellows will get an additional $20,000. Funding is provided by the Sisters of Charity Foundation.

Fellows will keep their jobs during the fellowship, but spend 10 days each quarter on refining their projects, said Maragret Eigsti, program officer with the Sisters of Charity Foundation and the Innovation Mission project lead. The fellows attend three-day workshops, held every three months, to work with mentors on defining problems and asking critical questions, Eigsti said.

The Leadership Center provides resources, networking and mentors. “We know collaboration ensures the success of these projects,” Crosley said.

The five selected fellows were formally introduced at a reception held recently at The Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland (MOCA).

Innovation Mission fellow Bill Leamon, program and internship coordinator at Notre Dame College, wants to develop a technology-based program that matches all college-bound Cleveland Metropolitan School District students with a mentor. His idea targets students who are the first in their families to attend college.

“Cleveland’s greatest hope for neighborhood transformation starts with increasing the number of college students who not only go, but more importantly graduate from college,” Leamon said in a press release.

Fellow Hazel Remesch, a supervising attorney at the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, will explore ways to create a legal clinic at housing court to provide a lawyer to families fighting eviction.

Unstable housing often leads to problems with employment and education, Crosley said. If Remesch’s program helps low-income people avoid eviction, “that’s huge,” Crosley said. “It has the potential to have a ripple effect in addressing other issues surrounding poverty.”

Julie Cortes, senior attorney with the Legal Aid Society, proposed helping low-income residents who want to become entrepreneurs.

Penny Smith, executive director for academic services at Northeast Ohio Medical University, sees a need for linking job training programs to ex-offenders and military veterans who pay child support.

Dabney Conwell, vice president of the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging, will focus on low-income seniors facing food insecurity and social isolation.

At the end of the fellowship, participants will be ready to pitch their projects to investors in the hopes of raising additional seed funding to put their programs into action.

“We don’t want them to have a plan that goes on a shelf,” Krey said.

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