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Behind a Grantmaker’s New Fellowship for Promising Problem Solvers

August 20, 2018 – CLEVELAND – The Innovation Mission, a fellowship developed by the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland (SOCF) in partnership with the Cleveland Leadership Center, is teaching five local experts the power of innovative thinking – especially when it comes to fighting poverty.

Nine months into the fellowship’s 18-month process, the five fellows have made extensive progress in learning the skill of innovation as a powerful tool to change the trajectory of poverty.

“These fellows are experts in their fields – aging, entrepreneurship, mentoring, housing, workforce development – but we know that when it comes to innovation, we need to start at the roots of the problems they are trying to solve,” said Susanna H. Krey, SOCF president. “The first half of The Innovation Mission encouraged them to slow down and immerse themselves, rather than jumping to a solution.”

By better assessing the problems they are trying to solve, the fellows established a strong knowledge base to head into the remaining months of the fellowship, Krey said. Now, they are working to build project plans that they will later present to funders for resources and implementation support.

The fellows:

  • Dabney Conwell, vice president, Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging, and executive director, Rose Centers for Aging Well, is looking at whether prescription food delivery can help reduce hospital readmissions and isolation in Cleveland’s elderly populations.
  • Julie Cortes, senior attorney at Legal Aid Cleveland, is investigating how to provide business and legal services to entrepreneurs to help eliminate barriers to employment.
  • Bill Leamon, college and career coach at Notre Dame College, is encouraging mentoring for first-generation, low-income college students to help reduce dropout rates.
  • Hazel Remesch, supervising attorney at the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, is exploring how to provide legal representation to tenants in eviction cases to help prevent housing instability.
  • Penny Smith, CEO of Alegria Technologies, is working on career-matching technology to give low-income fathers the means to support families.

Throughout the fellowship, the fellows engage in quarterly in-person workshops that highlight the steps to innovative thinking. Administered by Dennis Beatrice, a retired adviser for SRI International in Silicon Valley, Calif., the workshops demonstrate that innovation is a learnable skill.

At their latest workshop, they offered their own reflections on how learning innovation has changed both their projects and their approaches to everyday issues.

  • Conwell: “Under the arch of innovation, you’ve got to go places you wouldn’t normally go.”
  • Cortes: “It’s empowering to understand and believe that you can create change.”
  • Leamon: “I’ve been able to think differently about innovation and think about being open to possibilities – not knowing exactly how things are going to unfold, to be able to trust the process.”
  • Remesch: “I absolutely believe that … we can change the landscape, and I believe it can be big and impactful and really transform the lives of people living in Cleveland.”
  • Smith: “Without innovation, I think of the status quo; I think of no risk-taking, and I think of important populations, like low-income fathers, who would just continue to be left behind.”

When introduced last year, The Innovation Mission challenged Cleveland professionals to present their big idea to help break the cycle of poverty in the community. Of more than 100 applicants, five were selected to spend 18 months developing their ideas into programs and initiatives that will eventually be presented to partners, investors and funders who see the impact of these innovative ideas.

The fellows have been documenting their thoughts and progress in a series of blogs and videos. Their latest video, which focuses on the value of learning the innovative process, is available to view on


Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland

Since 1996, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland has partnered with residents, nonprofits and community leaders to change the trajectory of poverty in Cuyahoga County. Its nearly $100 million endowment includes the first health care conversion foundation and first foundation formed by a congregation of Catholic sisters in the United States.


Through grantmaking, collaboration, advocacy and more, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland works to improve the lives of those most in need with special attention to families, women and children living in poverty. The foundation works to end homelessness in Cuyahoga County and to reduce health disparities and improve educational opportunities in Cleveland’s Central Neighborhood. As a Catholic organization, the foundation extends the values of Jesus Christ through the mission of its founders – the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine – and also works to sustain the ministries of women religious.


The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System – a family of Catholic health care, grantmaking and outreach ministries healing individuals, families and communities in Ohio and South Carolina.


Cleveland Leadership Center

A collaborator on The Innovation Mission, Cleveland Leadership Center builds a continuum of civic leaders committed to the community’s excellence by serving as a catalyst for civic engagement. Created in 2006 through a merger of four longstanding programs, the center has six core offerings, including Leadership Cleveland and Bridge Builders. It also provides customized programming and events to educate, connect, and engage leaders of all ages to spark positive community change.

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