The Patheos Faith and Work Channel recently contacted leaders of some prominent community development and entrepreneurial organizations to talk about successes and difficulties in their attempts to transform communities through the growth of new businesses and attention to the dignity of work. Over the next few days, just in time for Thanksgiving, MISSION:WORK will be featuring their stories. Here is the second.
By Brian Jones of Innové Project
How did Innové come about? What is its mission?
The name Innové means “breaking new ground.” Colonial Church had a windfall of money set aside for mission, but didn’t want to do mission in the conventional sense. We are in an affluent suburb, often called “the church where all the businesspeople go.” We’re sitting on a mountain of HR potential and wanted to leverage skills that people had in 9-5 jobs. So we created a $250,000 contest for entrepreneurial projects. The congregation are 100 % of the skills trainers.
We intentionally focused the program outside of the church walls. Our parameters are first that the person or organization needs to be in the Twin Cities area—the program has a strong mentoring/coaching element, so we want them present locally. Then, they need to be 35 or younger; we want to focus on millennials and pair them up with boomers for coaching. Older folks may have better networks they can tap into.
We got the money in 2012; our first round of the program was in 2013 and we had 139 applicants. Out of those we selected 5 “protégés” and have an incubation task force that walks along with them.
How have work opportunities and other social projects from your networks actually transformed communities?
Out of our 5 winners, we had four ideas in the planning stage and one group that had run a small pilot program (they were in one school originally and now in 25; we were able to help them scale from 60 students to 1700 students).
One project just launched last month. Its mission is to provide independent living with kids with disabilities. We helped them get from nothing to their launch. Another is called Twin Cities Mobile Market. Minneapolis has a lot of food deserts. We helped them convert a city bus into a grocery store on wheels. We just got the retrofitting (taking out seats, putting in freezers) done after 11 mos.
Any failures in the process, and what instructive lessons did you take from them?
Generally we are thrilled with how well it has worked. We were very cautious in our launch and really wrestled with details. One issue that arose was that we have CEOS in our congregation, and we thought we would have them be the mentors. Someone said “No, CEOS make horrible mentors, they are used to bossing people around.” So we separated mentors into two groups. Navigators walk with the people, care about the people as much as the idea, and facilitate relationships. The CEOS are skill coaches, who “air drop in” for 90 minutes at a time (such as a high-powered attorney to help a startup with a specific legal program.)
The ego of the boomer and the energy of the millennial can sometimes be oil and water. That’s one of our greatest successes, but has also been difficult; it’s a tension that we’ve had to navigate.
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