The Health Trust awards $427,722 in Disruptive Innovation grants to fuel change in Silicon Valley’s nonprofit sector

Text Size:

SAN JOSE, Calif., October 3, 2012 – The Health Trust has awarded five grants totaling $427,722 to Silicon Valley nonprofits attempting to disrupt the ways the social services sector serves the community that are simpler and less expensive than traditional methods. The Health Trust is one of just a few foundations working to translate Disruptive Innovation theory into the social services sector

“This grant program promises to have national impact,” said Frederick J. Ferrer, CEO of The Health Trust. “Nonprofits across the country share similar challenges, with everyone chasing the same dwindling pots of government money while the needs in the social services sector are increasing. We need to develop new ways to provide services to meet this growing need with fewer resources. “

Two of the five grants were awarded to Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County:

  • $100,000 for the Step Up Silicon Valley initiative to explore “social impact bonds”, a financing method that would potentially shift the way nonprofits are funded. Non-profits now operate on a combination of government dollars, grants and donations. This project will look at the feasibility of funding projects through a venture capital approach, with returns based on an agency’s performance.
  • $50,000 to train low-income Latina women to set up their own physical activity and nutrition instructor businesses. Low-income and minority women are challenged by unemployment and underemployment as well as higher rates of overweight and obesity. Helping women develop their own Zumba and nutrition businesses will allow low-income women more access to exercise and healthy food choices from culturally competent instructors who are more affordable and accessible than traditional health clubs.

Other grants awarded include:

  • $127,722 to Community Technology Alliance to explore the feasibility of providing basic mobile phone services to homeless and extremely low-income individuals. Phone and mailbox service is currently limited to shelters and cell phone availability is unaffordable. Developing affordable vehicles to provide cell phones with mailboxes to a currently underserved customer base could provide more seamless access to health care, employment and housing for a variety of low-income clients.
  • $50,000 to the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, Health Legal Services, to explore ways to provide legal advice and basic legal services on the web for those who cannot afford an attorney. We anticipate that a relatively small increase in accessibility will greatly improve low-income people’s capacity to deal with common legal challenges that now can only be solved by hiring a costly attorney or utilizing the overburdened legal aid firms.
  • $100,000 to Greenbelt Alliance to develop a new system to engage neighborhoods in community land use issues using the web and mobile devices. From master planning to individual park enhancement to bike lanes, city and county governments have worked to engage community members on how land is used. Unfortunately, few people tend to participate and, when they do, it is often due to large scale and expensive community engagement efforts. This new method of engagement will bring currently unrepresented voices in addition to concerned citizens to the conversation using a more convenient, less expensive and accessible format.

In order to qualify for funding, these agencies had to be more than innovative. Simply doing what they do better or more efficiently was not enough. They had to show that their innovations would be “disruptive”, meaning they would serve an untapped market at a reduced cost (usually utilizing technology) and provide a “good enough” service that would improve the wellbeing of low-income individuals and communities.

The Disruptive Innovation grant program is inspired by the work of Harvard Business School Professor and innovation guru Clayton Christensen, who mesmerized the business world with his theory about how established industries were undermined by innovators who came up with cheaper, easier solutions to meet customers’ needs. Examples of disruptive innovations include no-frills airlines, cell phones and minute medical clinics.

In January, The Health Trust brought Dr. Christensen to Silicon Valley to educate local nonprofit and government leaders about Disruptive Innovation theory. The Health Trust then sought proposals from organizations with disruptive ideas that would address health disparities in the community. Of the 20 proposals received, these five were selected.

“We look forward to working with these organizations to learn how Disruptive Innovation can help nonprofits serve the community better,”

Ferrer said. Ferrer said The Health Trust would like to expand the program to additional organizations in 2013.

“Silicon Valley, the world center of innovation, is going to be the center for innovation in the social services sector,” he said. “All we have to do is challenge ourselves and learn to think disruptively.”

About The Health Trust
The Health Trust is a nonprofit foundation that provides grants, services and advocacy to support its vision of Silicon Valley as the healthiest region in America through its three initiatives – Healthy Living, Healthy Aging, and Healthy Communities. For more information, visit

For information contact:
Patty Fisher