Social Innovation Fund Grantee Spotlight: GreenLight: uAspire

uAspire Program Director Monica Hayden works with Mahogany Alexander on the college application process.

Across our nation there are innovative solutions that are addressing the challenges facing low-income, urban children, youth, and families to find their way out of poverty, and achieving real impact. However, often institutional and other barriers prevent these nonprofit solutions from replicating their impact from one community to another.  The GreenLight Fund is a community-based, community-focused solution to this challenge of growth in the nonprofit sector. The GreenLight Fund provides a vehicle to catalyze and support successful and sustainable replication that allows nonprofit solutions to be owned, grown and sustained locally.

The GreenLight Fund works at the local end of scale by creating the infrastructure needed for social entrepreneurs to spread their solutions-driven, evidence-based and high-impact nonprofit models from one community to another where there is unmet need. With its Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grant, the GreenLight Fund is helping to address the achievement and opportunity gap for 20,000 low-income children and youth in Boston, Philadelphia, and the San Francisco Bay Area.  Through their investments, the GreenLight Fund is working to ensure that all children, regardless of their family’s socio-economic situation, excel in school and have the opportunity to attend college, successfully complete a college degree, and help break the cycle of poverty.


The GreenLight Fund supports the successful expansion of nonprofits into the local community that show the results needed to have a significant impact on priority local issues. The GreenLight Fund does this by first establishing a local community board to help identify and  determine community needs, including which high-performing nonprofits are the best fit in that community.  In addition to creating community buy-in, this innovative approach also ensures that existing resources are not duplicated. Because the GreenLight Fund works with local organizations in cities with varying demographics and needs, they are able to help existing groups within those communities attract new ideas and resources to help solve persistent problems.      

Once an organization is “greenlighted” for the local community, the GreenLight Fund partners with the organization to build a strong structural foundation and launch the programs as quickly as possible.  The GreenLight Fund is an on-the-ground partner to local organizations, providing critical support during the first four to six years of a program’s life in the local community, and investing in the early and long-term success of the organization.


The GreenLight Fund’s approach to identifying and selecting local partners is entirely based on the potential partnering organizations’ ability to demonstrate that its ideas and approaches can and will improve the outcomes of children in schools.  The GreenLight Fund is using its SIF grant to evaluate all of its subgrantees, many who have come with robust evaluation histories. Though the subgrantees’ evaluation plans are still in discussion, they will include implementation and impact studies to ensure that the “imports” are working in their new location, that tweaks are being made when needed and that the programs are meeting the outcomes identified.

For example, one of their subgrantees, uAspire is proposing a quasi-experimental design that will assess the impact of its San Francisco programs on students’ ability to successfully navigate the maze of college financial aid and successfully enroll and complete college. Through the use of assessments, the GreenLight Fund also has experience in determining whether or not grantees are successful with their proposed projects, and identifying what can be done to improve them as they move forward. 


Since 2004, the GreenLight Fund has worked in Boston to support the growth of competitively selected nonprofits that are increasing the academic success of children and young adults.  With SIF support in 2011, the GreenLight Fund launched sites in Philadelphia and the San Francisco Bay Area, and brought on staff, advisors and a growing base of donors to support additional nonprofit organizations and initiatives in those areas. This expansion means that 20,000 incremental students across the three cities will have access to the additional resources to succeed in school and beyond.

Mother Lisa Marie Lewis, and son Ervin Willis Jr. work together at the BUILD financial aid night hosted by UAspire.

Transforming Lives. Strengthening Communities.

Last year was the first experience Janine had with the college application and financial aid process. Her daughter graduated from high school in 2011 and decided to take a year off before going to college. When they began the college application process, they did not have the camaraderie of other classmates, parents, or the school to assist in walking them through the often tedious and complicated steps. Being a divorced single parent sending her only child to college for the first time, the mere thought of it seemed to be an overwhelming and daunting task for Janine.

Everything changed for the better once uAspire, a program in San Francisco supported by the GreenLight Fund’s SIF grant, came into the picture.  Janine felt from the moment she and her daughter walked into the office that they were in good hands. The uAspire staff were all instrumental in carefully walking Janine and her daughter through all of the necessary steps to fill out the applications for college and financial aid. Janine’s daughter is now successfully enrolled in college.

uAspire is more than just a program — it is a springboard that helps young people follow their dreams.

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