This blog is part of a series on The Innovation Mission, a new program from our member 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. Our foundresses, the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, dedicated their lives and the work of their order to supporting women and children living in poverty. For them, working toward a better tomorrow was more than a choice—it was a calling.

The Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine settled in Cleveland in 1851. They took a leap and traveled to a foreign country and trusted in themselves and God that their commitment to their mission could make change. They are, in a way, models of innovation, and we have spent decades walking in their footsteps, working to support community partners in effecting systems change to break the cycle of poverty.

We’re proud of the great work that the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland has done in our focus areas to end homelessness, reduce health disparities, improve educational opportunities, and support the ongoing social justice work of the Catholic sisters. But we consistently hear the troubling statistic that one in three Clevelanders still live in poverty, including more than 50 percent of the city’s children.

As a long-time member of the Fund for Our Economic Future, we know that addressing poverty and racial disparities in our community is not just an ethical imperative; it’s an economic one, too. Northeast Ohio will be a better place for all of us when there is equitable access to opportunity.

In the spirit of our founding sisters, we are called to seek better outcomes, to push for extraordinary.

We began thinking about how to apply their innovative spirit to our daily work.

How could we leverage innovation to address the challenging problems related to poverty? While we typically invest in organizations that present solid evidence and proof of results, we opted this time to invest in individuals and the potential power of their ideas. We must continue to support existing effective programs and services, but to begin to disrupt our multi-generational cycle of poverty, we need to expand the thinking and bring more ideas to the table.

We know Northeast Ohioans are innovative. Whether it’s a cutting-edge business or a novel way to fund entrepreneurial ideas, our community embraces the power of thinking outside the box. But the opportunity for experimentation and the discipline of innovation are not always supported and encouraged in the social sector, and we wanted to change that. And thus, The Innovation Mission was born.

Partnering with the Cleveland Leadership Center, we are investing in five passionate Clevelanders who have significant experience in their fields. We’re giving them the time and space to bolster their ability as innovators who can test and develop solutions to tough social problems. The fellowship gives them the opportunity to think differently, for the benefit of Cleveland’s poorest residents. They have spent the last nine months growing their big ideas into functional, scalable project plans, and they are now developing their presentations to secure resources from partners, investors and funders who see the benefit of these innovations. In the coming months, look to the Fund’s blog for insights from our five fellows.

Our hope is that by opening up this problem-solving approach to individuals in the community, we can help influence a new tomorrow—one with a culture of innovation that supports idea-testing and risk-taking to find effective, impactful solutions.

We are committing our time and resources to conduct a successful fellowship because we believe we are called to pursue an extraordinary future. It is my hope that funding partners across Northeast Ohio will feel similarly, and help support The Innovation Mission fellows in their efforts to implement their projects locally.

We’re all on this learning journey together. That’s what innovation is all about—taking different routes until you find the solution that works for you. In our case, those solutions have the potential to change Northeast Ohioans lives.