The United Way of Rhode Island (UWRI) is one of the gravitational centers of the state’s robust nonprofit sector, so when it makes internal changes, the effects ripple outwards. With new President and CEO Cortney Nicolato taking the reins in 2018 and a new strategic plan nearing completion, the organization is poised to increase its impact.
One of the lieutenants Nicolato will rely on to do the heavy lifting is Angela Bannerman Ankoma. As Executive Vice President and Director of Community Investment, she oversees an extensive portfolio that includes grant-making, public policy, government relations, research and evaluation, and 2-1-1. Just keeping up with the existing programs would make her influential (as would her community work with West Elmwood Housing, where she served as president and co-founded the Sankofa Initiative, an award-winning food-access project), but Ankoma isn’t one to simply maintain the status quo.
In 2020, she will oversee the Nonprofit Innovation Lab, a new collaboration between UWRI and Social Enterprise Greenhouse (SEG). “The Nonprofit Innovation Lab is designed to spark innovation and accelerate the development of new solutions that will enable organizations to expand their ability to create social impact in Rhode Island,” she explains.
Accelerator programs and “bootcamps” are all the rage in the start-up world, like MassChallenge, 10,000 Small Businesses, and SEG’s own Accelerator; this is the same concept applied to nonprofits. Ten nonprofit leaders will come with their best ideas to address pressing social issues and receive mentoring, resources, funding, and networking opportunities to make them happen. The goal is to create self-sustaining solutions that enable organizations to expand their reach by applying an entrepreneurial approach.
The program launches this month and runs through June, when five finalists will pitch their innovation plans for the chance to win up to $50,000 in funding.
Ankoma is excited about taking on a new challenge. “I like that we are supporting nonprofits to develop novel solutions to social problems that are more effective, efficient, sustainable, and just than current solutions,” she says.