Innovation lessons go beyond individual projects
Benefits gained from thinking "outside the box" are as vast as the cross-country organization itself.
"We need to be innovative to bring us into the future. And it's great that the decision-makers at VOA are committed to it. It's definitely creating a more cohesive organization," says Patti Louie, Chief Financial Officer for Volunteers of America of Los Angeles.
But as it turns out, the scope of the project ends up offering unanticipated value that is very much employee-related.
Louie is a mentor for two of the five teams in the groundbreaking VOA Innovation Pilot called VOA Innovation for Impact, which spans areas such as medical outreach, community nutrition and even improved communications within the organization.
Because each VOA affiliate is different in size, scope and culture, the project acts as a magnet, bringing together a variety of skills and perspectives from across the country.
"It's a positive statement about the potential for innovation. The program solicited volunteers, and they were asked to submit ideas for innovation. Over 65 of the 100 volunteers submitted an innovation idea! That's what innovation looks like," she says.
"The great thing is that while there was a plethora of ideas for new services, process innovations — which are sometimes neglected when staff are so passionate about providing services -- were also suggested. That's how we ended up with the Affiliates2Family initiative," Louie says.
As team mentor, Louie says she has a front-row seat to the continued energy and enthusiasm of each of the five teams because they check-in with regular phone calls.
"Having the five separate visions really makes the innovation interesting. Locally, we do things a certain way because we know our team members. But having different voices and ideas working together really keeps everyone on their toes," she says, noting that each team is now in a different stage — taking advantage of their diverse capabilities and high level of creative energy.
Louie mentors two teams: MEDROVER, which offers health care to rural patients thanks to a mobile medical office, and All Together Now, which is creating a toolkit for affordable housing providers.
There are three other Innovation for Impact projects: VOA OurGarden brings gardens into different VOA nutrition programs, Nourish For a Cause pairs up social enterprise opportunities with clients looking for job training and employment through food services and VOA Connect is a communications hub for VOA employees.
"From my perspective, one of the very big positives is the affiliate-to-affiliate connection this project has brought, uniting staff in ways that they haven't been before. We're sharing best practices, and working together," Louie says. "It really ends up uniting our organization."