A man is hugging another man in a church.


Recognizing the Value of Community Voice

Carrie Jones

Partnerships and investments that deliver real impact for people and communities often hinge on participant engagement. When connecting with participants to gather their reflections, it’s important to recognize this essential input for what it actually is: lived expertise worthy of fair compensation.

In 2022, Social Finance launched a formal diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) Action Plan and convened an internal DEI Action Committee whose members launched and oversaw multiple initiatives, including the creation of a participant compensation guide and the introduction of the payment platform, Usio.

In the months since publishing the compensation guide and adopting the payment system, teams across the organization have leveraged these resources to fairly and thoughtfully compensate project participants for providing their input and expertise—information that helps us to gain a more comprehensive understanding of community need and develop solutions with high potential for measurable impact.

Informing project design in New Castle County, Delaware

In September 2022, we partnered with New Castle County, Delaware, and the nonprofit Children & Families First to launch the New Castle County Pay for Success Project, a $3 million program designed to expand access to quality prenatal and postnatal health care for 120 Medicaid-eligible, first-time mothers living in the county.  

Months before launch, during the project design phase, we interviewed home-visiting nurses and mothers set to participate in the program to ensure that it was tailored to both health care providers and families. These interviews informed various programmatic design variables.

“The conversations offered really candid feedback on how participants perceived recruitment, service delivery, data and feedback collection, and program outcomes,” Social Finance Associate Director Matthew La Rocque said.

Understanding community challenges in Ventura County, California

In August 2022, we began collaborating with the Ventura County Executive Office in California to create an outcomes-based contracting approach for permanent supportive housing service expansion, funded with a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. This effort is designed to help people experiencing homelessness who have interacted with the justice system find stable housing and all that comes with it.

As the vision for this work took shape, we connected with a local, peer-run advocacy group to engage people in Ventura County who were experiencing or had in the past experienced homelessness to understand the challenges they face, particularly when attempting to find support.

“We held focus groups to get their feedback on service gaps, outcomes, and potential program models,” Social Finance Associate Director Annie Jensen said.

Gauging programmatic impact across workforce investments

We manage multiple workforce investments aimed at driving economic mobility at scale and addressing talent shortages across industries. This work includes partnerships with diverse job training providers, from diesel mechanic technician trainers to nursing educators, and employer partners.

To improve service delivery and student experience, we also interview participants during and after training through our workforce investments, giving them space to reflect on their respective experiences and share their stories.

Things for me have changed a lot since I graduated ... I have more time to spend with my daughter. I was able to move and finally purchase a home. I now have the work life balance I’ve always been striving for.


Dimitra Headshot
I had an offer from a bus metro company almost a week before I even got to Ohio. That was the moment I knew: this is the real deal.


Daniel Headshot
As a result of this training, I now have a steady job that will lead to bigger things. I’m so proud, because it’s not just a job—it’s a career that I can use to look after myself and my son.


Stephanie Reyes and her son taking a selfie.

Compensating for lived expertise to achieve impact

Equipped with a compensation guide and an efficient tool for distributing payments, our teams engaged multiple communities, collected key insights, and, importantly, fairly compensated participants willing to offer their time and lived expertise in the service of impact.

Related Insight

Reflecting on our DEI Journey
A group of people putting their hands together in a circle.

Reflecting on our DEI Journey

In 2022, we launched and advanced multiple DEI workstreams tied to our DEI Action Plan.

Social Finance