Nonprofits across Central Indiana are being forced to adapt. As they deal with record-breaking need combined with a pandemic drop in donations, nonprofits are looking for ways to reimagine how to serve their communities. They are shifting gears, focusing on creative problem solving, unexpected partnerships, and innovation and much can be learned from their entrepreneurialism by the business sector as well.

The Stanford Social Innovation Review defines innovation as “a break from practice, large or small, leading to significant social change.” Right now, there are nonprofits at work in Central Indiana that are intentionally breaking the mold and creating new solutions to solve vexing social challenges. They are thinking like entrepreneurs, who Forbes identifies as “those who identify a need – any need – and fill it.”

The Meridian Foundation created the Arago Honors awards to inspire innovation among nonprofits. In its 2021 inaugural year, eight nonprofits were recognized with $10,000 each in unrestricted funding. Last year, the leaders of the eight Arago Honor recipients were intentional problem solvers in a wide assortment of missions. Their work should be used as a guide on how to solve multiple problems simultaneously. A few common threads and characteristics defined their work and within them are lessons the business community can glean to better understand the impact of innovation. For instance:

Creative partnerships

Good alliances can help strengthen an organization (or a company) and expand the mission to a new and broader audience. Partnering with others can boost your workforce, allow you to better utilize combined resources and take advantage of additional locations.

A willingness to try something different

Stepping out of the familiar and into the unknown is often when innovation begins. Leaving your comfort zone can be frightening, but pivoting to change a core aspect of the way things have been done before can lead to new revenue generating sources, more efficiently meet client demand or offer a new solution.

Meeting clients where they are

It takes innovation to reach the people that need you where they are. Opening a field or satellite office, selecting employees who feel at home in the areas they are working to improve or creating new opportunities for engagement are all ways to intentionally solve problems and create a greater impact.

Some of Indianapolis’ most creative and respected nonprofit leaders encourage disruptive innovation that can lead to long-term changes and advantages in their communities. While many nonprofits approach their innovation process incrementally, others mobilize quickly; both paths reward risk taking and can improve results. The Meridian Foundation created the Arago Honors awards to encourage nonprofits to think outside the box by considering new conversations, funding, frameworks, and assessments that will raise the status quo and impact our community in a positive way.

The eight nonprofit leaders of the inaugural class of Arago Honors each approached the solutions for their specific problem in their industries – health, aging assistance, workforce development, food insecurity, early learning education, new business acceleration, art entrepreneurship, and racial equity – by embracing best and new practices. We encourage the business community to find their own path to accelerate their culture of innovation.

Donna Oklak is the founder of the Meridian Foundation and Arago Honors program. Information about the foundation and awards can be found at

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