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United Way Blog

Problem-Solving With Innovation

If you want to find the next big idea, go to Edwin Goutier. If you want to talk about the future, understand the past, hear a mind-melting metaphor, and then a pretty bad dad joke – Edwin’s your man.

Edwin Goutier, Vice President of Innovation at United Way Worldwide, is possibly the most enthusiastic person you’ll ever meet (his LinkedIn headline literally reads “Enthusiasm Enthusiast”). As a first-generation Haitian-American brought up in a household rich in values but far from rich, Edwin brings important perspective to United Way with experiences reflective of the people we serve and an optimism about what could be. 

Edwin celebrated 12 years with United Way in March. In 2015, United Way Worldwide launched the Innovation Department to bring start-up energy to the 130+ year-old nonprofit (the world’s largest). Since joining the team, Edwin has a diverse list of innovation initiatives under his belt. From designing United Way’s first mobile-friendly interface for workplace giving to pushing United Way to think differently about community impact data, Edwin is a powerhouse. 

In response to an urgent need to create better experiences for United Way supporters, Edwin and a cross-functional team developed a text message marketing and mobile fundraising program. Within two months, 10 United Ways were trained and started seeing results. But there was low use or adoption. When one United Way found success in the program, Edwin capitalized. He found common use cases where this success could be recreated market-by-market and created guides and web meetings to spark adoption. The number of United Ways involved grew to 250 in two years. Aside from raising $29 million to support local communities, the program has leveraged economies of scale. 

Edwin believes good ideas can come from anywhere. He often gets ideas pitched to him; he listens hard. A few years ago, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer was learning about United Way poverty simulations, which were in-person experiences that build empathy for people living below the poverty line. His big idea: making it digital. With no budget, there were nay-sayers who worried that the final product wouldn’t be polished enough to entice user participation. But they created a digital poverty simulation that corporate partners are buying – and is making a difference to employees.  One said, “When life comes at you fast, it is comforting to know that United Way is there to help those in need.” If Edwin had gone with the conventional wisdom, United Way would have missed out on a brilliant idea. 

In 2020, United Way is launching the Center for Social Innovation in partnership with the Barnes Family Foundation. It’s a space that can help social innovators solve challenges they can’t solve on their own. Edwin wants everyone to realize that “they are an innovator.” The center will also include a virtual platform featuring a social innovation library powered by a recommendation engine, which will transform a search for relevant case studies into a Netflix-style experience. Edwin envisions the Center as a resource for the entire nonprofit sector, where leaders can collaborate to find solutions in data sharing, technology, policy, systems change and more. 

These days, all we’re reading about is the coronavirus pandemic. But what problems are going unnoticed? Immigrants are afraid to seek public services; small businesses struggle to get their inventory online. United Way’s Invisible Problems campaign is addressing the unseen problems and consequences of COVID-19. Its digital platform allows users to submit and solve problems through crowdsourcing. Click here to speak out on the problems you’re facing. 

Edwin finds motivation in creating solutions that would have benefitted him or his family growing up – and the potential to solve our world’s biggest problems. Drawing on the Harvard Business Review, he defines innovation as a “deliberate process to positively impact an organization’s future potential.” One thing’s for sure, Edwin’s not interested in leaving the future up to chance. He’d much rather create the future we desire. 

*This is part of the “United Way Most’s Innovative Minds” List, celebrating individuals who embrace innovative methods to reshape the future of social impact. Learn more here

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