Social Venture Partners
What: Social-entrepreneur accelerator. Introduces philanthropic newbies to the world of civic engagement, while channeling critical support to local nonprofits.
Who: Executive director Paul Shoemaker, 43, spent 13 years in the private sector -- 6 at Nestle USA and 7 at Microsoft. He joined Social Venture Partners, created by a group of wealthy Seattle-area entrepreneurs, as one of its first volunteers.
How: Groups of partners, each of whom contributes at least $5,500 a year for two years, research issues and make investment decisions. They're aided by workshops and other resources to make them more effective community leaders, and most volunteer with nonprofits who receive grants. "We put all the pieces -- volunteering, grant making, and our philosophy -- together," Shoemaker says. SVP has seeded its model in 23 cities.
Data point: Between 2002 and 2004, SVP's giving has nearly doubled, to $6 million.
-- Fiona Haley
Mountain View, California
What: Career builder. While many nonprofits focus on unemployment, Springboard Forward addresses underemployment. It provides on-the-job coaching to low-wage workers to help them out of the poverty cycle.
Who: Since graduating from Stanford in 1989, Elliott Brown, 37, has created a variety of innovative approaches to workforce development, mostly in East Palo Alto. He ran a youth-employment program and a staffing company before Springboard Forward.
How: The point is to create opportunities for individuals while meeting employers' needs. Partners such as Home Depot and Stanford get higher employee- retention rates; their workers build skills and, ultimately, wealth. Once the benefit to companies is widely recognized, Springboard Forward envisions competition among businesses for the better-trained workers it produces.
Data point: Within six months of joining the program, 50% of participants are promoted and/or given more responsibility.
-- Cheryl Della Pietra
What: Fair-trade advocate. Allows farmers in developing countries to sell crops for a livable wage by giving them collective power.
Who: After graduating from Yale, CEO Paul Rice, now 44, shipped off to work with rural Nicaraguan coffee cooperatives. "I witnessed a cycle of poverty where farming communities were forced to sell their products below the costs of production because they couldn't access market information."
How: TransFair USA has emerged as a powerful consumer brand in its own right. This matters because companies like Procter & Gamble, Starbucks, Wild Oats Markets, and Dunkin' Donuts want a "Good Housekeeping" seal on their sustainable products that customers will recognize and respect.
Data point: TransFair USA has helped channel $45.6 million in income to family farmers in 26 countries that otherwise would have been lost to middlemen.
-- Ryan Underwood
Vera Institute of Justice
New York, New York
What: Legal conglomerate. Vera works toward justice by incubating programs to serve those entangled in the justice system.
Who: Former public defender Christopher Stone, 48, joined Vera in 1986 for what he thought was an 18-month stint. Instead, he stayed 18 years.
How: Vera faces a unique dilemma: "A public defender's measure of success is how many acquittals he gets," Stone observes. "But the same government is also funding the prosecutor's office, whose measure of success is convictions. They're a zero-sum set of indicators." The folks at Vera look for new yardsticks that help everybody win -- for example, measuring the relationship between crime rates, prosecutions, convictions, and rehabilitation sentences. Then they help governments create new processes to make these indicators a reality.
Data point: Since 1967, Vera has spun off 15 nonprofit groups to serve crime victims and help former prisoners get jobs.
-- Alison Overholt
Brooklyn, New York
What: Video reformer. The brainchild of rocker Peter Gabriel, Witness helps activists capture human-rights abuses on camera.
Who: In 1995, Gillian Caldwell, now 38, was in Russia investigating an organized-crime ring peddling both Siberian tiger pelts and women. Witness gave her a video camera to record trafficking of women into prostitution, and her footage led to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in the U.S.
How: Witness is all about leverage: It doesn't produce films but gives others the tools to do so. It counsels 12 to 15 "core partners" to advance specific advocacy goals with video footage, making connections with international media outlets, government officials, policymakers, activists, and the public. More important, it has trained workers at more than 200 human rights initiatives to make videos.
Data point: Witness trained 40 nonprofit partners in 2004, producing 15 videos that reached 500,000 viewers.
-- Diana Ransom
What: Job training. If young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds can learn real job skills and gain hands-on experience working in a corporate environment, they're more likely to get livable-wage jobs and go on to college. Year Up makes that happen for low-income, high-school educated 18- to 24-year olds, providing six months' training in technical support or Web production and a six-month internship.
Who: As a Big Brother volunteer while working on Wall Street, Gerald Chertavian, 39, "saw that urban young adults, who are wonderfully talented, supersmart and capable, didn't have a path into the mainstream." For his Harvard Business School essays, he wrote about starting a school that would fix that. In 1999, after selling the software firm he had cofounded, he broke out those old essays.
How: An advisory group of senior IT executives provides constant feedback on the market for technical skills. So Year Up can change the content of its program based on what skills are in demand.
Data point: 85% of graduates are able to obtain full- or part-time jobs that average $30,000 in pay per year.
-- Cheryl Della Pietra
= repeat winner