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White House Appoints Head of Social Innovation Office

It’s now official: Sonal Shah, former head of global development at Google.org, the search-engine company’s philanthropic arm, is head of the new White House Office of Social Innovation.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesman, today confirmed Ms. Shah’s appointment—which has not been formally announced, although it is an open secret in nonprofit circles. (See The Chronicle’s background article about the new office.)

Mr. Inouye said the new office will fall under the Domestic Policy Council, a body that coordinates domestic policymaking in the White House and is headed by Melody Barnes. He said he could not give further details as the office “has not been rolled out yet.”

Members of President Obama’s transition team proposed creating an Office of Social Innovation to promote government efforts to help innovative nonprofit groups and social entrepreneurs expand successful approaches to tackling pressing social problems.

The office will no doubt be involved in the Social Innovation Funds pilot program that was just created by the Serve America Act, a national-service bill that will be signed by the president next week. The funds, which will be administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service, will provide money for groups that are “developing innovative and effective solutions to national and local challenges.”

Ms. Shah was a member of the Obama transition project’s advisory board and co-chair of a transition group that made recommendations about technology and innovation, including “innovation and civil society.” She is co-founder of Indicorps, a nonprofit group that offers fellowships to Indian-Americans working on development projects in India.

She has also held positions at Goldman, Sachs & Company, the Treasury Department, the Center for Global Development, and the Center for American Progress.

Jane Wales, director of the Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation at the Aspen Institute, praised the new White House office today in a Chronicle online discussion.

“First and foremost it has the opportunity to encourage public-private partnerships aimed at addressing some of the toughest problems we face at home and abroad,” she said. In addition, “the office can take a careful look at U.S. government policies, including tax and regulatory policies, and determine which policies spur innovation, and whether others might needlessly impede innovation.

“This is not an easy task,” she said. “But the office is led by a remarkably talented person, Sonal Shah. If anyone can do it, she can.”

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