Untold Innovation: A few minutes with Maurice Jones
By: Dani Clark
This year at Untold Content, we’re focusing on stories of Untold Innovation. As a firm committed to innovation storytelling from thought leaders across organizations and sectors, we have embarked on a journey to uncover stories of innovative thinking that are galvanizing change and growth in four main industries: tech, medical, science and human impact. We’ve asked you to nominate thought leaders in your field who are driving innovation, and you continue to deliver!
Our next innovation story comes from Maurice A. Jones, President and CEO of Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). Our conversation reveals innovation and collaboration across disciplines as requirements for relevant, impactful work. Learn how LISC is fighting poverty in communities around the U.S., including Cincinnati, with listening and discernment skills as their guiding force. So, take a moment and read about the good and innovative work of Innovator of the Month, Maurice A. Jones.
P.S. Keep sending in those nominations of others for us to highlight in our Untold Innovation series. You can complete our nomination form or email us with their information.
Maurice Jones’ Innovation Story
With deep experience in both the public and private sectors, Maurice A. Jones took the helm as LISC’s fourth president & CEO in September 2016. Immediately prior to joining LISC, he served as the Secretary of Commerce and Trade for the Commonwealth of Virginia, where he managed 13 state agencies focused on economic needs in his native state.
UC: What is your field of specialty?
MJ: Human impact—I would place my work in that category.
UC: Where does your personal innovation story begin?
MJ: I was trained as a lawyer and went on to practice law for a little while. I worked in federal and state government. I’ve always had jobs where the goal was to have an impact on people’s lives. In the late 90s, I learned about Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) when I was working at the Treasury Department, and came to admire their work in the Development Finance arena. When the CEO job opened up three years ago, I got a call about it. I welcomed the chance to work for LISC because I had already known about its impact, breadth, scale, and the fact that it concentrates on folks who have gone through a season of under investment. It was the combination of the powerful mission and the fact that LISC had the capacity to really help people transform their lives and the trajectories of the communities they live in. The work is so rewarding, and there’s plenty of it. You have to be innovative to get this work done.
Our innovative work has been going on now for 40+ years, and we have to continue to innovate in order to stay relevant to today’s problems. At the end of the day, we’re fighting poverty, and we’re trying to use market-based mechanisms in an innovative way.
UC: What are the impacts of LISC’s work on the field at large?
MJ: The impact of our work has been enormous. Throughout the history of this organization, we’ve developed or preserved over 400,000 units of affordable housing, ultimately housing over a million people. In addition to that, we have been using the market to develop and preserve essential community facilities in low and moderate income places like childcare, charter schools, and commercial facilities where businesses can put up residence and do work. We’ve also developed places like theaters and recreation fields. Our work has led to over 67 million square feet of commercial facilities or community facilities being developed. Lastly, I’d highlight some of the work we’ve been doing in developing or launching businesses in these disinvested places. Thousands of businesses have been financed and expanded with the help of this kind of capital, and we’re working in some of the toughest places in the country. The impacts, I’ll tell you, have been tremendous, and they’re replicable all over the world.
In the U.S. alone, we already work in 35 cities, and then we work in another 2,100 rural counties in 45 states. The lesson is that this work is eminently doable and actually works to fight the problem that places want to fight. The key is that it requires a team of people from different sectors doing this work. What I mean by that is, the work that we do always requires us to work with partners in the communities. You’ll have health care at the table. You’ll have financial institutions at the table. You’ll have local government at the table. You’ll have nonprofits at the table. You’ll have philanthropy at the table. For this kind of work to actually be successful and have a real impact on people, it requires a high-functioning team from multiple sectors to do the work. That’s what it’s all about. The highest functioning team on the field of play will get it done. Interdisciplinary collaboration is the essence of innovation. It is the bedrock—the foundation.
UC: What role do you feel that storytelling plays in innovation? Could you describe the importance of storytelling to your own work?
MJ: It is really hard to overstate the importance of storytelling. Look, you move people through stories. You can dazzle people with your ability to put together capital stacks and your ability to master the sort of mechanics of the work, but you can actually create change by bringing people’s stories to light. Storytelling, in this line of work, is essential for building support, establishing partners, and helping people to truly understand the power of the work. Sometimes, you can get lost in the minutia of the mechanics and lose people’s stories. It’s people’s stories that will actually sustain the work. Storytelling, particularly about the journey of the people that you’re trying to help, is the oxygen of the work.
UC: What one piece of advice would you give to future innovators?
MJ: A real key prerequisite to innovation is listening. Innovation begins with listening to the community and then discerning what problems need to be addressed. You know, 80 percent of the game is accurately understanding the problem. Then you can work from there to devise the solutions, but the first step is listening.
Thanks for reading Maurice’s innovation story. You can read more about our Untold Innovation Stories series in our Untold Innovation Stories kickoff post.
*Interviews are not endorsements of individuals or businesses.