2020 Innovation Grants Program Award Recipients

Greater Cleveland Partnership

“Towards a Racially Equitable Association”

Gina Cheverine, Managing Vice President, Inclusion & Strategic Partnerships
Megan Kim, Senior Vice President, Membership Development and Marketing


As the largest metropolitan chamber of commerce in the nation – with more than 12,000 members representing small, middle-market and large businesses throughout Northeast Ohio – the Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP) focuses on driving economic vitality in the region. 

Chambers of commerce are uniquely positioned to influence businesses, government entities and community perspectives. Even though the conversation about race is shifting across the country, many organizations including GCP acknowledge the need to focus on diversity, equity and inclusivity to achieve regional shared prosperity. 

The racial equity conversation is not new to Cleveland nor GCP. In fact, GCP has worked to address racial inequities in the workforce and increase business ownership by people of color for many years and has been instrumental in driving other institutions throughout Greater Cleveland to do the same. 

Most recently GCP has embedded Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity (DEI) into its three-year strategic plan (2018-2021). Additionally, it has supported employee participation in the Racial Equity Institute’s Phase One training and launched an organization-wide DEI-focused lunch discussion series. As a result, there is an even greater desire from the staff and leadership to embed racial equity practices across the organization. GCP is prepared to move from exploration to execution, ensuring that equity is at the center of all facets of the organization’s work. GCP has the unique opportunity to lead in this space in support of its growth and that of other organizations and businesses in the region. The decision to embark on this journey has implications for the organization’s partners, stakeholders and the broader community. 

The most comprehensive and effective approach to this type of work includes a strategic assessment that provides a baseline to determine the level of maturity in its racial equity policies, practices and programs with a clear plan to meet the organization’s goals. In early 2019, GCP engaged a DEI expert consultant to conduct this assessment and create a blueprint for implementation. The assessment included input from GCP’s leadership, all departments, cross-organization focus groups, a mini-survey, and board member interviews. The outcome of the assessment: 

  • Greater understanding of GCP’s current state as it relates to DEI
  • Identifying the policies, practices and behaviors supporting and hindering GCP’s DEI efforts
  • Creating a blueprint to implement in accordance with the assessment findings

GCP is ready to take the next step, moving from exploration to execution, using the detailed blueprint for implementation. The work completed in 2019 laid the foundation for this next phase, which is the most important step in the organization’s evolution. The grant from ASAE will allow GCP to continue some of its current programs and implement some of the recommendations outlined by the DEI consultant.


Focus NJ and New Jersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA)

“Partnerships for Effective Experiential Learning”

Nicole Sandelier, Executive Director, Focus NJ
Michele Siekerka, President and CEO, NJBIA
Alice Gens, CFO/COO, NJBIA


In its ASAE award-winning Postsecondary Education Task Force report, "The Education Equation: Strategies for Retaining and Attracting New Jersey’s Future Workforce," NJBIA reported on the flight of students from the state. NJBIA convened a task force with the mission of stemming this flow of workers out of the state by matching education programs to private sector jobs.

The report was the result of input from 100 prominent members from academia, state education and labor departments, businesses, non-profits, the private sector, and young adults. The report features 13 recommendations and strategies to better prepare New Jersey’s workforce and build a brand for its higher education institutions. 

One significant finding was that students must be given increased exposure to career pathways and opportunities for experiential learning, or the process of learning through experience. The personal nature of experiential learning engages the students’ emotions and enhances their knowledge and skills. As student engagement increases through these processes, learning accelerates, and retention improves. 

Career guidance and career pathways need increased public promotion and must be introduced at a younger age, in order for students to explore potential career options. New Jersey must enhance and promote existing, as well as create new, internship programs, job training opportunities, research & development opportunities and apprenticeship programs.

To do so, New Jersey must strengthen collaboration and partnership efforts between and among government agencies, employers, industry leaders, nonprofits, and educational institutions (kindergarten - grade16) to ensure the state is preparing its students for successful careers, as well as retaining the next generation workforce in New Jersey.

Over the past 5 years, numerous efforts have been underway statewide to address the need for collaboration toward experiential learning and the benefits experiential learning can provide to overall career preparedness. Examples include: Career Pathways Task Force with SETC, Future Ready Schools, DOL Next Gen Sector Partnerships Academy, 65 by 25: Many Paths, One Future, NJSBA report: Educational Opportunities for the Non College Bound Learner, NJBIA Postsecondary Taskforce Report, Junior Achievement of NJ: Workplace and Career Readiness Pathways, the Research, Innovation, and Talent Working Group Action Plan and Opportunity New Jersey.

In response to the research and significant input from stakeholders through these initiatives and beyond, one thing became clear: collaboration can be bolstered if a central clearinghouse of information existed upon which relationships between academia, students and business can be easily made and connections to information and opportunities for experiential learning can be readily accessed. We learned through our research that the use of the right technology platform can enable this opportunity with efficiency and expediency. While sample platforms exist in other states, New Jersey can model their platform after those that are recognized as well performing, while also learning from some of the difficulties other states have experienced. 

This grant would provide Focus NJ with critical support to continue to build the stakeholder engagement and take necessary steps to set up a New Jersey focused experiential learning portal. This initiative would address seven of 13 recommendations in the NJBIA postsecondary report.


Two-Year Grantee

PA Foundation and American Association of PAs (AAPA)

“Good by Association: Adopting Social Responsibility to Grow membership, Increase Engagement and Amplify Messaging”

Lynette Sappe-Watkins, Executive Director, PA Foundation
Tim McCall, Associate Director, Surveys & Analysis, AAPA


The AAPA was established in 1968, a year after the first physician assistants (PAs) graduated from Duke University. In a little more than five decades, PAs are firmly established providers in the healthcare marketplace. As such, they are poised to play a significant role in solving complicated healthcare access issues, especially as the U.S. faces a shortage of up to more than 120,000 physicians by 2032, according to projections by the Association of American Medical Colleges. In contrast, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the PA profession is anticipated to grow by 31% by 2028. 

The PA profession is young (the average age is 35) and the work they do is important to the social fiber of our nation. As the nation ages, and the healthcare needs of the population increase, the role of the PA will become more vital to healthcare. As a young and growing profession, PAs can fill many gaps in healthcare. As such, AAPA anticipates many changes to occur in PA practice law over the next ten or more years. These important changes will require a strong and engaged membership at the ready to support legislative and government policy changes that impact their medical practice. 

To be effective, association membership must reflect the profession. AAPA knows it needs to understand what drives a new generation of PAs to practice medicine, how they see their role in solving the nation’s healthcare provider shortage, and what important issues they expect their professional association to address. 

AAPA also understands members are consumers. Consumer loyalty and perception of corporate brands is something long researched and tracked. AAPA understands it is a brand and how it is perceived by PAs, members and non-members, is vital to buy-in by the profession it represents. 

Taking a page from corporate strategies, the AAPA, in conjunction with the PA Foundation, is interested in researching how a health-focused “purpose platform” might influence membership, engagement and amplification of mission messaging during an important phase of profession growth. With an AAPA membership that is 53 percent millennial, we seek to understand more about these members and their younger Gen Z counterparts who self-identify as being “prouder to associate with a purpose-driven brand.*”

Our plan will deploy a mixed methods research strategy that will quantitatively and qualitatively explore potential benefits of a strategy frequently used in the corporate setting known as “corporate social responsibility.” We want to know if a robust “Association Social Responsibility Platform”--blending the interests, resources, common goals and objectives of the AAPA and the PA Foundation--might benefit the membership value proposition for AAPA, and grow the donor/volunteer base of the PA Foundation. 

As a supporting organization, the PAF is already entrenched in issues aligning with AAPA. And, having PAs already engaged as volunteers, donors and participants in PA-led healthcare initiatives, the PA Foundation can be not only a supporting partner, but also a valuable asset for engaging and working alongside a population of young and emerging PAs. 

*2018 Cone/Porter Novelli Purpose Study.

Past Winners

View past years recipients from:  2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013