CICOA’s CEO Tauhric Brown

by Shari Finnell, editor/writer, Not-for-profit News

When Tauhric Brown took on the role of president and CEO of CICOA Aging & In-Home Solutions in January of 2020, a top goal on his agenda was the empowerment of the organization’s employees to dream and innovate.

Based on his previous experiences in a combination of for-profit and nonprofit roles, Brown said, he knew that would be one of the most strategic approaches to continue successfully fulfilling CICOA’s overall mission — making the dream of aging in place a reality for many older adults.

Brown acknowledged the challenges that faced him. Even in normal times, it can be difficult to inspire employees to envision how to do things differently. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, further challenges developed as the organization followed stay-at-home orders and remote work schedules

“Many of us have tunnel vision. We see our work, day in and day out, and that’s really all we see,” Brown said.

However, opportunities can develop when leaders are able to help employees develop peripheral vision — recognizing the ways in which their individual roles, such as what a person does as a care manager, impacts the entire organization, Brown said..

“You really have to unlock that potential that lies well inside of each and every one of us,” he said.

As a result of that innovative focus on problem-solving, CICOA launched an innovation studio in 2021, an intrapreneurship model to encourage staff and partners to ideate, prototype and launch new solutions to meet the needs of older adults, people with disabilities and their caregivers.

One of the first products of the CICOA Venture Studio was the development of Duett, a for-profit start-up organization with a mission to streamline the process of matching people with service providers through technology solutions.

Innovation as an ongoing model

Now that the COVID-19 pandemic is approaching its two-year mark in Central Indiana, it is even more critical to challenge nonprofit employees to discover new solutions, according to Brown, who anticipates that few nonprofits will be able to continue to be successful without incorporating changes that can equip them for long-term sustainability.

He began the process of introducing innovation early on. “When I first started in my role here in January of 2020, I just started having conversations with people,” Brown recalled. “It wasn’t the CEO talking to the care manager. It was just Tauhric to Sherri — getting to know people on a personal level, and then really challenging them to see their work differently.”

Conversations included looking at goals and determining creative ways to respond, Brown said. “How do we begin to develop some additional programs or social enterprise concepts that might help us for decades to come?,” he said. “In other words, not just for this scenario, but for a more efficient, effectively run nonprofit organization that benefits the consumers you serve for years?”

Problem-solving also could involve determining how to deliver more services with fewer resources.

“For us, that was the primary opportunity we saw — and have been capitalizing on pre-COVID because innovation is part of our culture, part of our DNA,” he said. “That spirit existed here pre-COVID.”

In some ways, the pandemic fueled interest in generating problem-solving and innovative ideas, Brown noted.

Since implementing the innovation studio, Brown said, an increasing number of employees have been actively proposing potential solutions for challenges the organization faced during the pandemic, which forced many organizations to do things differently.

“We’re starting to see more staff bringing additional ideas and concepts forward that may not have been presented without this public health emergency,” he said. “Some of those ideas are now being teased out as potential social enterprise concepts that we can take to market down the road.”