Source 9: Promising Practices for Social Entreprenuership
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Source 9: Promising Practices for Social Entreprenuership



A “pay it forward” enterprise that solves transportation problems for seniors

Too often, older Americans must choose between their safety and their mobility--between continuing to drive as their abilities decline or remaining homebound and dependent on others after giving up their cars.

As a result, seniors have the highest fatal crash rate of any driving population in the United States.

Prior attempts to address this problem have failed to fully meet the needs of their target consumers. Senior transportation programs, often government funded, have typically relied on:

  • Attempts to convince older people to ride buses or subways.
  • Organizing volunteers to pick up vanloads of seniors for group trips.
  • Offering rides to a handful of specific destinations, such as medical appointments.

Finding these options insufficient, many seniors continue to drive when they are no longer fit to operate a vehicle. Or they become increasingly homebound as they restrict their own driving and become dependent on favors from family and friends.

"Depending on the private automobile for transportation is inadequate for years before people actually stop driving," explains Katherine Freund, founder of ITNAmerica. "And then people who do stop driving outlive that decision by about 10 years. It's a very big problem because of the aging of the population."

A Transformative, Financially Sustainable Innovation

ITNAmerica created a new option for seniors: Providing rides in private cars available 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, with "door-through-door" service using a combination of paid and volunteer drivers.

Taking a limited-market approach, ITNAmerica charges a nominal one-time membership fee of $35 and about 50% of the cost of a taxi for each ride. Payments must be made for every ride, but no money changes hands in the vehicle. Seniors fund their personal transportation accounts in advance and receive a monthly statement in the mail.

As the organization has embarked on an ambitious five-year growth strategy, ITNAmerica has been quite efficient in leveraging private resources.

"We have a very flexible approach to resources," Freund says. "We say money is one kind of resource, but there are other kinds of assets that have economic value. And if we can find a way to capture different kinds of economic value, then we can use those resources also to pay for rides."

Volunteer drivers, for example, make up 40-60% of the driving team. This helps the organization keep costs manageable and also offers a way for seniors to subsidize the cost of their own rides.

Many of the volunteers who are over age 60 contribute their own volunteer driving time through ITNAmerica's Transportation Social Security program, building up credits in their accounts for their own future use while they're still healthy enough to transport others.

Family members also may supply volunteer time and make in-kind contributions of their driving credits to their relatives who are using the service. Seniors may trade their personal vehicles when they are no longer able to use them and apply the liquidated equity to fund their accounts. The donated vehicles are often used to deliver rides.

ITNAmerica's software, ITNRides, plans and tracks membership accounts, rides, and distances, maximizing the efficiency of routes.

"One way to describe it is that we married a very grassroots model to a very high-tech support system," Freund explains. "We used technology to create efficiency, and we took the unusual step of building it ourselves, instead of purchasing off-the-shelf technology, so that it would be affordable to small organizations and communities."

Societal Benefits

ITNAmerica has developed a highly efficient model that ultimately funds itself by capturing nominal fees from customers and leveraging private resources through volunteer time and community philanthropic support.

When the organization starts up an affiliate program in a new city, it limits the amount of public funding it accepts to 50% or less of the capital necessary. No public funds may be used for day-to-day operations because ongoing use of public funds crowds out the development of the private community support so essential for long-term sustainability.

"Most of the resources for transportation are private," Freund says. "If you don't have a model that is built to access them, then you'll fall into the pattern of being one of many providers in a turf war over the public dollars."

She notes that while many social problems require ongoing public support, senior transport, which targets a population willing and able to pay modest fees, is not one of them. Once ITNAmerica affiliates reach their full capacity, the pubic funding that helped get them started can be directed to other needs.

As a result, ITNAmerica leverages minimal initial support from government to meet the transportation needs of older Americans across the country.


Katherine Freund
Founder, President, and CEO


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