Basic Information

What is the name of your organization?

Foundation for a Sustainable Community dba Institute for Sustainable Development (ISD)

Is your organization registered as 501(c)(3) status with the IRS?


In what city, town, or region and state is your organization headquartered?

Alexandria, VA, USA

Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address? [Select up to 2]

  • Business development & procurement: Connecting small business owners to vendors, suppliers, and networks that will transform their ability to do business.
  • Data and impact: Capturing, synthesizing, optimizing, and/or displaying data for business intelligence, impact evaluation, and/or improved decision making for resource allocation.

What is the name of your solution?

ISD Disaster Resource Center

What is your solution?

The Institute for Sustainable Development (ISD) is requesting support convert its current disaster help desk offerings into an integrated national online platform. ISD has helped small businesses for the past five years with various disaster management challenges. Now, we propose to convert all of these lessons learned into an online Disaster Resource Center specifically built for small businesses in low income, at-risk, minority and immigrant (ESL) neighborhoods and communities.   

 The platform is based on ISD's research and feedback from entrepreneurs and small business owners coping with various disasters who have used our services. Potential street vendors need basic information such as where to get permits and licenses. Stores that depend on foot traffic need help migrating their business to the web. Small business owners of all types have shared their frustration about claims, forms, licenses, and compliance obligations. 

The online platform will be created by the same people who designed Aidmatrix, the first needs/offers platform used by FEMA after Hurricane Katrina and the US Chamber's Disaster Help Desk. Features will include: real time updating of offers and needs, an emphasis on English language translation, basic tutorials, a live and online chat function, intuitive user-based design, and tailored resources based on small business user feedback.

Describe the core technology that powers your solution.

The core technology will be an online platform that is essentially a massive, user-friendly database of resource listings for disaster resilience, response and recovery. Our goal is to construct the platform so that it automatically scrapes the internet for relevant existing resources, and allows for manual resource entry and submission by the platform maintenance team and platform users (respectively). Resources submitted by platform users will undergo a vetting and review process before being listed publicly.

Other technological offerings of the Center will include:

  • “Reddit-style” forum that would facilitate resource, knowledge, and information exchange between users.
  • Direct technical assistance available via chat (with a live agent or AI assistant), phone, email, or virtual “office hours” that users can sign up for ahead of time
  • Online video tutorials
  • Matchmaking service for connecting small business owners and  with providers according to their needs, capacities, location, etc. Done via survey(s), a “pick-and-choose” database where users can view profiles of potential service providers, a series of consultations, or a combination of several methods
  • A downloadable software app

Nonetheless, we recognize that technology and online resources are not a panacea. There are segments of our target client population that have as little as 60% access to reliable broadband. Therefore, we believe that a “High Tech” solution like the Disaster Resource Center must be complemented by proven, more traditional awareness and outreach solutions that meet people where they live, AKA “High Touch.” This includes in-person canvassing and assistance events, basic one pagers in multiple languages, and yard signs.

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new application of an existing technology

Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning
  • Audiovisual Media
  • Crowd Sourced Service / Social Networks
  • Software and Mobile Applications

Who does your solution serve, including demographics, and how does the solution impact their lives?

The Center’s target population is small business owners and homeowners, particularly those that have experienced systemic barriers to accessing tools and resources for disaster resilience, response, and recovery.

Our research and hands-on experience have revealed a disconnect between the disaster resilience and emergency preparedness tools and resources that are supposedly available for under-served, vulnerable, and low-income neighborhoods and their real world accessibility. In ISD consultations, research interviews, focus groups, desk research, and surveys, respondents consistently report the following barriers to accessing solutions:

-      Lack of awareness of a single go-to resource for disaster recovery or resilience

-      Lack of non-English assistance

-      Lack of time or money to invest in preparing

-      Bloated applications for assistance, particularly funding

-      Being unable to compete for grants and other programs

-      Restrictive or cumbersome funding guidelines

The Center will address their needs by helping to overcome these barriers, such as by:

-      Making the platform free-of-charge not only to small businesses, but also to interested departments of emergency management, chambers of commerce, and other business support organizations and nonprofits to help them spread the word and assist in their own community recovery efforts

-      Providing multi-lingual assistance (website translation, multi-lingual “get help” one-pagers [Spanish and Chinese examples can be founded at], multi-lingual live agents and service providers)

-      Offering technical assistance and matchmaking with providers to help with applications, finding resources, etc.

-      Listing funding and property acquisition resources specifically designed for business that lack traditional banking relationships, generational wealth, hip, previous connections, or otherwise that limit them from seeking traditional help

-      Designing the platform to be user-friendly and intuitive for traditionally underserved groups, such as women, LGBTQ+, minorities, low-income earners, non-English speaking, immigrants, rural inhabitants, etc.


Explain how the problem you are addressing, the solution you have designed, and the population you are serving align with the Challenge.

The problem is that natural disasters, pandemics, cyber attacks and other threats, vulnerabilities and hazards cause entrepreneurs and small business owners in vulnerable communities to expend valuable resources on recovering instead of growing. The Center’s solution will connect small business owners to vendors, suppliers, and networks that will transform their ability to do business.

We believe this proposal aligns with the Challenge because the economic impacts of disasters have skyrocketed, particularly for our target population of small business owners as well as homeowners in low income and vulnerable communities. Respondents consistently report the following barriers to accessing solutions:

-      Lack of awareness of a single go-to resource for disaster recovery or resilience

-      Lack of non-English assistance

-      Lack of time or money to invest in preparing

-      Challenging application processes, particularly for grants and loans

-      Restrictive or cumbersome funding guidelines

The Center will overcome these barriers by:

-      Making the platform free-of-charge to users

-  Allowing local, state, and national emergency management and business support organizations to white label the service, and by continuously providing updates

-      Providing multi-lingual assistance

-      Offering technical assistance and matchmaking with providers to help with applications, finding resources, etc.

-      Listing funding and property acquisition resources specifically designed for business that lack traditional banking relationships or other factors that limit them from seeking traditional help

-      Designing the platform to be user-friendly and intuitive for traditionally underserved groups, low-income earners, non-English speaking immigrants, rural inhabitants, etc.

What is your theory of change?

ISD’s theory of change is to make risk management and adaptation tools as easy to access as possible for vulnerable and low income communities. There are many resources, but awareness and accessibility are very low. Better mechanisms are needed to connect "needs" and "offers", clients and service providers. ISD researchers have compiled thousands of local, state, federal, and national resources from foundations, government agencies, and companies. However, literally billions of dollars go unused and many services are never sought.

There is a “missing piece” between the intended beneficiaries and the various resources that exist to help them. The missing pieces may be due to any number of factors, whether it be lack of time or money, lack of multi-lingual support for non-English speaking business owners, or lack of traditional banking relationships that hinders the possibility of getting a loan.

In response, ISD is building out a national strategy for connecting small businesses in need with resources to help build and sustain themselves. Strategy elements include:

  • Developing tailored, simple, easy to use online tools
  • Providing Information through many channels
  • Ongoing Research and Continuous Improvement – identifying, compiling, and presenting easy-to-use tools and resources
  • Outreach – going into communities to give assistance instead of expecting business owners to find and go to service providers themselves
  • Technical Assistance – hosting workshops and one-on-one help sessions with applications, forms, and small business challenges

As you can see, ISD's theory of change focuses on improving asset-building for vulnerable businesses and building both their own capacity and that of their service providers to help them reduce their vulnerabilities and better withstand future shocks. 

What is your solution’s stage of development?

Growth: an established product, service, or business model that is sustainable through proven effectiveness and is poised for further growth into additional communities.

What is your organization’s stage of development?

Growth: A registered 501(c)(3) organization with an established product, service, or business model rolled out in one or, ideally, several communities, which is poised for further growth and has a proven track record with an annual operating budget
More About Your Solution

How many small businesses does your solution currently serve?

During Covid, our Together for LA portal served 20,000 small businesses. When we build a portal for a specific disaster, it ranges from 50 to 1000. Even though we currently do not have a specific disaster portal built, we still help 50-100 clients per month.

In one year, if everything goes as planned, our goal would be to generate 10,000 questions answered per month (120,000 annualized). We would achieve this by building and populating the frame of the disaster resource center within six months, and then pursuing (a) search engine optimization and online key word advertising with Google, Facebook, Instagram and other services, (b) partnering with FEMA and state and local emergency management agencies and chambers of commerce, and (c) creating a podcast, videos and other tools.

In five years, our goal will be to handle 6-10 million questions answered per year.

How do you define the community you serve, and who are its stakeholders?

ISD supports communities where there is a clear gap between the “need” and “solution,” AKA between the help-seeker and the service provider. Examples of where ISD has “soft-launched” the Center model include:created bespoke directories include:

  • Central Maryland following two back-to-back thousand-year floods in three years
  • Los Angeles during COVID-19
  • Minneapolis where we worked with a community organization to identify 50 black small business owners willing to mentor entrepreneurs in the community
  • The Florida counties that were included in the Presidential Disaster Declaration for Hurricane Ian

When developing our community strategy, “local” is the keyword when engaging with key decision makers and stakeholders. Examples include:
- Small and microbusinesses and entrepreneurs
- Nonprofits
- Community, economic, and business support organizations
- Local (city and county) government
- Local offices of federal agencies, e.g., FEMA and SBA
- Disaster relief providers, e.g., Red Cross, FIRMAN Power Equipment, Ready America
- Chambers of commerce
- CDFIs and banks

How do you build trust within the community your organization serves and among small business owners?

In California, Hawai’i, Texas, Maryland, Minnesota, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, ISD has adopted a strategy of researching, sending students to walk the streets, and consistently engaging with local service providers and small businesses to learn how to best cater our services to local needs. We also give them opportunities to tell their stories (videos available at 

We also focus on empowering local community organizations, and they often serve as "trust brokers" and help validate our presence. This is how we were named one of the 100 most influential non-profits in Los Angeles two years in a row in response to Covid. Building trust is about fostering safety and security with the people you want to serve – in other words, doing your best to make the community understand and feel that you are there to help them.

What are your impact goals for the current year and the next five years and how will you achieve them?

Our one-year or “Phase 1” impact goals for this solution include:

  • help national disaster assistance information providers like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Small Business Administration (SBA) with their mission to support disaster resilience by partnering with them to develop the Center,
  • work with these providers to establish multiple online and in-person information channels for the Center to maximize its reach for small businesses and their service providers, and
  • keep the small business user at the heart of the Center’s design by engaging in feedback and commentary with small business test users, focus groups, etc. during the Center’s development.

Our five-year goals for this solution include:

  • Assist low income and vulnerable  small and microbusinesses in building their capacity to withstand future shocks by a) offering access to the Center free-of-charge, and b) using the previously mentioned information channels
  • Help every state and local Office of Emergency Management, Chamber of Commerce, and Economic Development Organization in the country refine their disaster assistance offerings for their local community by offering them access to our information and online tools
  • Support state emergency management and economic development officials in the creation of financial mechanisms for resilience, such as state revolving loan funds, via the Center’s research, resources, and technical assistance offerings, and
  • Promote the continuous improvement of preparation, mitigation, and adaptation practices in national, state, and local government via the ISD’s research and public policy development agenda.
Partnership & Award Funding Opportunities

Why are you applying to Truist Foundation Inspire Awards?

ISD’s limited capacity/resources are barriers to maximizing the full potential of the Center. Therefore, the following award components of this grant program will benefit ISD in the following ways:

-        Grant funding and no-cost program support will help provide and direct the initial seed funding needed to develop the framework and prototype of the Disaster Resource Center

-        Access to consultants, subject matter experts, peer-to-peer networks, and learning and development modules and other resources We  look forward to working with technology partners/consultants to assist us with the technological and technical needs of the platform.

-        The needs assessment will help build our capacity to form a complete picture of the Center’s gaps, critical elements, and necessary back- and front-end needs. Monthly check-ins will enforce staff accountability and regular progress.

-        Pitch workshops will provide us with the knowledge need to make our business model as relevant, beneficial, and customized as possible to our target market of small businesses.

If built and leveraged properly, the online national Disaster Resource Center could be an important building block for minority- and women-owned small business empowerment. However, our staff, funding, and technology capacities need an “overhaul” to make this mission happen.

In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Human Capital (e.g. sourcing talent, board development, etc.)
  • Business model (e.g. product-market fit, strategy & development)
  • Financial (e.g. improving accounting practices, pitching to investors)
  • Public Relations (e.g. branding/marketing strategy, social and national media)
  • Technology (e.g. software or hardware, web development/design, data analysis, etc.)

Please explain in more detail here.

ISD has been in a project-based, information gathering mode for the past five years. We have had a number of successful pilots and our work on the importance of economic resilience for vulnerable and at-risk communities is gaining traction. We are now entering the "Growth" period of our existence and we need to scale up across the board. We are working to expand our Board of Directors and our staff and we are also establishing a Business Advisory Council. 

We need to refine our business model and build up our public relations so that we can raise the financing we need to scale up.

We are comfortable with the technology solutions that we have, but we don't know what we don't know, so we would welcome insight on the latest technologies and assurance that our approach is sound.

In earlier jobs, our senior management has worked with both Truist and MIT representatives, and business and academic perspectives are part of our core DNA as we were originally founded by business and academic leaders in Research Triangle Park in 2003. We are inherently oriented toward collaboration, and would welcome the opportunity to work together.

Solution Team

  • Mr. Stephen Jordan CEO, Institute for Sustainable Development
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