2020 Application Overview

In partnership with Blue Shield of California Foundation, the Center for Care Innovations is growing a community of innovators who lead strategic efforts to transform the systems that support underserved populations. We’re getting ready to launch our ninth cycle of Catalyst, our award-winning “design thinking” program that has already trained 295 people across 82 organizations.

Design thinking is an approach to problem solving that is rooted in understanding people’s needs and experiences, and it requires that we get a deep understanding of the problem before jumping into solutions. In Catalyst, we emphasize the practice of “co-design,” where those most affected by the problem – whether they are clients, caregivers, or community members – play a pivotal role in creating the solution.

Table of Contents
Program Structure and Content
Program Offerings
Informational Webinar
Eligibility for Free Training and Stipend
Contact Us
Program Expectations
Apply Now!

This year’s Catalyst program applies design thinking to advance community health. Advancing community health requires collaboration beyond one’s own organization and an approach that addresses the social factors (transportation, food security, environmental conditions, etc.) that contribute to health and well-being at the individual, family, and community level.

As a Catalyst, you will become a change agent in your organization —discovering and testing new ways to address challenges, partnering with colleagues across your own organization, and collaborating across sectors. You will develop expansive mindsets, combine creative, analytic, and design research methods, and push projects beyond conventional thinking to transformative possibilities. Check out these stories from a recent Catalyst graduates:

Hear what it’s like to be a Catalyst in our alumni’s own words:

Program Offerings

Catalyst is a curriculum-based program that provides teams with the training, tools, and space necessary to cultivate an innovative culture and an approach to problem solving that is human-centered, collaborative, and creative. In addition to in-depth, hands-on workshops, we provide ongoing coaching and virtual support to reinforce your skill development. We also host an online resource library and a peer learning community to support continued learning. Project milestones help pace activities and sustain team momentum.

Our program offerings include:

  • Training: Catalysts participate in six days of in-depth, hands-on training. We structure training into three, two-day workshops spread over a six-month period. At the end of the program, teams present their solution ideas to their own organizational leadership and fellow Catalyst participants.
  • Ongoing Coaching: We match Catalysts with peer coaches who have experience using design thinking in similar settings. We embed coaches in the in-person workshops, and coaches support the Catalyst teams between trainings. We also host webinars throughout the program to help teams advance their work.
  • Peer-Learning Community: Teams regularly bring their questions and ideas to each other to get input, discuss approaches, and learn from others’ experiences. We also facilitate online discussions about innovation and design among current participants and Catalyst alumni.
  • Virtual Resources: We maintain an online library of design thinking how-to videos, guides, and case studies that you can access at any time.
  • Stipend: Eligible organizations receive a stipend to offset program travel costs for the three workshops and project expenses. Organizations located:
    • Within 80 miles of downtown Oakland receive a $7,000 stipend.
    • Further than 80 miles from downtown Oakland receive a $12,500 stipend.

Along the way, you will learn how to build a stronger team, dismantle disempowering hierarchy, cultivate a more experimental culture, and connect with your key stakeholders in fulfilling and fun ways.

Eligibility for Free Training and Team Stipend

We invite 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations in California that meet the following criteria to apply: Nonprofit organizations providing social services to improve physical, mental, social, environmental, or economic well-being in underserved communities. Safety net healthcare organizations that provide primary care services may also apply in partnership with nonprofit organizations, and the team must include representatives from both organizations.

  • Organizations that have never participated in Catalyst will have priority.
  • Innovation work is a team sport, so we ask each organization to apply with three team members. Organizations that wish to send more than three members to the workshops must pay $4,500 per additional participant to cover their program expenses.
  • Applicant teams may comprise individuals from multiple organizations.

Currently, we are unable to accept applications from public schools, advocacy or academic research organizations. We may have space for teams that do not meet these criteria to participate on a fee basis ($4,500 per participant). Please email us if you are interested to learn more.


The Catalyst program runs from January 16, 2020 to June 18, 2020.

Key dates:

  • Informational Webinar: November 13, 2019, 12-1 pm. Register here.
  • Application Deadline: November 22, 2019, 5 pm
  • Follow-up Calls (if requested): December 11 to 16, 2019
  • Cohort Announced: December 18, 2019
  • Virtual Program Orientation and Prep Work: January 16, 2020, 12-1:00 pm
  • Workshop 1: February 19 to 20, 2020, in Berkeley, CA
  • Workshop 2: April 15 to 16, 2020, in Oakland, CA
  • Workshop 3: June 17 to 18, 2020, in Oakland, CA
Program Expectations

Catalyst teams are made up of three team members and one team sponsor.

All three team members are expected to:

  1. Commit an average of 4-6 hours per week to Catalyst activities between January and June 2020.
  2. Participate in a virtual program orientation on January 16, 2020, 12-1 pm.
  3. Complete assigned prep work in advance of Workshop 1 on February 19, 2020.
  4. Participate in all three, two-day workshops in Oakland. Each team member must attend all six, full days of training (February 19-20, April 15-16, June 17-18, 2020).
  5. Document research activities through photos and videos.
  6. Brainstorm, prototype, and test ideas with project stakeholders from outside of the core Catalyst team.
  7. Update key stakeholders and the team sponsor on project progress monthly.
  8. Present your ideas at the end of the program on June 18, 2020.
  9. Submit a final slide deck by June 30, 2020.

Team sponsors are expected to:

  1. Allocate and protect 4-6 hours of team members’ work week during the six-month program to participate in workshops, advance project activities, and meet program milestones.
  2. Support their Catalysts in trying out their new skills on priority projects.
  3. Attend the final showcase at Workshop 3 on June 18, 2020 in Oakland.
Program Structure and Content

We structure the Catalyst curriculum using six principles. Below is our design thinking framework and the activities you will walk through with your team. It also outlines the key mindsets you will build throughout the program.

Below is a timeline of the program with key milestones. The pacing of the three workshops gives your team time to apply what you are learning to an organizational project, work through challenges, and reflect on what you’re learning.

Informational Webinar

Review the webinar below to learn more about the Catalyst program and how to apply.

Download Slides



If your team meets the eligibility requirements and you are accepted,  the program is free AND you receive a stipend to offset travel costs and project related expenses. See Program Offerings for more details.


Your project does not need to involve health-related programming. We know many community-based organizations provide valuable social and community services outside of the traditional health domain. Please refer to this visual providing examples of social, economic, and environmental needs that impact people’s health.


Organizations that include a senior leader on the team often get more out of the Catalyst program, because they have the influence to inform and shift organizational culture once the program ends. It’s a great idea to put operational leadership on your Catalyst team or to blend front and back-end staff.


You can apply as a multi-organization team as long as your organizations have previous experience partnering together.


Past participation in the program does not preclude your organization from applying and being accepted into the program. However, we strongly encourage new organizations to participate and plan to prioritize new organizations in our cohort selection.


Given that this is a funded training program, we will not accept teams who have members who cannot attend one or more workshop days. Our workshop dates are set. If you have a conflict, we encourage you to apply again next year. Organizations may also choose to pay for the member who cannot attend all three trainings.


Each of the three workshops runs two, full days. The first day of each workshop starts at 10 am to allow for same day travel.

Contact Us

For any other questions, please contact:

Diana Nguyen
Program Coordinator
[email protected]