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Innovators | Social services

Data-driven activism changes communities

Molly Baldwin, Roca

Molly Baldwin, founder and executive director of Roca.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Molly Baldwin, founder and executive director of Roca.

Social entrepreneur Molly Baldwin stands 5 feet, 3 inches. But for thousands of troubled youth, she’s a larger-than-life presence who has helped break the destructive chains of poverty, violence, and imprisonment.

Baldwin, the founder and executive director of Roca (which means “rock” in Spanish), has laid a solid foundation for more 25,000 at-risk young people in Chelsea, Revere, East Boston, and beyond. Her unique form of activism combines grass-roots street work with data-driven analysis, using evaluation and tracking records to measure successes and failures.

Just last year, Roca was chosen as the lead service provider for the state’s first-in-the-nation pay-for-success effort, which grants funding to nonprofits if they improve communities. Baldwin, 54, has piloted nationally recognized models and is being wooed to expand to Baltimore, New York, and New Orleans.

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As a change agent, she has shaken up not just gangs and urban street corners, but also the establishment. “She has opened our eyes to problems as well as solutions — through her tireless, yet positive pursuit,” said Jay Ash, Chelsea’s city manager.

Baldwin is proud of bringing many different parties — police, parents and children, politicians, and youths — together to talk. “It’s time to address the tough questions and create plans for change,” said Baldwin.

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