Too often, a lack of success has nothing to do with a lack of talent or drive. Rather, it’s about the absence of resources and opportunities. From basic needs to professional training, not everybody has access to the necessities of success. In fact, “5 million bright young adults are without access to opportunities to connect to the economic mainstream.”
On the flip side, “American companies will face a shortage of over 12 million qualified workers” over the next ten years.
These are two problems with one solution. More and more, companies will need to use business and technology to raise up the people who will become part of their communities.
To help paint a picture of what this kind of social entrepreneurship and stewardship can look like, we wanted to highlight two organizations that are committed to finding and creating resources and opportunities for those who need them.
In the last 10 years, Seattle has added 220,000 jobs. That’s enough work for more than a third of the city’s current population. At the same time, Seattle is home to the country’s third largest homeless population, after New York and LA. As noted by the Seattle Times, the 5,485 unsheltered homeless in King County mark a 21% increase over the previous year.
This imbalance is at least partially due to the massive influence of Seattle’s booming tech sector. As salaries rise, so do rent prices (the median rent for a one-bedroom has risen to $1,796). Those without specialized skill sets are getting priced out of their homes — even if they’re still working full time.
Enter WeCount, a Seattle-based app that connects the homeless community with other users looking to donate requested items: clothing, home goods, outdoor gear and more. The service depends on those in need using an internet-enabled device, but studies suggest this isn’t nearly as big a problem as you might expect. As many as 90% of homeless people have access to a personal smartphone or public computer.
“There really needed to be a much more direct way that people can get in touch with each other to provide items critical to survival,” Co-Founder Jonathan Sposato told GeekWire. In an era of crowdsourced rides, food delivery and vacation rentals, it’s heartening to see the same technology used to help a vulnerable community.
Whether somebody has been homeless for a decade or a month, they’re in that situation due to a lack of a personal safety net. WeCount aims to create a community-wide safety net — one that eventually provides opportunities for a better life.
Here in Michigan, Cascade Engineering — a plastic injection molding company based in Grand Rapids — has introduced multiple programs to help individuals who wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to get ahead. Since 1999, their Welfare to Career program has helped over 800 people enter into stable manufacturing jobs.
“We believed that [people in poverty] wanted to work but numerous barriers prevented them from seeking gainful employment,” Keith Maki, Cascade’s director of marketing, told Michigan Manufacturing Magazine. “These barriers included proper child care, transportation and access to proper training.”
The program became a success after the introduction of an on-site case worker. Here was somebody who could counsel workers experiencing difficulties in their personal lives. Somebody who could point to helpful resources. In other words, a full-time advocate.
This same case worker also offers support to those participating in Cascade’s Returning Citizens program, an effort focused on hiring previously incarcerated individuals. Here the company’s goal is to make a difference in the face of some depressing statistics. Of the 600,000 people released from state prisons every year, 75% won’t have a job a year later — and two thirds will be back in prison within three years.
Thanks to the success of these programs — and the success of the business — Cascade will continue to help their communities for years to come.
Know of other organizations using business and technology to help raise up those in need and build opportunity? Let us know in the comments!