Innovation in Workforce Development: Fraser Nelson & Carla Javits on Social Change & Data


– So my name is Fraser Nelson, and I’m the Director of Strategic Partnerships here at Sorenson Impact. So glad to have you with us, Carla. – I’m delighted to be here. Carla Javits, I’m the President and CEO of REDF. – So Carla this is a really basic question, but I think it’s one that is important for everyone to understand. Why a job? Why is a job so crucial to someone’s health? You know I think I focus on— I mean jobs, it’s pretty evident if you have a job you can pay for the other things that you need in life. So if you need housing, food or you know whatever it is, obviously you need a paycheck in order to do that, so that’s important. But, really jobs go beyond that I think in America we want everyone to work I mean pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is sort of the American dream. We expect people to work, and your your identity as a person is largely defined by whether you’re working or not. And you know, I think people feel a sense of dignity, a sense of pride in themselves. I think their children feel more pride in their family when they have parents who are working and when you ask people who haven’t worked when they go to work what does it mean to them generally they don’t refer first to the paycheck they usually refer first to all these other attributes. I feel like I’m contributing, I’m part of a team, I have value, and I have pride in myself. So you know, a job is is really essential. – I think we all feel that way and one of these I think is so interesting about REDF is that you really focus in this place of transitional jobs. You don’t just hire people and keep them forever, you really help people get into the system to why is that the right approach from your— and what evidence is there that that’s the right approach to take? – Yeah, you know REDF works with what we call social enterprises, which basically means these double-bottom line businesses who run a business and then they also provide employment to people who otherwise would have a really tough time getting a job. People maybe have been in prison or homeless who you know, when they go in for a job interview they’re kind of cut out from the beginning. Either because of their background, or because they haven’t really had a work experience, they don’t really clearly have the attributes to go to work. And, what we don’t have is a sort of interim piece like that— there’s a missing puzzle piece for those folks. We said we might pass a homeless person in the street and say, well why isn’t that person working? Or, someone gets out of prison, and we think well, they should just go to work. Why did they go back to prison? But the fact is that many of us wouldn’t hire that individual. Our companies wouldn’t because we’re uncertain about their background, or they haven’t really had a lot of work experience. So, we thought there’s really need to create a type of business whose purpose it is to provide that first step into the workforce for people who otherwise can’t get permanent jobs. Our country is fortunate. We create a lot of jobs. There are many jobs in the United States, and the mainstream of employment is going to come from the private sector, to some extent government, but mostly the private sector, but you know there’s roughly we think 20 million people in this country who want to work, are able to work, but really can’t get in. And, they don’t have a path in. So, we thought transitional employment would give people that first step in a supportive work environment where they can learn the basic attributes of work and then be connected into the workforce and be more successful once they got there. And we found out, after we did a study, that that was in fact true, and that once people got a job in a social enterprise and moved on, their incomes went up by like 268 percent. You know, there— they were thirty three percent more likely to be working a full year later than people who got sort of your traditional workforce services just learning to write a resume or do an interview, because the reality was they really needed to have that work experience. – Well, I think so many of us identify by what we do. I mean, in the United States, it’s one of the first things we ask. It’s like, what do you do? So, let’s talk a little bit about the barriers to people getting into the workforce who— particularly people who have like been in prison or women who have not been employed. What kinds of things do they need that that’s not readily available in regular jobs? – Well, first of all, many need some connection to some supports of various kinds. It sort of depends on the person. Some people might not have a stable place to live, so they need to figure that out. Some people might have legal problems. They might, you know, have you know, they owe child support or something like that. Or they’re on tickets, so they’re at risk of getting, you know put back into prison just for that. Or they may have mental health or substance use you know alcohol or drug problems that they haven’t dealt with and they need some support. – I’m sorry, are these social enterprises really able to address that full array of people’s needs? I mean, do they come in different shapes and sizes? – They come in different shapes and sizes and the social enterprises all universally provide a supportive work environment, you know, paid work and then connection, often working with other human services agencies in the community. But they do connect people to the kind of supports that they need. And they’re paying close attention to the success of those people, and I think that’s what differentiates social enterprise. When you asked, why can’t they just succeed in mainstream workforce in a regular job? Most companies don’t put a lot of attention onto their frontline worker. – If any! – If any. And so, you know, where if you’re an engineer, you’re you know, a college grad and you get a job, they’re thinking about how do I make you successful? What kind of work environment do you need? I have very well-trained managers who are helping with your success, but if you get that front-line position, chances are good you’re not getting any of that, so these companies essentially serve as that place that does that. They really pay attention to your needs as an individual and help you get ready for a workplace where maybe you’re not getting that kind of supports so you can navigate it, and you can make it and stay on. – So what if I just had, let’s say I am person who hasn’t had a job history in the past, and I don’t show up one day at one of these social enterprises. Do I get fired? do I— is that where some of the love and nurturing comes in? How does that work? – Yeah, you know, I would say maybe the way to think about these social enterprises is sort of tough love. You know, they’re real businesses and they’re selling goods and services to the market of some kind so they need their workforce to show up. But they provide a little more supportive and forgiving work environment. So they’re all different. Some of them, you know, give you a number of chances and it’s very clear and you know if you at a certain point— if you haven’t met the requirements, you may get fired. Maybe they take you back. Maybe they’ll give you another chance in a way that another workplace wouldn’t, and there’s a lot of emphasis on giving you that daily or very regular feedback, so that it’s not like you do something and then you know there’s a check mark on your record the next time you do it you’re just fired. There is somebody who is talking to you, trying to figure out maybe you didn’t show up for a good reason: you don’t have stable childcare. So how do we address that? Things like that, so the idea is supporting you to deal with the things that maybe barriers to your being able to comply with regular work requirements, but at the same time you know you need to show up and you need to get along with your team and you need to put in maximum effort, and that’s really what they’re trying to support you to do so that you can get a regular job and thrive and do well. – So looking, I mean, obviously we’ve had a lot of changes in Washington and a real focus on people who have been left behind by the economy and whose jobs were not working for them or they aren’t finding a job that is able to really meet their human needs. What do you see as the future for social enterprise? where you see this headed? – I think there’s a really bright future for social enterprise, frankly, because it works. We have evidence that it works and our new president spoke frequently about what he called forgotten Americans. I mean the 20 million people who want to work but aren’t finding any pathway into the workforce are nothing if they’re not forgotten Americans from the perspective of the workforce and I think because this is such a powerful intervention that we have evidence works and it’s cost-effective. We know from data that there’s a hundred and twenty-three percent social return on investment for investing in the growth of these businesses. Why? because once people get a job and keep the job, they don’t go back to prison they don’t go back to homelessness. Instead, they’re productive taxpayers working in their community and supporting their families, and I think everyone on a bipartisan basis can and should and will frankly support the growth of this once they know about it. – So REDF is really in that place of making those investments in these social enterprises around the country. Is it something that you see can help address the needs of those communities that have been left behind in the economy? You know you think about Appalachia and other areas— or is this kind of a big urban city thing and can it work in a small town? – It can definitely work and is working in small towns. We find out everyday about social enterprises we never heard of, and in fact many times these social enterprises work best at a fairly, you know, a smaller scale, so you know they work as a sort of a small business in a small town for example and you know, we’ve been thinking also a lot about what is on the minds of a lot of Americans, which is sadly, in many of these communities now, there are addiction epidemics with opioids and things like that. People who unfortunately have fallen into homelessness or incarceration or have real health problems because of their addictions, and when they get it together and are seeking a pathway back into the workforce, we think this could be a very viable avenue for them too so we’re interested in that, and we’re going to be looking for opportunities to see if we can address that also. – So, if I’m looking at this video and I have an idea about how to start a social enterprise or I see a need in my community, where do I go for more information or help? – Yeah, we would love you to come to redfworkshop.org It’s an online resource, it’s free, it’s available to anybody, a ton of very helpful resources on there. You can also join we have something we call SE for jobs, which is a network just a virtual network you can be anywhere in the country you can join and we’re really trying to help people network with one another find other social enterprises in their own communities so just sign on to either of those and then there is a national trade association called the Social Enterprise Alliance, I’m on the board and they also have a great website. You just look them up Social Enterprise Alliance. – And are you looking for businesses to invest in at REDF? – We’re always looking for new opportunities both for investment, and frankly to build that community, that network and tell other funders, government, philanthropy, others who are interested in making investments in these solutions about the best that’s happening all across the country, so please get in touch with us if you’re running one of these or want to. – So redf.org – redf.org or redfworkshop.org is really the place for resources. – All right, Carla, thanks so much for spending some time with us today. – Thank you so much. – Thanks for your work! – Really appreciate it.

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