When the concept of Pay for Success (PFS) was introduced in the United States in 2010, Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) recognized its potential to improve the lives of people in need while addressing significant shortcomings in the way social services are funded. Five years later, it has become clear that PFS is just one example of a larger shift on the part of government, business and philanthropy toward paying for what works. With this shift comes the potential to better understand the true costs of achieving positive social change, catalyze investment in proven and innovative social programs, and improve the long-term financial sustainability of organizations working to address critical social issues.
Pay for Success projects currently underway across the country are addressing pervasive and complex issues and bringing services to people who need them most, from homeless families to teens struggling to graduate high school and individuals aiming to re-enter the workforce with skills that enable long-term self-sufficiency.
NFF’s work in the PFS field includes helping service providers, philanthropic and other private investors, and governments understand and build readiness for participation in a U.S. social sector where providing and accessing capital is increasingly tied to the achievement of meaningful and measurable outcomes. To that end, we are committed to analyzing and sharing the successes, opportunities, challenges and failures of PFS efforts to accelerate adoption of approaches proven to improve lives and communities.
We are pleased to share this blog post as the first in a series featuring early leaders in the Pay for Success field. This series aims to provide insight into Pay for Success projects and amplify lessons learned. As early projects progress, we believe that sharing the experiences of participants is the best way to facilitate improvements in future outcomes-based efforts so as to refine the financial and structural mechanisms of such projects and accelerate the benefits of outcomes-based approaches. These blogs will keep the perspective of service provider organizations central to the ongoing discussions of the opportunities and challenges of Pay for Success projects, and the extent to which they merit continued exploration as a tool for responding to persistent social, economic and health challenges in the communities that these organizations exist to serve. Ultimately, the future of Pay for Success as one type of contracting and financing tool is far less important than its role in the movement to improve how we achieve, and pay for, positive social change. We look forward to continuing this conversation with these blogs, as well as through the resources on our PFS Learning Hub.
As part of our work in Pay for Success (PFS), with support from the Rockefeller Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) convenes discussions among funders interested in furthering the Pay for Success field.
On April 14, 2015, NFF sat down with two partners in the New York Increasing Employment and Improving Public Safety Pay for Success Project: Sam Schaeffer, the CEO of Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), the service provider in the project; and Steven Lee, Managing Director of the Income Security Portfolio at the Robin Hood Foundation, an investor in the project and a long-time philanthropic supporter of CEO. We were also joined by Woodrow “Woody”McCutchen, Vice President, Senior Portfolio Manager at the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation (EMCF), also a long-time philanthropic supporter of CEO.
The importance of relationships in PFS projects was central to the conversation. Specifically, we discussed the relationship between the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors in catalyzing readiness for PFS participation, and how PFS projects can deepen, and change fundamentally, the relationship between the nonprofit sector and government. Other themes that emerged were the role of evidence in shaping PFS projects, and sustainability of PFS projects after the project term.
In this three-part blog series, we take a closer look at the New York State PFS project and focus on three main themes: first, the investments made in CEO leading up to their involvement in a PFS project; second, the motivations of CEO as service provider, and Robin Hood as an investor, to participate in a PFS project; and third, the experiences to-date of these partners in the PFS project and the implications of these experiences for the future.
Project overview: Increasing Employment and Improving Public Safety in New York
The $13.1 million New York State project was the third PFS project in the United States and the first conducted at the state level. In line with CEO’s broader mission, the project is designed to reduce recidivism rates among formerly incarcerated men by increasing employment after their release from state prisons.
Upfront investment provided by private investors through the PFS financing mechanism will allow CEO to serve an additional 2,000 formerly incarcerated individuals over the course of four years. The evidence-based intervention delivered by CEO serves recently incarcerated individuals within the first 90 days after their release from prison and combines intensive job readiness classes, paid transitional work opportunities on one of CEO’s work crews performing maintenance and labor for public sector customers, permanent job placement support, and job coaching and retention support for the first year of employment. The project aims to reduce recidivism and increase employment among this group when compared to a group considered to be at similarly high risk of returning to prison. Investors will be repaid their principal, plus some return, if and when target thresholds for reductions in recidivism and/or increases in employment are achieved. The potential rate of return to investors increases if CEO’s outcomes exceed the threshold for repayment. Funds for repayment are committed up front by the federal and New York State Departments of Labor.
Pay for Success projects present an exciting opportunity for service providers to further their missions and access new, and often more flexible, resources to support their work. But, there are significant hurdles that organizations must clear in order to be good candidates for PFS investments in the current landscape.
PFS projects involve rigorous evaluation of the outcomes delivered by the project intervention. Generally, this requires a high level of sophistication from nonprofit service providers, including: the ability to deliver, with fidelity, a well-developed and tested service model that has demonstrated positive impact; the systems and human capital to collect and use program data to manage performance; and the risk tolerance to engage in an unproven model of program financing and contracting. Thus, for many service providers, the path to PFS project readiness is a long one.
For CEO, this journey started in 2004, when the organization chose to participate in a randomized control trial (RCT) to determine its program’s effectiveness. The RCT results, released in 2012, demonstrated that CEO’s program produced significant reductions in recidivism, and that this impact was greatest for individuals that were considered to be at highest risk of returning to prison based on a number of factors, including age and number of prior offenses.
Sam Schaeffer is quick to disabuse anyone of the notion that solely this RCT prepared CEO for PFS, though it did play a crucial role in positioning CEO for the opportunity and increasing investor confidence (as discussed in the forthcoming second blog post of this series). Rather, in addition to the evidence, he highlighted the crucial philanthropic investments in CEO’s core program, as well as the supporting organizational infrastructure, which enabled CEO to continue to implement performance management systems and develop a culture of, and commitment to, continuous improvement and refinement of its model using real-time program data.
The Robin Hood Foundation has been supporting CEO’s program since 2003. Early on, Robin Hood chose to target its grant dollars to bolster CEO’s job retention and follow-up services, because the foundation uses one-year job retention as one of the primary markers of success for all of the job training and placement programs it funds as part of its mission to reduce poverty in New York City. Until that point, CEO didn’t have dedicated resources to allocate to long-term job retention services, because its training program was primarily funded by public funding sources which focused on initial job placement rather than retention and wage growth as markers of success.
Interestingly, the RCT did not demonstrate significant long-term job retention outcomes for individuals served by CEO. However, during the study period and since its conclusion, CEO has been making continuous tweaks and improvements in its job retention efforts with Robin Hood’s steady philanthropic support. Based on their internal data, CEO knows that long-term job retention rates for participants placed in the unsubsidized workforce have more than doubled in the past ten years, and this additional layer of impact is something that CEO is aiming to demonstrate as part of the evaluation of the New York State PFS project.
Around the same time that CEO undertook the RCT, the organization was approached by the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation (EMCF) for support to undertake strategic planning and theory of change work. Woody McCutcheon recalls how impressed he was that an organization would voluntarily subject itself to the rigors and risks associated with an RCT, and how that seriousness of purpose that CEO demonstrated motivated EMCF to invest in the organization’s strategic work. CEO’s theory of change work, funded by EMCF, was conducted with an eye towards future replication and scaling of CEO’s model. In 2011, CEO received a $6 million, three-year Social Innovation Fund award from EMCF, and became a True North Fund grantee. These funds provided the growth capital for CEO to replicate its program model outside of New York State for the first time. In 2013, EMCF followed up with an 18-month, $750,000 investment.
Throughout this period, Robin Hood Foundation and EMCF also funded crucial data management systems and human capital investments at both the leadership and front-line staff levels. In total, these two foundations invested nearly $25 million in CEO in the ten years prior to the launch of the Pay for Success Project. This is not an insignificant sum, but it is worth noting that the organization was, and remains, funded primarily by public grants and earned income from contracts for its transitional work crews.
Nonetheless, Sam Schaeffer posited that CEO’s investment in data and performance management was one factor that set them apart during the service provider selection phase of PFS project construction, and related what he saw as a pivotal moment in the early genesis of the PFS project and their selection as the project’s service provider: when Social Finance, the project intermediary, was conducting due diligence on service providers, CEO was able to generate a requested data report on past performance in 20 minutes.
This performance management capacity built the confidence of project stakeholders that CEO would be able to handle being involved in the project and replicate past performance. Further, the data generated by CEO’s performance management system was central to the project design, as was the evidence from the RCT. CEO’s program was found to have the greatest impact for the recently released and highest-risk individuals, so that is the entire service population in the PFS deal. And, the target outcomes for reductions in recidivism and increases in employment are built on CEO’s past performance. This helps mitigate the level of performance risk in the project, and helped CEO, the state and investors get comfortable with the project.
The ability of any service provider to participate in PFS projects, and by extension other outcomes-oriented financing or contracting arrangements, requires commitment to and investment in processes that enable continual learning about program effectiveness. Likewise, it requires investment in human capacity to deliver programs and manage to results, as well as systems to track performance management.
Philanthropy can play a critical role in readying service providers to participate in PFS financing arrangements by providing long-term investments in core programs as well as more episodic strategic investments in organizational infrastructure, strategy and human capital.
Providers with access to data that demonstrates the efficacy of their own program or intervention with a specific population are better positioned to participate in the design and implementation of outcomes-based contracts. Having an active role in program design may prove critical to success in PFS project implementation.
The next installment of the blog series will explore the relationships that led to and have been strengthened by the PFS project in New York State.
Douglas Duncan makes a new life for himself in Brooklyn, New York, on July 18, 2015. (JENNIFER BROWN / For The Inquirer)
Douglas Duncan went to prison at age 24 for robbing three Manhattan doughnut shops with a kitchen knife. He left 16 years later with a master’s degree and no idea of how to find a job.
“Sing Sing gives you a lot of time to think and plan.” he says. “I just didn’t know how I was going to go about it. Who was I going to contact?”
But staffers at a nonprofit coached him on job interviews, perfected his resume, and – in the crucial first weeks out – got him work in landscaping. They helped him get an interview at a Long Island agency that works to curb youth violence. A year later, he still works there as a counselor.
In Philadelphia, where the prison population is over capacity and 40 percent of those released go back to jail within a year, city officials say they want to invest in a program like the Center for Employment Opportunities, the one that helped Duncan.
It’s a proven model for reducing recidivism rates. Philadelphia, though, wants to fund it in an unconventional way: by tapping private investors who would cover the cost and be paid back by the government only if the program succeeds.
If it falls short, those investors, not taxpayers, would take the loss.
The model, known as Pay for Success, is a complex, bureaucratic process with the potential for straightforward, human outcomes. Pay for Success programs are being used to target teen pregnancy in Washington; to reduce homelessness in Cleveland; and to reduce asthma among low-income children in Fresno, Calif. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Wolf is interested, too.
If the programs hit their goals, the investors would get their money back, plus an additional return paid from what the government saves through the overall benefit, such as reduced use of beds in prisons or homeless shelters.
“The providers get the money up front, which is what they need in order to do their operations and to do them well,” said Maia Jachimowicz, Mayor Nutter’s policy director and part of a team that has been studying the model. “The city government kind of has this risk-free investment.”
A British experiment
The first Pay for Success program, also known as a social impact bond, was launched in 2010 at a prison in Britain with the goal of reducing recidivism rates by 7.5 percent. Talk of trying a recidivism-based Pay for Success program in Philadelphia comes as advocates are questioning whether the city can reduce its prison population enough to not build a replacement for the 140-year-old House of Corrections, which is outdated and over capacity.
The British experiment created buzz among nonprofits and public officials. In the United States, eight Pay for Success initiatives have launched, all since 2012.
Philadelphia began looking into it after Nutter and an aide learned of it at separate conferences and, intrigued, asked their staff to learn more.
Ideally, Pay for Success benefits everyone involved, from participants (like Duncan), to the government, to investors. But that only happens if an independent audit shows the program hit its goals.
That didn’t happen in the first U.S. attempt, which failed to reduce recidivism among youth at New York City’s Riker’s Island jail and was discontinued this month.
Pay for Success advocates say they can learn from that attempt.
“This model is working the way that it should,” Jachimowicz said. “If you’re not meeting the targets, the program will end and the government won’t pay.”
Investors might see it differently.
Peter York, CEO of Algorhythm, a Philadelphia tech company that helps nonprofits measure their impact, said he has concerns about whether investors will remain interested long-term. He said the model may trigger questions about whether a program hits its goals by design, or chance.
“Instead of fighting over paying for stuff up front . . . we’re parlaying that debate now to the end,” he said.
If that leads to an investor not getting a return, even though a program appeared to succeed, York said, it could “throw the whole investment community into a little bit of a tailspin.”
For now, though, the concept has intrigued those who want to make a profit but also do something positive with their money. Investors in Pay for Success have ranged from wealthy philanthropists to Goldman Sachs to the Reinvestment Fund, a Philadelphia nonprofit that targets capital to revitalize low-income communities.
The Reinvestment Fund, whose investors range from large institutions such as the William Penn Foundation to individuals investing as little as $1,000, has already backed one Pay for Success program and is exploring other partnerships, according to Andy Rachlin, the group’s managing director of lending and investment.
Rachlin said Pay for Success is opening new doors for the Reinvestment Fund, which historically has put its money into brick-and-mortar ventures such as new schools or affordable housing. He said Pay for Success makes it possible to invest – beyond pure philanthropy – in curing social problems.
“It makes these things that have previously not been investable, investable,” he said. “Which is really powerful.”
Wolf signals interest
Every $1 spent on transitional employment programs such as the one Philadelphia is considering brings $1.70 in value through reduced use of correctional facilities and increased tax revenue, among other things, according to a study commissioned by the city.
But in the case of Philadelphia, much of that savings would go to the state due to the large number of Philadelphia inmates sent to state-run prisons. For that reason, the city has high hopes of recruiting a crucial partner on the project – the state – and in May submitted a proposal to Wolf’s office.
The governor, coincidentally, signaled interest in the Pay for Success model earlier this year by asking municipalities if they had suitable projects.
“We feel like the stars are aligning,” Jachimowicz said of the timing.
A partnership would have to be approved by both the state legislature and City Council. Jeff Sheridan, Wolf’s spokesman, said that he couldn’t comment on Philadelphia’s proposal but that the state wants to move forward with a Pay for Success partnership soon.
Katie Martin, deputy policy director in the mayor’s office, said city officials are hoping the state will try out the concept here.
“Philadelphia is a world-class city and should be on the cutting edge,” Martin said. “We are the type of city where new ideas, new programs, and new initiatives should be started.”
President Obama visited Oklahoma this week for the third time. His first two visits were related to something our state is well known for: oil and tornadoes. This week’s visit also related to something Oklahoma is well known for — incarceration.
It’s no secret that Oklahoma incarcerates more women per capita than any state and is consistently among the top four states for incarcerating men. The governor’s recent memo to the Department of Corrections to allow early release credit accumulation for individuals convicted of 85 percent crimes is an indicator that state leaders recognize this statistic is damaging to Oklahoma. However, any meaningful attempt to change the rates of incarceration must aim to reduce the number of people returning to incarceration after release. As citizens of Oklahoma, we must reflect on how we support individuals returning home, since more than 90 percent do.
Individuals who come home from prison are at a high risk to reoffend, particularly if they’re unemployed. A job not only provides crucial income to a person and his or her family, it also instills confidence and a feeling of self-worth and dignity. Unfortunately, according to the Department of Labor, 60 percent of employers would not consider hiring an applicant with a criminal history.
Instead of excluding individuals with convictions from the labor force, how might we reimagine a context in which these same individuals are viewed as resources that can be used in the
The Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), which operates in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, offers comprehensive employment services exclusively for individuals with criminal records at their most vulnerable time — within 90 days of release. CEO provides an on-ramp for individuals to connect to the world of work. Participants work on one of CEO’s crews, completing beautification, maintenance and construction projects for public-sector customers. They are paid daily, taught how to manage earnings, how to work as part of a team, and most importantly the value of work. CEO uses this experience to market participants to permanent employers, using the workers’ demonstrated experience and reliability to defuse the negative impact of a criminal conviction.
In the past three years, CEO has employed 753 people in Oklahoma. Perhaps even more exciting than the jobs themselves is that the CEO model has been proven to reduce recidivism by as much as 22 percent through rigorous evaluation.
As support grows nationally and statewide for criminal justice reform, we should remember that a critical component to reducing the rates of incarceration is increasing the likelihood of success for people who are leaving the justice system. Helping individuals get a job is one of the most basic ways we can begin to change the narrative around former offenders. Allowing individuals to gain access to the labor force will not only help employers, but also the communities and families to which people return.
Doyle is Oklahoma state director of the Center for Employment Opportunities.
On Tuesday, President Obama laid out a path for criminal justice reform in America.
Quoting Republican Senator Rand Paul, the President reinforced the consequences of a failing justice system that “costs the taxpayers money, without making them any safer.” Yet even more importantly, the President also highlighted the fundamental inequities of our justice system, “African American and Latino men and women make up 30 percent of the [US] population, but they make up 60 percent of our country’s inmates. About 1:35 African American men, 1:88 Latino men is serving time right now. Among white men, that number is 1:214…And one of the consequences of this is, around one million fathers are behind bars. Around one in nine African American kids has a parent in prison.”
The President asked, “What is that doing to our communities? What’s that doing to those children? Our nation is being robbed of men and women who could be workers and taxpayers, could be more actively involved in their children’s lives, could be role models, could be community leaders, and right now they’re locked up…”
Charting a path forward, the President laid out some basic principles for reform — in the community, in the courtroom, and in the cell block.
The Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) has been working for more than twenty years to prepare formerly incarcerated men and women to thrive in our economy. CEO works in high-impact neighborhoods across the U.S. to ensure that those who are in most need of a second chance have an opportunity to earn income for their families, gain the skills needed to build a career, and lead their communities. And it turns out, preparing someone for the world of work can help them become contributing members of their community and help them avoid returning to incarceration.
The President’s historic visit to a federal prison in Oklahoma yesterday shined a national spotlight on CEO’s effectiveness.
“While the data are mixed for many re-entry programmes, some highly structured initiatives, such as CEO, have been shown to reduce recidivism as well as costs to the taxpayer,” stated the Financial Times in an article covering the President’s visit.
CEO provides an on-ramp for individuals to connect to the world of work. Program participants get ready to offer their talents and meet the needs of local businesses by working for CEO as part of a work crew completing maintenance, landscaping, and construction projects for customers. While working for CEO, participants are paid at the end of each shift and see first hand the value of hard work. CEO then uses this experience to market participants to local businesses, using the workers’ demonstrated experience and reliability to diffuse the negative impact of a criminal conviction.
Darnell Banks, 29, was referred to CEO by his probation officer. He is focused on supporting his three children and earning enough money to “stay out of trouble.” When he was told that President Obama would be visiting the same prison he once did time in, the Financial Times reported that “he laughed. ‘I’m not going back to that place,’ he says. ‘I don’t care if the president is coming, I’m not going back.’
We applaud the President for his leadership. We urge him to keep a strong focus on jobs as a centerpiece to criminal justice reform. It is not only good for our economy, but it’s a smart, evidence-based solution to ending the revolving door of crime and incarceration.
In Oklahoma City, 30 miles east of the federal prison where President Barack Obama will make a historic visit on Thursday, Pat Viklund uses Craigslist to try to find jobs for former inmates.
As director of the local office of the Center for Employment Opportunities, a national programme that helps men and women recently released from prison re-enter the workforce, Mr Viklund scours the area for openings, cold-calling employers, responding to online ads and building relationships with small businesses.
His pitch is simple: his labour pool may be comprised of ex-offenders from local prisons, but they have been vetted and trained by CEO, and they will work hard for the local minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
“We’re upfront that we work with people who have a background issue, but we can alleviate the risk of hiring someone,” Mr Viklund says. “They’re getting consistent, reliable labour for a fair price. It’s win-win.”
Reducing the economic and social impact of a criminal justice system that costs Americans $80bn a year just to keep its huge prison population behind bars has emerged as one of Mr Obama’s top priorities during his final 18 months in office.
Having this week sealed his foreign policy legacy by securing a landmark nuclear deal with Iran, the president is now reaching for a key domestic milestone: overhauling a justice system blighted byracial disparities, and which reformers say locks up far too many non-violent criminals for too long.
With more than 2.2m people in prison, America is home to just 5 per cent of the world’s population but more than 20 per cent of its prisoners, according to the most recent data available.
Since 1980, an explosion in convictions related to the “war on drugs” has quadrupled the number of offenders incarcerated, in effect locking up an entire generation of black and Hispanic men in some parts of the country.
Among black men born since the mid-1970s who did not graduate from high school, for example, 68 per cent have criminal records.
The economic drag on society of a system of mass incarceration is immense, data show. In a speech in Philadelphia on Tuesday, Mr Obama noted that the government could provide universal pre-school for every three- and four-year-old child in the country, or double the salaries of every high school teacher, for the $80bn it spends annually on incarceration.
Mr Obama is far from the only one calling for change. Working with advocacy groups, Democrats and Republicans have recently proposed a variety of measures to reform the system, from reducing or even scrapping the “mandatory minimum” sentences given to many non-violent drug offenders, to boosting investment in the early education and work programmes that have been shown to reduce crime rates.
To shine a spotlight on the need for more humane conditions in prison, Mr Obama will become the first sitting president to visit a federal penitentiary when he tours the medium-security El Reno federal correctional institution outside Oklahoma City on Thursday.
“We should not tolerate conditions in prison that have no place in any civilised country,” Mr Obama said in Philadelphia. “We should not be tolerating overcrowding in prison. We should not be tolerating gang activity in prison. We should not be tolerating rape in prison.”
Overhauling sentencing and conditions inside prisons is just one part of a broader push by reformers to ensure that a criminal sentence does not become a life sentence, not only for offenders who have served their time but also for taxpayers.
Every year more than 600,000 people are released from state and federal prisons. With studies showing that as many as three in four will be rearrested within five years, getting them into affordable housing and a paying job as soon as possible is vital to reducing recidivism, experts say.
Across the country there are already thousands of programmes aimed at helping ex-offenders make a successful transition to life outside, providing services such as career mentoring, addiction counselling and skills training.
The White House also points to steps it has taken, such as the establishment of the Federal Interagency Reentry Council in 2011 to co-ordinate and advance re-entry programmes. On Tuesday in Philadelphia, Mr Obama backed the “Ban the Box” campaign, which tries to persuade state and local governments and private employers not to ask about job applicants’ criminal backgrounds.
While the data are mixed for many re-entry programmes, some highly structured initiatives, such as CEO, have been shown to reduce recidivism as well as costs to the taxpayer.
The CEO model is straightforward: participants complete a short, pre-employment class before being placed in a transitional job, supervised by CEO and paid in full after each day of work. Once deemed job-ready, participants are given help finding a permanent, full-time job.
Darnell Banks, 29, was released last year from the minimum security camp adjacent to El Reno FCI after serving 18 months for conspiring to possess with intent to distribute marijuana, crack and methamphetamine.
Recommended to CEO by his probation officer, he spent this week weeding as part of a work crew, a typical transitional job. With three children, he says he is trying to earn enough money to “stay out of trouble”.
Told that Mr Obama will be visiting the prison this week, he laughed.
“I’m not going back to that place,” he says. “I don’t care if the president is coming, I’m not going back.”
This article has been amended from its original publication in order to make the headline clearer.
Fred Blackwell, CEO of The San Francisco Foundation, calls up nonprofit and city government leaders before announcing a $34 million anonymous donation to the City of Oakland. (Laura A. Oda/Staff)
It was the call that philanthropists dream of.
An anonymous donor wanted to give $34 million to benefit underserved residents in Oakland. And the donor wanted that money “in the streets” by the summer.
The staffer at the San Francisco Foundation who answered the phone in February knew this was big — for the foundation, but mostly for Oakland.
A $34 million cold call to benefit the Bay Area’s most embattled city was unheard of, said Fred Blackwell, CEO of the San Francisco Foundation, which was founded in 1948, has a $1.3 billion endowment and gives about $90 million annually in grants to nonprofits across the Bay Area.
Fred Blackwell, CEO of The San Francisco Foundation, center, and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf laugh at remarks by Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley during a press event announcing a $34 million investment from an anonymous donor through the San Francisco Foundation to the City of Oakland at the East Oakland Youth Development Center in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, July 14, 2015. (Laura A. Oda/Staff)
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Blackwell said at a Tuesday news conference at the East Oakland Youth Development Center attended by dozens of community leaders in government and other nonprofit community groups. “We have never gotten a phone call like that in the past.
The money will be invested in jobs, housing, education and health care across Oakland, with a full $6 million to support Oakland’s public schools on early childhood education, African-American student achievement and adding community coordinators.
About one-third of the funds are earmarked for nonprofits specifically focused on East Oakland. The foundation estimates 813 jobs will be created and 136 new affordable housing units built in those neighborhoods.
Councilman Larry Reid said he’s never seen such a large investment during his time at City Hall. He was pleased that several groups in his district — deep East Oakland — received help. The East Oakland Youth Development Center, which was granted $1 million, is a safe refuge for kids to take shelter from the storm.
“If they aren’t finding love at home, they can be loved and nurtured here,” Reid said. “This could be the difference between young people dying on the streets or doing something constructive with their life.”
Citywide, the money will help fund 731 new affordable housing units and create about 2,500 jobs.
News of the cash infusion was music to the ears of Mayor Libby Schaaf, who thanked the “generous soul” who recognized the potential of the city. Officials would not provide any additional information on the mystery donor.
Schaaf said the foundation — and the donor — share the city’s vision for an equitable, vibrant Oakland where all citizens can find economic independence.
Partnering with like-minded philanthropists is vital for the region, especially as rents rise and more people flock to the city, Schaaf added. “Government can’t do it alone,” she said.
And there are shameful disparities in Oakland. Schaaf said the prosperity must be shared across the city to “make sure Oakland stays our Oakland,” she said.
A good portion of the money was focused on technology opportunities. Oakland Codes, housed at the San Francisco Foundation, received $4 million.
Money was also given to support community re-entry programs for ex-cons and other housing initiatives.
The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, for example, received $1 million to create a restaurant worker training program to help formerly incarcerated residents find jobs that pay a livable wage.
This isn’t the first effort to revitalize East Oakland, which although economically diverse, houses some of the city’s most crime-ridden and poorest neighborhoods.
Dr. Tony Iton oversees a California Endowment initiative, Building Healthy Communities, to create better conditions in 14 low-income communities throughout the state, including East Oakland.
More than $15 million has been directly granted to support East Oakland initiatives in the past five years, Iton said. That doesn’t include any indirect support, which includes lobbying regional and state agencies to affect policies in Oakland.
Iton, who quit his job as Alameda County public health director in 2009 to take the job with the California Endowment, said the anonymous gift is “absolutely fantastic.”
His organization already supports about 70 percent of the nonprofits who will receive money from the San Francisco Foundation. Those combined efforts — along with support from local government — should help the city modernize and prosper.
“It’s timely and exciting, and we’re looking forward to leveraging these investments and building on the capacity of these organizations,” Iton said.
Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley joked that Blackwell, who left his job as Oakland’s city administrator last year after just one month to join the San Francisco Foundation, had kept his promise to keep working in Oakland.
“I mean, Fred definitely delivered here,” Miley said.
Blackwell said after the news conference that “it always feels great to help out Oakland.”
“This is where I grew up, where my family is, friends that I’ve known for years,” he said. “It was a privilege and an honor to be in the position I was before, and it’s still a privilege and honor to be in the position I’m in to be able to help the city.”
Of course, we’ve written about the growing philanthropy of Google’s high command—about Sergey Brin, who’s piled up over a billion dollars in the foundation he runs with his wife and is giving to a growing range of causes, starting with medical research; about Larry Page, who’s also building a huge foundation and who not only approved that Ebola grant, but kicked in millions of his own money; and about Eric Schmidt, who has emerged with his wife Wendy as an important environmental funder.
But another key trend we’re tracking in Google giving is how the company is doing more for its home region, the Bay Area. Last year, Google was one of more than a dozen tech companies to take the SF Gives Challenge, helping Tipping Point Community create a $10 million fund to fight poverty in the Bay Area. Also, the company gave out $6.8 million to provide transit passes to low-income youth after criticism of its private shuttle service for Bay Area employees. And last year, Google also gave out $5 million to 25 nonprofits through its program, Google Impact Challenge: Bay Area.
There are two possible explanations for all this activity: one, that the company is responding to a growing chorus of complaints about rising inequality in the Bay Area, along with tech’s role in driving that trend; and two, that this is just a sign of a socially responsible company that’s ramping up its local philanthropy as it matures, as many companies do. Both are likely true.
Whatever the case, let’s take a closer look at that Bay Area impact challenge, which just opened up for a new round of submissions for funding. This is a big deal for nonprofits in the region and, if you raise money for one of those groups, here’s what you need to know.
The Money: $5 Million Divided by 25
Google has committed $5 million to the Bay Area Impact Challenge, and that money will be spread across grants to 25 nonprofits. However, this money isn’t going to be divided up equally among all 25. There will be four winners that get $500,000 each, six “almost winners” that get $250,000, and 15 runners-up that get $100,000 each. Google expects this grant money to be spent within one to three years.
Narrowed Down by Local Advisors
It’s really just common sense that local needs are best identified by local people, and Google agrees. Nonprofits’ ideas will be reviewed by a panel of local advisors. These advisors, as well some Google folks, will narrow down the applicants to 10 finalists and 15 runners-up.
This panel includes high-profile names like former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former San Fran Francisco Mayor Willie L. Brown, Jr., and the San Francisco Foundation’s CEO Fred Blackwell. There are also a couple sports celebrities in the mix to build the hype, like the Golden State Warriors’ Harrison Barnes and the SF Giants’ Hunter Pence.
Crowdsourcing Plays a Role
If the group above doesn’t sound like a jury of your peers, don’t fret. There’s also a crowdsourcing aspect to this Google challenge. The entire Bay Area community is invited to vote for the nonprofit that they think will have the biggest impact in the region. The public gets to vote on the 10 finalists that the advisors and Google staff pick out to determine which groups get the most money.
We don’t tend to be so keen on grantmaking by referendum, but you can make an argument for such an approach and, definitely, you can see the benefit to Google. This whole process seems designed to clue in as many Bay Area residents as possible to the idea that Google really does care about the downtrodden.
Deadline and Past Grantees
A July 23 deadline is coming up fast, so check out the Impact Challenge website to learn more and get started on your application. Only nonprofits based in the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma are eligible to apply.
You can learn about the 2014 Bay Area winners on the challenge website and see what they did to capture Google’s attention. Last year’s winners included Lava Mae, which provides showers and toilets for the homeless, Center for Employment Opportunities, which helps former inmates get jobs, and Hack the Hood, which promotes tech careers for low-income youth.
It’s More Than Just a Check
Unlike some grantmaking support that involves little more than writing a check and later checking in with a performance report, Google promises to provide ongoing support to it Bay Area grantees after the check is cashed. This support will mostly be coming from Google volunteers and partners. Not a bad crew to have on your side, right?
PROGRAM ON PHILANTHROPY AND SOCIAL INNOVATION (PSI)
Emerging Nonprofit Leaders 2015 Class
Christopher Alcazar is the Vice President of New York Region Insurance Business Development, Admissions, and Community Relationships at Phoenix House of New York. He has a broad understanding of operating programs in non-profit settings which he attained from over 20 years of management experience. His expertise lies in ensuring qualitative program services, tracking and managing revenue and loss, as well as other financial performance metrics. Christopher’s current work includes providing the operational oversight and coordination of all insurance business development activities in the New York region. He also provides management of multi-site programs, and develops market specific strategies that increase referrals and drive maximum performance. Christopher pursued a career in the non-profit field immediately following his undergraduate studies, after securing his first full time job as a counselor working with the homeless. He grew to love the work and appreciate the feeling of being able to make a difference in people’s lives. He attributes his success and growth as a leader to his ability to build productive relationships, utilizing a strength based approach to connect well with others. He has a Master’s degree in Program Administration and Clinical Practice from the Hunter College School of Social Work. Christopher is happily married. He and his wife, Laura, recently bought a home in Park Slope, Brooklyn. They both enjoy traveling, and exploring the many “off the beaten path” gems in their new neighborhood with their 90 lb. retriever/hound mix, Jack, who is very sweet and thinks he is a lap dog.
Ellie Canter is the Director of Programs at Turning the Page, an education non-profit committed to building family engagement capacity in D.C. Public Schools. She leads Turning the Page’s partnerships with eight public schools in Southeast D.C. to strengthen relationships between teachers and families that foster greater learning outcomes for students. Turning the Page has successfully partnered with over 5,000 public school families and trained over 150 parent leaders through their model for family engagement that has been honed over 17 years of work in the D.C. community. Ellie is now supporting Turning the Page’s expansion to four schools in the N. Lawndale community of Chicago Public Schools and aligning their evaluation efforts across the two cities. Before coming to Turning the Page, Ellie graduated with a Master’s in Education Policy and Leadership Studies from the University of Washington’s College of Education. During her time as a graduate student, she led a pilot undergraduate service learning seminar as well as the National Education for Women’s Leadership program through the University of Washington’s Women’s Center. Prior to graduate school, Ellie served two years as a college adviser through the National College Advising Corps, an AmeriCorps program that supports potential first generation college students and their families as they explore post secondary options for college and career. Her research and work are shaped by the drive for more equitable educational outcomes for parents, students, and teachers in under resourced schools. She is an alumna of the ProInspire Managing for Success Fellowship and was featured by The Washington Business Journal as part of their “People on the Move” segment. Ellie graduated with a Bachelor’s in English and French Literature from the University of Virginia in 2007.
Arthur Cutler serves in the newly created Chief Operating Officer position at Fair Chance. Arthur is responsible for providing leadership, planning, management, and enhancement of Fair Chance’s internal organization systems and infrastructure. He oversees the budget and directs financial planning and accountability, human resources, and day-to-day office operations and technology systems. Arthur has considerable experience in organizational management, operations, board governance, human resources, strategic planning, resource development and training. Arthur also serves as Membership Chair for the 100 Black Men of Greater Washington DC, the Fort Foote PTA President and Founder of the Imanewdaddy.com website Arthur has a B.A. in political science from Morehouse College, a law degree from Michigan State University and completed his Nonprofit Executive Management studies at Georgetown University. Previously, he worked as the Coalition Membership Director at the National Crime Prevention Council, Deputy Director of Network Growth with the Alliance for Nonprofit Management and Director of Organizational Management with the National Disability Rights Network. Arthur is also a former Presidential Management Fellow. Arthur is married to Tracy Cutler and they have two kids, Arthur III and a newborn, Braelyn Gabrielle. They reside in Fort Washington, MD.
Amira El-Ghobashy leads strategic outreach and fund development efforts at the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), a national employment reentry organization serving men and women with recent criminal convictions. With nearly a decade of experience in nonprofits, Amira has advanced a range of innovative civic engagement and workforce development programs with measurable impact. She has also forged unprecedented institutional partnerships, promoting mission-driven objectives while extending resources to build capacity. Prior to joining CEO, Amira was Manager of Leadership, Diversity and Student Development at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) where she led several workforce development initiatives, including campaigns to promote STEM education and advancing the role of engineers within the global development community. Amira holds a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Communication Studies and a Master of Public Administration (MPA), both from New York University.
Cristina Garcia has ten years of non-profit management experience. Her areas of expertise include community outreach and civic engagement, public affairs, advocacy and social service. Ms. Garcia has worked on the design and implementation of community education programs as well as helping drive systemic change through policy and advocacy initiatives. She has worked with diverse groups across various issue areas but maintains a special interest in the advancement of human rights. Ms. Garcia has been a strong advocate of the need to reform our immigration system to reflect more fair and humane policies. She has worked at the local and national levels on campaign and reform initiatives, as well as facilitated dialogues and trainings on issues of immigrant inclusion and integration and on civic participation. Presently, Garcia works with the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities, a national member-based organization that examines, crystallizes, promotes and defends better economic, social and policies that impact migrants in both their host and native countries throughout the Americas. Garcia’s role at NALACC is to seek and form strategic alliances while working towards the rebranding of the organization and the creation of an individual membership program. Cristina holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Robert Morris University and a Master’s degree in Social Policy from the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration.
Arturo González Vargas was born on October 9, 1988, in Monterrey, Nuevo León, México. He earned his Master of Arts in International Relations from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, where he was awarded with the Vice-Chancellor’s Commendation for Academic Excellence. He received a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations from Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Monterrey, where he graduated top of his class and received the highest honors for his performance in dramatic arts and social development projects. Arturo has four years of experience in the nonprofit sector. In 2013, Arturo co-founded, with two of his best friends, the social development program called LiberArte. The mission of this program is to build a strong and peaceful community through artistic education for teenagers. Arturo is currently an Atlas Corps Fellow. Atlas Corps is an international network of nonprofit leaders and organizations that are addressing the biggest social challenges of our communities through innovation and collaboration. Atlas Corps is now the State Department’s strategic partner in the pillar of “Emerging Global Leaders Initiative” in President Barack Obama’s “Stand with Civil Society” agenda announced in September 2014. Arturo was elected by his peers to serve as Chair of the Fellow Executive Committee, which represents the Fellow community directly with the organization’s staff and implements projects to improve the overall experience. Arturo leads the committee meetings and bilateral communication with the Fellows. Arturo was selected by Kids’ Food Basket through Atlas Corps and is currently serving as Projects Specialist. Arturo proposes, designs, implements, and evaluates projects to serve the Latin American community in Grand Rapids. His projects break down cultural, linguistic and transportation barriers to make the organization more inclusive of the Latin American community. He is also responsible for collaborating with key community partners in the region.
Sarah Ha serves as the Senior Managing Director of the Asian American & Pacific Islander Initiative on the Strategic Initiatives and Partnerships team at Teach For America. She currently serves on Teach For America’s Diversity Action Task Force aiding the Chief Diversity Officer in charting the future direction of the organization’s diversity, equity, and inclusiveness commitments. Prior to joining the organization, Sarah was the Senior Director of Programs and Student Affairs at the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIASF) and Gates Millennium Scholars (GMS) Program in Washington, DC. She oversaw the strategic development and implementation of academic support, leadership development, and community-building programs for recipients of the APIASF and GMS scholarship awards. She also worked in partnership with the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education (CARE) to plan and host APIASF’s annual Higher Education Summits in Washington, DC. Sarah has 8 years of experience working in multicultural affairs conducting research on the educational experiences of underrepresented and underserved students in higher education in addition to coordinating diversity related programs and initiatives. Prior to APIASF and GMS, Sarah worked in the Office of the Dean of Students at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the UCLA LGBT Campus Resource Center, and served as an Intergroup Dialogue Facilitator dedicated to creating inclusive and diverse campus environments. Her previous work experience includes a legal analyst position at Cowen and Company, LLC and her litigation paralegal role at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. Sarah earned her Masters of Education degree in Student Affairs, Higher Education & Organizational Change from UCLA. She received her bachelor’s degree in Sociology with a minor in Faith, Peace & Justice from Boston College. Sarah has a deep commitment to engaging in social justice, equity, diversity, and inclusivity work.
Laurin Hodge often says she did not pick prison, prison picked her. It was the unexpected incarceration of her mother which motivated her to craft a social entrepreneurial career. Through Mission: Launch she envisions the elimination of the social stigma Returning Citizens face upon release from prison or jail. In order to reach this vision their team builds community coalitions and software so that the complex re-entry process is simplified. They believe this is the key to improve service delivery and unlock the potential of Returning Citizens to become productive members of society. She is honored when they are invited to walk the re-entry journey with women and men rebuilding their lives.
Cristy Johnston Limon joined Destiny Arts Center as Executive Director in January of 2011 with over ten years of non-profit leadership, community and economic development, and public policy experience. During her tenure at Destiny, Cristy doubled the organization’s size, solidified its reputation as a dynamic, high quality youth development organization, and raised Destiny’s visibility and sustainability by purchasing, renovating and occupying Destiny’s new community arts facility in North Oakland. Cristy has been recognized as an emerging leader, most recently winning the Young Nonprofit Executive Director of the Year award, the Community Impact Award, and is 1 of 50 international arts leaders selected to participate in National Arts Strategies’ Chief Executive Program: Community and Culture- designed to bring arts leaders together for collective learning and impact. She is currently pursuing an Executive MBA at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley with a concentration in social responsibility and entrepreneurship. Driven by a commitment to strong and healthy communities through organizing, collaboration and consensus building, Mrs. Johnston Limón’s community involvement focuses on empowering young people through volunteerism, community engagement and the arts as well as strengthening nonprofit leadership. She has been involved in various community organizations including the Oakland Rotary Club, Treasurer of the Board at the Japanese Community Youth Council, LeaderSpring graduate, and alumna of Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE) and Emily’s List. A native of San Francisco of Guatemalan descent, Cristy is a first generation college graduate of the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in Political Science. She draws from her own experiences as a public school student immersed in dance, theater, music and sports to advocate on behalf of arts education and for Destiny’s mission and vision to end violence through the arts. Cristy currently resides in Oakland with her husband Tom Limón and one-year old daughter Natalia.
Dr. Sarah Kastelic became the executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association is January 2015, assuming the responsibility from founding director Terry Cross. Dr. Kastelic was selected to succeed Cross in 2011 and spent four years under his guidance, assuming increasing responsibility of operations and management of the 30-year-old national child advocacy organization. Prior to joining NICWA, Dr. Kastelic led the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) welfare reform program and was the founding director of NCAI’s Policy Research Center. Her experience with NCAI gave her a sense of the need for timely, credible data to inform policymaking at the tribal and national levels. She also saw firsthand the tension between tribes reacting to the policy proposals of others and the opportunities for tribes to develop their own, proactive policy solutions. In November 2014, national leadership network Independent Sector awarded Dr. Kastelic its American Express NGen Leadership Award, calling her “a transformational leader working to further policy research that empowers American Indian and Alaska Native communities.” Dr. Kastelic is Alutiiq, an enrolled member of the Native Village of Ouzinkie. After receiving a bachelor’s degree from Goucher College, she earned a master’s degree and PhD from the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis.
Faisal Kazi Seraj is a proponent of holistic approach towards reducing world poverty. He believes that synergy between financial and non-financial services for the poor are not only necessary for sustainable impact on their lives but it also makes economic sense. His previous research background and work for BRAC in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Uganda and Bangladesh influences him to promote operational models that will take into account sustainability from the perspective of beneficiaries as well as implementing organizations. As a founding Country Representative for BRAC in Myanmar, Faisal is implementing a development model that harnesses power of the village groups to provide services related Microfinance, Health, Agriculture and Education. Faisal has a Master’s in Environmental Economics from the University of New South Wales in Australia and a Bachelor’s (Hon’s) in Economics from the University of Dhaka. He received Swedish Government’s scholarship to attend PhD level coursework at Gothenburg University and attended AMEX Leadership Academy at Thunderbird School of Global Management.
David Lee is the executive director of Feeding Wisconsin, the state’s association of food banks, and leads its efforts to ensure that all families living in every corner of the state have the access to the food and benefits they need to work, learn and live healthy lives. Previously at Feeding America, the nation’s largest anti-hunger charity, David managed partnership and program development and led its state policy and grassroots advocacy. He has served as an advisor to the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Hunger Partnership and the Farm Foundation’s Dialogue Project for a 21st Century Agriculture. In the Milwaukee community where he lives with his wife, David is the President of the Board of Directors for Outpost Natural Foods, the nation’s third largest natural foods cooperative by volume of sales, and also serves on the board of Ex Fabula, a local non-profit that aims to strengthen community bonds through the art of storytelling, chairing its governance committee. David was an American Express/Independent Sector NGen Fellow and a Wisconsin Political Leaders Fellow. He attended Vassar College, where he holds an A.B. in film and drama, and is on a personal quest to deadlift 500 pounds and mix the perfect single-malt scotch.
Blake McKinlay holds a B.A. and M.A. in International Relations and brings 6 years of experience in the international development and social enterprise sectors. While working with the International NGO iDE, Blake started his career in the business development department raising $30+ million to grow programs across 11 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. He then launched and led the first Knowledge Management Department for iDE’s Global WASH Initiative and was a key member of the team that tripled the department’s revenue, impact, and geographic coverage in 2 years. Blake continued his career at iDE as the Chief of Party for an $8+ million dollar water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) project, providing technical and financial oversight and coordination for efforts in Cambodia and Vietnam. In 2015, Blake became the Director of Operations for The Level Market, an exciting social enterprise developing the first e-commerce platform for humanitarian products. Blake brings academic and work experience in 25+ countries and a passion for using the power of business to tackle social challenges.
Uma Subramanian is a child rights activist & the India Program Manager for the Hong Kong based ADM Capital Foundation (ADMCF). She has been the driving force behind the foundation’s Aarambh Initiative (Aarambh means ‘A Beginning’ in Hindi) against child sexual abuse and exploitation, in partnership with Mumbai based NGO Prerana. Under her leadership the initiative launched India’s first online resource portal against Child Sexual Abuse & Exploitation. More than 25 national and international organizations contributed resources towards the portal and are now part of the ‘Aarambh India Safety Network’. Between 2011 and 2012, under ADMCF she worked with 6 partner organizations across 7 states in India focusing on innovative programs to educate & protect children at risk. She worked on various issues faced by children in the underprivileged communities ranging from education of girls in Musahar (Rat Eaters) communities in Bihar to protection for children in the red light areas of Mumbai. Previously she worked with the Pratham Council for Vulnerable Children (PCVC) across 3 states implementing and overseeing grassroots projects on rescue and rehabilitation of working children. Besides her Masters from the College of Social Work Mumbai, she completed an International fellowship for Social Workers at the Oslo University College and an executive education program in Social Entrepreneurship from INSEAD School of Business, Singapore. In 2014, she was selected for the American Express Leadership Academy in India. She volunteers as the Director of Muso Magic India that empowers children and adults through music and song writing workshops. She is the board member of the NARMADA Foundation, Delhi that funds and supports rural development. Uma’s interest is to ensure that any intervention on child rights & child protection reaches the most vulnerable child in the most deprived community in India. Towards this she hopes to develop a simple, scalable model using technology, engaging with the government and inspiring communities across rural and urban India.
Veronica Vela is the Director of Marketing & Communiations at Girls Inc., the nonprofit organization that inspires all girls to be strong, smart, and bold. Veronica joined Girls Inc. in 2011 and serves as the primary steward of the national brand. As Director of Marketing & Communications she leads overall marketing efforts, communications strategies, management of creative services, and marketing support for the entire Girls Inc. network. Before joining Girls Inc., Veronica was an Account Director at various integrated marketing and advertising firms, including The Bravo Group, a division of Young & Rubicam and Publicis Groupe’s Bromley Communications. Her career as an advertising professional included managing accounts in Healthcare, Retail, Packaged Goods, and Cause Awareness. Veronica is a graduate of Fordham University where she earned a BBA in International Marketing and a minor in Spanish Studies.
The now-viral video of a Texas teenage girl attending a pool party crying for her mom after she was slammed to the ground by a white male police officer has once again re-ignited the calls for police reform.
While the officer identified as Eric Casebolt was placed on administrative leave by the McKinney police department—and has since resigned—the issues this action raise are neither isolated nor nearly resolved.
The repercussions of profiling—racial and otherwise—encompass the entire justice system and extend beyond the streets of suburban Dallas to our American prisons and back to the streets when those who were incarcerated are released. What will happen to the 650,000 people estimated to be released this year?
The two biggest factors that determine whether or not formerly incarcerated people will recidivate are their ability to obtain housing and employment. The 2008 Jacksonville Ex-Offender Opportunity study found that people with criminal convictions who are unemployed are 500 times more likely to go back to prison.
In a study conducted in New York City, a criminal record reduced the likelihood of a call-back or job offer by nearly 50 percent.
To break the cycle of incarceration that occurs in so many people’s lives—especially in low-income communities—we need to ensure people have the opportunity to become gainfully employed when returning from prison. We need to end profiling of a different kind.
A recent study by the Center for Employment Opportunities found that more than 40 percent of people will be re-incarcerated—and more than two-thirds re-arrested—within three years of being released from prison. Employment challenges, sobriety, housing, mental health, and a lack of strong social ties are among the primary reasons that people return to jail or prison.
Ban the Box is an effort to end employment discrimination against the formerly incarcerated by deferring questions regarding criminal history until later in the application and hiring process. It proposes not including a box to check requesting information on prior convictions on all public employment applications.
This is not an effort to hide applicants’ criminal record from employers; it simply allows applicants to be judged on their current skills and qualifications while not being immediately screened out because of a past mistake.
The results from a recent National Institute of Justice survey suggest that between 60 and 75 percent of former inmates are jobless up to a year after release. In a study conducted in New York City, a criminal record reduced the likelihood of a call-back or job offer by nearly 50 percent. And the negative effect of a criminal record was substantially larger for black applicants.
As the state director of the Georgia chapter of 9to5 Working Women, an organization dedicated to building a movement for economic justice, I led the city of Atlanta’s Ban the Box campaign. In 2013, Atlanta joined the list of more than 30 cities and 13 states that have passed Ban the Box policies to help remove barriers to employment for people with criminal records.
In Durham, North Carolina, since Ban the Box policies were implemented in 2011, the overall proportion of people with criminal records hired by the city has increased nearly seven-fold. In addition to the cities and states that have banned the box, private employers including Target and Koch Industries have also adopted these fair hiring policies, in 2013 and just last month, respectively.
More employers are beginning to understand that screening out applicants because of their past does not allow them to select from the broadest, most qualified pool of candidates, and therefore may have an adverse impact on their hiring decisions.
Employers will still be able to inquire about an individual’s criminal history, but later in the hiring process, preferably during a face-to-face interview after a conditional offer has been made. The goal is not to hide a person’s background. Instead, the goal is for the applicant to have an opportunity to explain the nature of the crime, how long it has been since the crime, and what steps have been taken toward rehabilitation.
In light of the shootings of unarmed black men by police in Ferguson, Baltimore, and New York, President Obama spoke earlier this year about the need for criminal justice reform. “If we are serious about solving this problem, then we’re going to not only have to help the police, we’re going to have to think about what can we do—the rest of us—to make sure … that we’re reforming our criminal justice system so it’s not just a pipeline from schools to prisons,” he said. “So that we’re not rendering men in these communities unemployable because of a felony record for a non-violent drug offense.”
Incidents like the recent treatment by police of a black teenage girl in Texas remind us that reform is necessary in every aspect of the justice system. Let’s work to make sure that those who exit out of that system get the fresh start they deserve.
Today, New York City became the largest city in the nation to adopt a fair chance hiring policy so people with criminal records have an opportunity to work.
The NYC Fair Chance Act (Intro 318) is one of the strongest ban-the-box policies nationwide, requiring private and public sector employers to delay any inquiry about criminal record history until after a conditional job offer. This gives employers the opportunity to evaluate candidates based on their qualifications and interviews, not their rap sheet.
When VOCAL’s Marilyn Reyes-Scales came home from prison all she wanted was a decent job so she could support her family. She applied for countless jobs but on every application they asked about her criminal record and she never got callbacks. Years later, her criminal record continues to serve as a barrier to work. “I served my time, when can I finally say my sentence is over?” she asks.
Marilyn and all formerly incarcerated New Yorkers deserve a fair chance at employment. And with today’s passage of the Fair Chance Act – they will get one.
Thank you to Council Members Jumaane Williams, Corey Johnson, Ritchie Torres and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer for co-sponsoring this important legislation. And to our partners at Community Service Society, the National Employment Law Project, 32BJ SEIU, Faith in New York, and more for fighting alongside us every step of the way.