Economic Mobility, Investment Announcements, Proximity

Five Social Entrepreneurs Creating a New System of Opportunity in America

Each of these leaders is advancing a different approach, with a model that is deeply responsive to the needs of the communities they work with.

By Abby Marquand, Partner, Economic Mobility

November 12, 2022

From the Great Resignation to the growing labor movement, over the past few years we have seen accelerated shifts in the labor market that are putting more power in the hands of workers. We now find ourselves with an unprecedented opportunity to reimagine economic mobility in America.

If we are to make the most of this opportunity, we need a multi-faceted approach that isn’t just about connecting workers to ‘good jobs,’ but about breaking down barriers to economic mobility to ensure that every worker has access to opportunities to learn new skills, advance in a career path, and build generational wealth. To meet the needs of  under-invested workers, we need to invest not only in equitable education and training, but also in systems to support economic development, asset-building and financial health, and social determinants of work like housing, healthcare, childcare, and transportation. Even with the shifts in the labor market creating an environment ripe for change, no single organization or sector can address all of the factors that affect a worker’s ability to achieve economic mobility. 

Instead, we need to build a coalition of employers, innovators, governments, and others to co-design solutions that are attuned to real-time labor market needs, and shift the underlying systems. Over the past several years, New Profit has worked to bring together large corporations, foundations, workforce development organizations, government officials, and social entrepreneurs to design a future of work that works for everyone. And earlier this month, we announced investments in five visionary social entrepreneurs who are driving transformational change in economic mobility in America.

These investments aim to create access to postsecondary and career opportunities for young people from historically underinvested communities, and builds on previous investments.

The visionary entrepreneurs behind these five organizations are reimagining the education-to-employment space to create a new system of opportunity. Each of these leaders is advancing a different approach, with a model that is deeply responsive to the needs of the communities they work with. What these leaders have in common is that their insights, expertise, and efficacy come from their first-hand experience of systemic inequities and their close connections to the communities they serve. Their proximity helped them build the power to reimagine the systems that keep economic mobility out of reach for so many Americans. 

At Basta, co-founder Sheila Sarem is a first-generation Iranian American working to close wage and employment disparities for first-generation college graduates. Basta’s program model is grounded in Sheila’s understanding of the strengths of first-generation college students of color, and emphasizes that it is gaps in access, social capital, and opportunity that drive these disparities, not skill, potential or talent. Basta’s programs, products, and services help prepare students to thrive in careers while also helping employers build more equitable hiring practices — addressing the supply and demand sides of the labor market to drive systemic change.

Before she co-founded The Knowledge House, Jerelyn Rodriguez coordinated STEM after-school programs at Braven, another New Profit grantee-partner improving economic mobility outcomes for underinvested workers. Jerelyn grew up in the South Bronx, and saw how the thriving tech industry in New York City was leaving her community behind. The Knowledge House provides technology and digital skills training, access to professional networks, and wraparound services that meet the unique needs of its graduates for successful careers in the tech sector.

Sandee Kastrul, co-founder of Inner City Computer Stars (i.c.stars), has nearly three decades of experience as an educator, trainer, and organizational leader in Chicago that inform the leadership development programs at i.c.stars. Through digital skills training, leadership development, wraparound services, career support, and a growing network of employer and corporate partners, the organization empowers young adults in the Midwest to not only get jobs that offer stable living wages and entry into thriving careers in tech, but to become high impact leaders and agents of change in their communities. 

CodePath founder Michael Ellison founded three nonprofits and three tech startups before starting CodePath. As a serial entrepreneur working in tech, Michael understands the barriers that limit access to the highest-paying software engineering jobs for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students or students from low-income backgrounds. CodePath’s unique model builds on existing postsecondary education and career recruitment systems, providing industry-relevant training at universities while building trusted employer partnerships to ensure that students nationwide have access to pathways to access the tech sector’s most competitive roles.

Dr. Kathleen St. Louis Caliento, an experienced educator and thought-leader, took over the reins of Cara Collective in 2021. For more than three decades, Cara Collective has been working to reduce poverty in Chicago by helping people with major barriers to economic mobility gain employment. Through training that focuses on both workplace skills and socio-emotional skills, as well as coaching services, transitional job experiences, and permanent job placement, Cara Collective helps program participants become self-sufficient and overcome barriers to employment like a lack of education credentials, a lack of housing, involvement in the legal system, or long gaps in work history. 

Over the next four years, New Profit will be working closely with these leaders and their teams to help each organization deepen their impact, broaden their scale, and drive systems-level change in economic mobility. In a series of dialogues over the next few months, we’ll get closer to these five leaders and their organizations to bring you more of the inspiring ideas, insights, and innovations from their work that show us we can go about the work of creating a new system of opportunity in America.