Today we leave the starting gate — adrenalin surging, hearts pounding. REDF and our partners in the field have been testing, learning, improving and preparing. We’re aiming for a sweeping impact: people who want to work find jobs and move on and up, rather than being frozen out. Everyone who wants to work has that opportunity. Starting today, we plan to take a huge leap toward making that a reality over the next five years.
Today we make public the names of six of the organizations that will join our portfolio. REDF will work with these groups and others selected later this year to expand their businesses so that at least 2,500 more Californians starting working by 2015. REDF’s new portfolio includes two groups in the SF Bay Area, two groups in Los Angeles, and two groups that will operate in multiple California geographies. Together they will employ people who had sky-high rates of unemployment before the current economic downturn – people who need these jobs urgently. We’ll be ramping up businesses that deliver property management services in affordable and supportive housing; enterprises that provide fresh, local produce and recycling; and all kinds of other valued services to our communities.
As we work with the new portfolio to create jobs as pathways into the workforce, we will also pursue our second objective to reach an even larger scale so that every community in the US understands how to accomplish this cost-effectively and with real impact.
With REDF’s portfolio, alumni portfolio, and other social enterprise leaders around the country, we intend to develop even stronger evidence and business models, and promote and expand the road-tested approach that combines sustainable businesses with evidence-based employee supports.
Most employers are reluctant to hire people caught up in the criminal justice system, or those facing homelessness, or struggling with addiction or mental illness. And many of them are without the work experience to compete; although we know from 15 years of experience that they want to work and are able to. Once they get some experience, employers are more likely to hire them. They just need a chance.
With so many out of work, why create jobs for these particular people?
First and foremost, these are not strangers, but our uncles, aunts, cousins and neighbors. They are young people who grew up in the neighborhood. They are veterans who came home traumatized, and became homeless or entered the criminal justice system. They are among the six percent of our family members and friends with a serious mental illness. We shop at the same stores, attend church or temple together, and have sent our kids to school with them.
And it’s not only that they are part of our community. If we do not do something now that reduces their incredibly high rates of unemployment, instead of working and contributing to our communities and our democracy, they will burden the economy and taxpayers with the myriad costs that accompany long-term unemployment. Costs that too many Americans are now learning about first-hand.
The Social Innovation Fund (SIF), a federal program supported by the President and the Congress is fueling this effort with seed funding, fully matched by REDF and our private donors. The point is to make good on a promise that Americans are rightfully skeptical about – that we can make progress on the critical issues of our time by maximizing private support, using the efficiencies of business methods, and delivering complementary support services that are proven to work. This is our chance. We’re at the starting gate. Check out the competitors on the field, and what you can do to help us reach the finish line!