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How Philanthropists and Social Entrepreneurs Are Transforming the Future of Work

Adrian Haro, CEO of The Workers Lab, recently spoke with Worth about how we can rebuild an economy and society around who workers are and what they need.

Photo by Clark Tibbs via Unsplash

Massive layoffs, job loss and millions of displaced and underserved workers are struggling to survive during this pandemic, and reality is that the state of the workforce, for many young people and their families, is looking very bleak. While millennials make up the majority of the workforce in the United States, Federal Reserve Data suggests that they only make up 7 percent of the country’s wealth. On the other hand, baby boomers make up more than 50 percent of the country’s wealth population. (The Fed defined millennials here as the group of people born between 1981 and 1996.)

While the stats may suggest that baby boomers have had time to accumulate this wealth, the reality is that this gap is historically larger than previous generational wealth gaps. And it is indicative of the many different barriers that this generation is struggling with: affordable housing, rising student debts, an ongoing economic recession and, currently, a global pandemic. This, of course, has a larger impact on communities of color that are being affected by the pandemic, combined with systemic racism and bias that already exists when it comes to education pathways and career hiring. 

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The lack of career and economic prosperity amongst the younger generation will lead to many more social, financial and economic disparities for future generations. The urgency to invest in transformative postsecondary alternatives, career pathways and technological innovation is vital today to ensure that young generations are supported and equipped to elevate their economic and career trajectory. 

Philanthropic organizations, such as New Profit, are working with proximate social entrepreneurs and leaders who are solving these problems directly impacting young people who are just starting their education and career pathway.

Recently, New Profit launched the Future of Work Grand Challenge with XPrize and MIT Solve, $6 million in collaborative funding available to accelerate solutions to train and place millions of workers into higher-skilled, higher-wage careers. As part of this challenge, New Profit also launched a Worker Advisory Board, in collaboration with Accenture and Goodwill, to amplify the voices of front-line workers. Workers are directly involved in helping design and decide on how the challenge plays out, be part of the solution and are connected with employment opportunities.

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“The Grand Challenge partners envision a future of work where the most disinvested communities are deeply engaged in all aspects of economic recovery—where the brilliance of entrepreneurs of color are elevated, and where all workers, employers and stakeholders are reaping the benefits of technology, innovation and equitable investment,” said Dr. Angela Jackson, a partner at New Profit and co-lead of its Future of Work strategy.

Related to the Grand Challenge, New Profit also launched its Post-Secondary Innovation for Equity (PIE) initiative, to support the future of work equity and provide access to post-secondary and career opportunities for young people from historically underinvested communities.

Both the Future of Work Grand Challenge and the PIE initiatives are grounded in New Profit’s Inclusive Impact strategy, which seeks to bridge the racial funding gap in philanthropy.

By providing unrestricted access to funds, strategic advice and working closely with leaders who are supporting young people, philanthropic organizations can be a part of creating more inclusive career pathways, reduced barriers to education and accessible technological innovation to improve the future of the workforce.

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So, what does supporting the younger generation in their career pathway and transition look like for these organizations working directly on the ground with young people?

This question has been on Adrian Haro’s mind for the past few years. Haro is the CEO of The Workers Lab, an organization that envisions a society where workers are powerful drivers of economic, political and social transformation. Haro (pictured right) is also a New Profit grantee-partner, who recently spoke about transformative change in work during the third session of Worth’s online event series, Rearchitecting the Future Through Philanthropy and Social Entrepreneurship.

Worth caught up with Haro to hear his story and learn ways we can support workers and young people and create a more equitable workforce.

Q: Can you share with us a bit about your journey with The Workers Lab, what brought you to the organization and what your vision for it is over the next few years?

A: I joined the lab in 2017 as its managing director. Prior to joining The Workers Lab, I built a career in progressive politics, government and public affairs. I started as a field organizer on Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and then served as the speechwriter to United States Secretary of Labor, Hilda L. Solis. I then spent four years at Civitas Public Affairs Group, a leading national public affairs firm.  

I had a brief but beloved stint in Hollywood working under the mentorship of acclaimed Latino entertainment executive, activist and entrepreneur, Moctesuma Esparza. I hold a degree in rhetorical studies and political science from California State University, Long Beach and grew up in East Los Angeles.

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At The Workers lab, our purpose is to give new ideas about increasing worker power a chance to succeed and flourish. We do this primarily as an intermediary funder in service of our vision for a society in which workers are the primary drivers of economic, social and political transformation.

What has been your point of inspiration that keeps you going? What wakes you up every day?

The innovators we fund who are innovating to better serve working people in this country. Their energy, enthusiasm and new ideas about increasing power for working people wakes me up every day.  

Can you share a bit about your fundraising experience? What has that been like? What are some of the learnings you achieved along the way?

Fundraising is hard. Asking people for money is hard. I think most folks who have to fundraise in their job would agree with me here. That said, I’ve actually come to really enjoy the process the more I do it. You have to lean into the discomfort and be vulnerable and bold all at once when you’re making an ask. Being clear about who you are, why and who you seek to serve is a tall order, but it’s a necessary part of fundraising. It has made me a better communicator and a stronger leader.

I noticed your Innovation Fund for workers and leaders to rebuild their business. What is your vision for the fund, who do you wish to support and what is the impact you hope to achieve?

The Innovation Fund is our signature program. It’s a grant competition we host three times a year and the primary mechanism through which we find, fund, learn and share new ideas about increasing worker power with people in power, making important decisions about work and workers. The vast majority of people who apply to the Innovation Fund are not only people of color, but overwhelmingly women leaders of color at 74 percent.

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It turns out that innovators aren’t only tech bros in Silicon Valley, but very much farmworkers in rural Ohio, formerly incarcerated firefighters in California and other people of color everywhere in between. The Workers Lab is one of the few places, arguably the only, where innovators like these with a new idea about increasing worker power can get highly flexible money just to try something. Giving these folks money to make their dreams come true is the best part of my job. 

In your opinion, what are some of the policies in place right now that need to change in order for workers to become powerful drivers of the economy?

The moment we’re in right now is tragic and terrible for so many reasons. But as an organization focused on bringing new ideas about increasing power for workers to life, I see so much opportunity. As I see it, the silver lining in all of this is the opportunity to start from scratch and rebuild an economy and society around who workers are and what they need.

The truth is workers need all kinds of different things—mostly because they are human beings! And we forget that about workers sometimes. So we can’t only build power in service of their safety and health, we need to build power in service of greater recourse in the form of rights, in service of greater financial security, in service of more control at work and in life, in service of mobility, and in service of creating more room in workers’ lives for them to be able to participate in our democracy. As we see it, any effort to revise or create policy priorities should reflect and promote these outcomes for workers.

You can learn more about Adrian Haro and his team’s work by visiting The Workers Lab website, and read about their mission and vision to support workers during these times. And don’t miss our next session, Using a New Lens to See and Invest in Transformative Change in Democracy, which will take place after the election on November 11 at 3 p.m. ET/12 p.m. PT. 

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