The Business of Empowerment

The business of empowering those most in need is a tough one.  It requires huge investments of financial and human capital.  Stakeholders can't always look for a quick return on their investment. Few understand the complex calculus that ultimately defines success quite as abundantly as the people at STRIVE

And during their annual STRIVE Institute event, my colleague Alex Thome and I at Penn Foster were able to get a front row view of the work happening across the entire STRIVE network as their affiliate partners and team members gathered in Washington DC last week to plug into their strong sense of community, share best practices, and deliver on their vision.  One STRIVE. Committed to helping those most in need rebuild their lives through empowerment, employment and economic mobility.    

The first thing you learn about STRIVE in their opening session is that the organization is part science and analytics, part inspiration, and part old-fashioned hands-on revival meeting.  The energy in the room is authentic and palpable, as participants get up and on their feet dancing.  But, this is not just about feel good.  STRIVE is a mission driven numbers business, and their numbers speak for themselves.  Over 73,000 people have transformed their lives since they became part of STRIVE.  A huge percentage of these people come from low-income communities (63% have no income), where the justice system plays an inordinate role (61% justice-system involvement) , and where over 92% are people of color and a disproportionate number are chronically underemployed or unemployed. 

People defined by their stories, not their past

These people are also unique individuals looking for a second chance, and each of them has a name. Roy Castro, the keynote speaker, is one of them.  Roy has a unique and inspiring story.  By the time Roy was in his early 20's, his first exposure to a job came in the drug business. His father had left the scene when he was an infant, and his mother was an addict.  He came to the doorstep of STRIVE in 2003 after serving nearly a decade in federal prison on a drug charge.  His first job in the neighborhood on the outside was cleaning out freezers and equipment at Edy's Ice Cream, and he was quickly promoted to manager.  From there, he continued learning and growing and doing all the things people strive for-owning a home, starting a family, and looking to make things better for them.

Man talking in front of people in a meeting

In 2013, Roy bought his own Ice Cream distributor, which now employs 15 people and generates over $6M in business. As a graduate of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program, Roy is now leading New York's largest ice cream sub-distributor "selling the good white stuff now." STRIVE'S business model ensured success for Roy so that his past didn't define him.  So that he could get and keep a job, grow and empower others by ultimately creating economic and employment opportunities for his family and community. This is just one story of many, each connected by a complex and growing network of partners, mentors, and organizations dedicated to changing lives.

Driving high growth and returns on investment through partnerships

As with any growth business, STRIVE continues to invest and build. STRIVE was recently awarded $4.5 million from the US Department of Labor for their Future Leaders Program. This grant will bring together strategic partners Jobs for the Future, and Penn Foster to create more educational opportunities and services for justice involved youth. For Phil Weinberg, STRIVE'S CEO, this is just another beginning.  As Phil shared with the audience, "this unique partnership with our friends at Jobs for the Future and Penn Foster gives us a chance to build upon what we already know works.  We can now bring state of the art training and education services to many who have been left out of the equation."

Penn Foster will deliver high quality online programs with wrap around services that include foundational literacy and numeracy skills, workplace readiness training, and technical career pathways leading to an industry recognized credential.  As Frank Britt, Penn Foster's CEO shares:  "We view our STRIVE and JFF partnership as a powerful step forward, and a force multiplier for social outcomes. We expect this to become a blueprint for blending the best of local efforts with a series of solutions that can be scaled to serve many."  That's how the empowerment business ultimately flourishes, and creates high returns. 

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