September 16, 2020 – By Cristina Alaniz 

Understanding key components that drive successful social service programs, specifically centered around workforce development training, is a theme that I have explored over the course of the last year. As a Student Analyst at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation, I focused on a project, supported by the WES Mariam Assefa Fund, to identify approaches that could drive additional capital to workforce training and development of immigrant and refugee workers. 

As the world enters its eighth month of the pandemic and ongoing economic uncertainty, vulnerable communities face increasing barriers to economic prosperity and social inclusion. During this trying time, the world must not forget to continue to support these populations and equip them with the tools necessary for survival. Refugees are a group especially at risk. According to the United Nations High Refugee Commissioner (UNHCR) the current global refugee crisis has hit a record high of approximately 79.5 million forcibly displaced people. As the pandemic hinders the ability of countries to welcome refugees and provide adequate resources, digital gaps and disparities in access to healthcare will likely heighten the frustrations and needs of this population.  

Resettlement States provide refugees with legal and physical protection, including access to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights similar to those enjoyed by nationals. (UNHCR)  By way of this, the States adhere to the delivery of a “social inclusion framework” that creates opportunities for refugees to develop their ability to reach self-sufficiency. According to the World Bank, social inclusion barriers include not only legal systems, land and labor markets, but also attitudes, beliefs, or perceptions. This is crucial, as cultural barriers are predominant factors that may prevent immigrant and refugee communities from reaching social inclusion rapidly or at all. As resettlement and welcoming efforts are made around the world, societies begin to recognize that a social inclusion framework is multi-faceted and blends with the economic development of the State. 

Unfortunately, the health of our global economy is weak and is predicted to shrink by at least 5.2% this year. U.S. unemployment continues to fluctuate and stands at 8.4%. These uncertainties decrease opportunities for vulnerable populations, as well as pose a major problem for States; a capital problem. With funding fragmented across government-funded programs and an expected uptick in demand for social services from both refugees and national citizens, how can States look to private funding to help solve the capital problem and create a sustainable social inclusion framework? As impact investors seek to use their capital to address structural barriers, can we rely on them to make blended capital (a mix of government, non-profit grants, equity investors and lenders) a more permanent solution for funding social services programs?

A Solution: The Social Impact Bond (SIB) 

The Social Impact Bond (SIB), “is an innovative financing mechanism that shifts financial risk from a traditional funder — usually government — to a new investor, who provides up-front capital to scale an evidence-based social program to improve outcomes for a vulnerable population. If an independent evaluation shows that the program achieved agreed-upon outcomes, then the investment is repaid by the traditional funder. If not, the investor takes the loss.” (Urban Institute) 

Chart of Social Impact Bond
A model of a social impact bond. Credit: “A Critical Reflection on Social Impact Bonds”, Stanford Social Innovation Review, May 1, 2018

Over 175  SIBs exist around the world. These vehicles have largely focused on financing social welfare and employment projects and can help reduce the cost of public services for taxpayers. The U.K., home to the first SIB (2010) has the largest market exposure, followed by the U.S. As of 2015, SIBs have gradually made their way into the developing world, where they are often called “Development Impact Bonds”. The average life of a SIB is typically 2-5 years and the number of individuals served varies by motivation for project, project objective and issue area. As an example, we look to Nordic efforts, where social inclusion frameworks are well thought out and incorporate beneficiary feedback. Finland, a country who sought impact investing initiatives, designed a SIB that solves for rapid employment integration of immigrants and refugees, satisfying a key measure of its innovative social inclusion and participatory framework for arriving immigrants and refugees in Finland. This project also helps the country reduce resettlement/social expenditures.

Finland: A Case of Compassion for Inclusion of Immigrant Blue-Collar Workers 

In Finland the admission limit of 750 refugees is set in consultation amongst various government agencies. The “Koto-SIB” program is an integration social impact bond structured to help with integration of immigrants who have been granted a residence permit, but are not Finnish citizens. The demand for rapid employment was evident and Finland knew that an influx of asylees and refugees would benefit from the Koto-SIB. This €10 million project attracted strategic partnerships amongst various stakeholders and diverse employment sectors, that enable immigrants to train and work in blue collar jobs. From 2015 to 2016, project evaluators explored blue collar job pathways that would prepare immigrants and refugees to enter the Finnish workforce, by designing a model that would develop an individual’s work life skills, societal and cultural capabilities. Susanna Pieponnen, a senior advisor at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, who helps oversee the Koto-SIB program, provides insights on the structure of the model, outcomes and some of the lessons learned thus far. We spoke via phone, the conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Who was your target group?

Susanna Pieponnen: Our target group: unemployed immigrants between the ages of 17-63, who were ready to work, had a desire and motivation to learn Finnish and accept blue collar jobs. We aimed to target 2,000 individuals over a 3-year period beginning in 2016. The first cohort began in 2016 and currently we are in our 4th cohort. 

Tell me about the feasibility and structuring of Koto-SIB. What do you think Finland did differently from other SIB models that target immigrant challenges?

The program aims to place immigrants in jobs within 4-6 months. It is designed for adults who know what type of job they want. The program helps participants learn basic language, navigate cultural settings in the workplace and material that is sector specific. So, it’s very cultural. But mostly, it is flexible. 

How is success measured?

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment will commission an external evaluation after the trial. In the evaluation, the taxes paid and unemployment benefits received by those who participated in the SIB project are compared to the taxes paid and unemployment benefits received by the control group. From the State’s perspective, the trial is a success if the taxes paid by those participating in the experiment are higher and unemployment benefits they received are lower than in the control group. We believe that all parties will benefit, so this is a win-win approach for employers, immigrants, investors and society. 

What are some of the lessons learned? 

One mistake the government learned early on was assuming immigrants and refugees had to study for a longer period of time and go through a traditional 4-year college. When end-users were asked what they thought of blue collar jobs (ie. drivers, kitchen cooks, hospitality roles), they believed that once a bus driver, always a bus driver. Their confusion about blue collar jobs was contributing to exclusion.  Culturally, the jobs were not up to par, but explaining the value of blue-collar jobs and providing them with pathways to advancement, made job placement easier. There seemed to be more understanding of how they could transition from blue-collar jobs to white-collar jobs as we delivered training and reminded them that every job is valuable. 

Can the U.S. apply lessons from the Finland SIB model to solve for rapid employment of refugees in the U.S.? If so, why or why not? 

The U.S. holds the largest refugee admissions in the world, but recently has welcomed the lowest numbers in its history, with less than 8,000 refugee admissions in 2020. Federal, state and local governments contract with social service delivery organizations to deliver  resettlement services, such as job training, English language instruction, similar to the structure in Finland. Refugee admission processes are similar between both countries. Finland welcomes refugees under the refugee quota determined by the state budget; in the U.S., refugee admissions are determined by a presidential determination in consultation with federal and state offices. However, a significant difference amongst the two countries is the timeframe of integration for a refugee. In Finland it is a 3 year process assessed by local employment offices from the day of arrival. In the U.S., a refugee is expected to reach integration within 6-8 months and interacts with multiple service providers. With limited time for integration, the U.S. could use rapid employment advancements as a universal framework. Another key difference is that Finland has leveraged the need of rapid employment as a solution, not a problem. With fragmented funding and a dismantled resettlement program in the U.S., now is the time to revisit the existing gaps of our domestic social inclusion framework and adapt to better solutions. 

The first U.S. workforce SIB, the JVS/Social Finance “Massachusetts Pathways to Economic Advancement Pay for Success Project,” is already demonstrating success, both in terms of returns to investors and impact for participants. The SIB launched in 2017, to support 2,000 adult English language learners seeking to transition to employment, higher wage jobs, and/or higher education. Centered around English language needs, the model includes a workforce development component and rapid employment. The Massachusetts PFS model targets English learners who are potentially past the 6-8 month integration period. Both SIB models serve their States’ social inclusion frameworks, however, Finland has implemented the model from  initial points of resettlement and integration, whereas in the U.S., it picks up where initial resettlement efforts end. There are many commonalities between both models, so why is this not replicated beyond the state of Massachusetts and integrated to initial resettlement and social inclusion efforts?

As funding for social adjustment programs becomes scarce across all levels of government in the U.S., innovations such as the “Koto-SIB” model, may help serve as a blueprint for local U.S. state governments to advance rapid employment placement and integration of immigrant and refugee communities. The “potential” if applied, could help generate a win-win approach across governments, local communities, emerging employment sectors (e-commerce and agriculture) and investors looking to expand corporate social responsibility (CSR).

*A special thanks to Susanna Pieponnen of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment in Finland and Mika Pykko of The Finish Innovation Fund Sitra, for their support and collaboration. 


NOTE: Cristina also spoke about her work with WES Mariam Assefa Fund. Read her interview.


Cristina Alaniz was a student analyst with the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University and continues to be a graduate student at American University’s School of International Service (SIS).
Linkedin: http://linkedin.com/in/cristinalaniz Email: ca3919a@student.american.edu

August 28, 2020 – By Angela Guo

The coronavirus pandemic has underscored the importance of the social safety net amidst historic losses and tragedies: mass unemployment, food insecurity, and uninsured healthcare, to name a few. And when it comes to race, a deep dive into the numbers is jarring: Black Americans are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus, both financially and health-wise — the Black and white unemployment gap widened to 5.3 percentage points in June and the coronavirus is killing Black Americans at a rate three times that of white people. This isn’t a coincidence.

The Black Lives Matter movement is radically changing how we look at our public institutions, personal actions, and historical relationships through the basis of race. The movement has led to the removal of confederate statues, discussions about representation in media, and legislation regarding police funding. These groundbreaking changes result from overdue analyses of how race is integrated into our systems and symbols, in ways many had never thought twice about. The social safety net system consists of welfare programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Unemployment Insurance, that provide basic economic, food, and housing support to millions of low-income Americans. As one of our nation’s most prominent systems in a time of crisis, the social safety net must be examined in the context of race.

Overt to Covert: The History of the U.S. Social Safety Net

“I understand they’re going through a fraud situation, but that doesn’t pay my bills,” Karen Womack told The Washington Post. After Karen verified her identity for unemployment benefits with the state of Washington and the state’s unemployment office cut her aid anyway, she found herself caught up in a system that has institutionalized racism since its founding in 1935.

The U.S. government passed the Social Security Act of 1935 providing an early safety net for elderly, unemployed, and disadvantaged Americans, described by President Franklin Roosevelt as “some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family.” Yet, lawmakers codified the first formal safety net with racism; unemployment insurance was a key component of that law, but agricultural workers and personal service workers were ineligible, leaving 65% of Black American workers without access to unemployment insurance, compared to 27% of white workers. Again, this isn’t a coincidence.

Racist sentiments have echoed throughout the years of discussion around social safety net policy. In 1976, Ronald Reagan leveraged the “welfare queen” narrative in his presidential campaign to describe a Black woman who used “80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans’ benefits for four nonexistent deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare.” This narrative further fueled racial animosity towards Black Americans and unfairly associated them with using fraud to exploit the safety net.


A Brief History of the Social Safety Net in the United States

Expand this timeline to full screen

Politicians today replicate the welfare queen narrative with a focus on preventing fraud instead of finding ways to effectively deliver benefits to vulnerable Americans. The Beeck Center’s Social Safety Net Benefits Research details the technological barriers in the social safety net imposed by, for example, the digital divide and remote identity proofing when accessing benefits. While current safety net policies don’t share the same overt racist language used to construct the first policies, structural racism compounded over decades still poses obstacles for Black individuals from equitably accessing the safety net. Not only does structural racism prevail in the social safety net, but it also presents itself in other institutions in the United States such as the criminal justice system, education system, and child welfare system.

Patterns of racism in our social institutions often go unacknowledged and unchallenged since they have become ingrained in our society. We must create and implement data and technology solutions that focus on eliminating the racial inequities found in the social safety net system and other public institutions. Working through the lens of anti-racism is a critical requirement for the work of social impact.

What We Can Do

After looking at the history of the social safety net in the United States, we can begin to go beyond the surface of the problems we aim to address. As leaders in the social impact space, we must:

  • Understand the institutionalization of racism in our systems and institutions while designing direct solutions. Without deepening our understanding of racism in the foundation of our social institutions, we may inadvertently scale ideas that are merely the modernized versions of the exclusionary practices from the past.
  • Constantly analyze the tools we use for social impact. We often see technological advances as efficient tools for advancing social impact. Ruha Benjamin’s book Race After Technology details the intersection of race and technology, and how emerging tech and data tools covertly leverage racism in design solutions. Though unintentional, there can be harmful effects on the populations they were meant to serve when we use tools that were historically meant to discriminate.
  • Emphasize process over product in our work. Product-oriented work often neglects the complexities of the problem itself, and the product instead becomes a blanket on the problem we aim to address through social impact. When taking more time to explore the process of our work, we can be better equipped with the methods and capabilities for achieving equitable and sustainable social impact through the lens of racial equity.
  • Evaluate the positions we hold, both personally and professionally. Are leaders in decision-making and social influence BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color)? Are we designing solutions with and for oppressed communities, or are we instead pushing them aside when making decisions?

This isn’t an exhaustive list of steps we can take in our role as social innovators. Anti-racism is an ongoing process that requires active learning coupled with meaningful action. By acting intentionally with a deep comprehension of the intricacies of structural racism in social impact, we can begin to break down the systems and patterns that perpetuate racism and exclusion within our systems and ensure that our social safety net is there to equitably serve all Americans when they need it.

Angela Guo was a Summer 2020 Student Analyst at the Beeck Center supporting the Social Safety Net Benefits Research Project. She is a senior at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill studying Economics and Public Policy.

February 24, 2020 | By Alberto Rodriguez Alvarez

So, why did you choose to apply for the Beeck Center Student Analyst position? As a grad student at the McCourt School of Public Policy, I get asked this question pretty often. And the answer is always the same: “Because it is and continues to be the best place to learn new skills as a student, while working to make an impact with the skills you already have”. I’ve been working as a Student Analyst at the Beeck Center since February of 2019, participating in four cohorts and supporting a variety of projects and initiatives. While the focus of my work has shifted over time, what has remained constant is that I’ve had the opportunity to learn and contribute in impactful ways. 

My work in the Beeck Center is within a project called the Digital Service Collaborative which is part of the center’s Data + Digital Portfolio. In this project, I lead action-oriented research on how governments are approaching digital transformation across the United States and around the world. My initial project was under the Exploratory phase of the Beeck Center framework and allowed me to tag along on more than 40 interviews with leaders in federal, state, and local governments who have been part of digital transformation efforts. I learned as they explained how digital tools were transforming their work, identified their pain points on using technology in public service, and developed an understanding of their views of how the government would adapt in the future. 


Related Story: Work With Purpose – The Student Analyst Program


Before coming to Georgetown, I worked in the Office of the President of Mexico at the National Digital Strategy supporting digital transformation efforts in my own government. My work at the Beeck Center offered me a chance to use my past experience to analyze and contextualize our findings and experience a level of access and direct engagement that is difficult to get in any job, let alone on a part-time position or an internship. But at the Center, the process went even further: under the guidance of my supervisors — expert practitioners in the public interest technology field including designers, data scientists, policy makers, and more — I learned human-centered design techniques to synthesize the data and information we collected from more than 70 interviews and turn it into a concise set of learnings and recommendations now published in Setting the Stage for Transformation: Frontline Reflections on Technology in American Government.  

Last summer, I had the opportunity to work at the Beeck Center full-time with new student analysts from other schools across the country who were also excited to work on making an impact through public interest tech. Being a part of this team allowed me to immerse myself in the civic tech ecosystem, this time on the Incubation phase of the Center’s framework. This started with the formal launch of the Digital Service Collaborative. To say that it was one of the best experiences I’ve had as a student is frankly an understatement. I piloted and used the HCD techniques that I’ve previously learned, I got to meet amazing teams doing great work, but most importantly I was pushed to create tools that could help other people, both inside and outside government, to enact change using digital tools for government. I even got to build a strategy around case studies to document how governments in Latin America are approaching policy innovation and speak in a national conference on Decolonizing Civic Tech which started a conversation still taking place today. 

All of this work takes place under the guidance of the Beeck Center Fellows who coach us every step of the way, and Beeck Center staff that hold workshops to teach us new skills and provide space to reflect on our journey towards social impact, through offerings like the Discern & Digest series where students gather each week to reflect on our unique journeys through school, work, and life.

As I complete my last semester as a student in Georgetown I am also finishing my journey in the Beeck Center, this time with the opportunity to lead a working group made up of government professionals, leaders from civil society, companies, and academia focused on Delivering Better Outcomes through User-Centered Policy Making, in partnership with New America’s Public Interest Technology team, the National Conference on Citizenship, and The Rockefeller Foundation. This working group now lets me apply skills that I acquired both in my classes as a Master’s in Public Policy Student and in my time working at the Center, all in the service of creating tools for public servants who want to have a greater impact on their communities.

As I look back and try to synthesize my journey at the Beeck Center, I find myself truly grateful for the opportunity to be in a space where great ideas are discussed, talents are fostered, and friends are made. I also see myself challenged by a cohort of experts and learners that perfectly complement my time as a student, without losing sight of working purposely to achieving a positive impact. And I honestly think there is nowhere else I could’ve done that. 

Alberto Rodriguez Alvarez is a Student Analyst, currently pursuing a Masters in Public Policy at Georgetown University. Follow him on Twitter at @arodalv

 

February 7, 2020 | By Kyla Fullenwider & Katie Sullivan 

Cover of 2020 Census Digital Preparedness Playbook
Download the Playbook

Last month, the 2020 Census kicked off in Toksook Bay, a remote Alaskan fishing village, as the head of the U.S. Census Bureau, Steven Dillingham, arrived to personally interview the village elder and start the decennial process. While Bureau workers will travel around Alaska “on bush planes, snow machines, or snowmobiles, and dog sleds to get to villages,” this year, for the first time, millions of U.S. residents will have the option to respond to the decennial census online or over the phone, alongside the traditional mail-in form. Federal workers will use handheld mobile devices to conduct the count and social media channels will catalyze rapid, real-time sharing of census news and information. 

Though the first “digital” census presents an opportunity for a more participatory count, it also raises a number of obstacles that may threaten the completeness and accuracy of the 2020 Census. An incomplete census count leads to unrepresentative distribution of federal funding and political power while raising inaccuracies within the foundational dataset that is used by planners, policymakers, and researchers nationwide. An accurate census count is vital in ensuring the integrity of our democratic institutions for the next decade and beyond.


For the first time, issues such as data security, digital access and literacy, online form navigation, and social media driven misinformation and disinformation campaigns must be addressed.


Since the last decennial count in 2010, the political and technological landscapes of the United States have changed dramatically. While some challenges such as an increase in “hard to reach” populations persist across census counts, the digital nature of the 2020 Census raises new threats. For the first time, issues such as data security, digital access and literacy, online form navigation, and social media driven misinformation and disinformation campaigns must be addressed. With historic levels of distrust in the federal government, city and local governments will play a critical role in ensuring a complete count of their constituents. City leaders understand the importance of the census in allocating dollars and political representation to their most vulnerable communities. However, many cities lack sufficient preparation and resources to lead the charge in promoting an inclusive and accurate 2020 Census count. 

Today we are pleased to publish the 2020 Census Digital Preparedness Playbook which helps address some of these challenges by providing a set of practical resources and explainers on some of the most challenging issues facing local governments as they prepare for the 2020 Census. The playbook provides:

  • A framework city leaders can use to understand the unique challenges posed by the 2020 Census including disinformation, cybersecurity, the digital divide, and data privacy. 
  • Accessible one-page overviews giving decision makers information they need to recognize threats to the census’ integrity.
  • In-depth how-to resources helping city leaders plan their response, avoid digital census pitfalls, and increase participation. 
  • Comprehensive answers to commonly-asked questions about new issues in the 2020 Census including the internet response option. 
  • A series of case studies highlighting how cities like Baltimore, Los Angeles, and Indianapolis are developing new and innovative approaches fostering census participation.

The 2020 Census Digital Preparedness Playbook was drafted in close collaboration with city officials, subject matter experts, and in partnership with the National League of Cities, Code for America Brigades and National Conference on Citizenship. We invite you to read and share the playbook to better understand the challenges ahead and to help ensure that everyone counts in 2020.

Additional Resources

The rollout of the 2020 Census Digital Preparedness Playbook complements other Beeck Center efforts to support an accurate and inclusive 2020 Census count. 

 

Kyla Fullenwider is a Beeck Center Fellow leading our work around the digital implications of the 2020 Census, specifically, what local governments, journalists, leading digital platforms, and the public can do to prepare and participate in this crucial function of our democracy. She previously served as the first Chief Innovation Officer of the U.S. Census Bureau. Follow her on Twitter at @KylaFullenwider

Katie Sullivan is a Beeck Center Student Analyst, currently pursuing a Masters in Global Human Development at Georgetown University. Follow her on LinkedIn or email her. 

January 15, 2020 | By Nate Wong, Sheila Herrling & Audrey Voorhees

As public trust of business and markets wanes, there’s an ever important call for everyone to play a critical role in reforming the system “so that it delivers prosperity for the many, rather than the few.” The Beeck Center has been observing the trends in the corporate social impact (CSI) space for the past few years as mainstream rhetoric has shifted from a shareholder to stakeholder-centric view of capitalism, most importantly seen in the recent United States Business Roundtable announcement

The question remains, where does the CSI movement stand and where do we go from here? As a “grasstop” player, the Center links grassroot and institutional efforts poised for action, and puts our energy toward the messy infrastructure work that can accelerate and sustain positive social impact movements like corporate social impact. It’s what we’d call “Impact at Scale.”


CSI Defined: The increasing recognition that corporations need to rethink their role in society and embed social purpose into their business model in order to manage risk, maintain market share, and secure competitive advantage. For those more bullish, you could be more specific that purpose will drive higher profit.


We set out to explore the topic – who is doing what – and to identify gaps in the CSI landscape that require concentrated action to accelerate impact at scale. My colleagues Sheila Herrling and Audrey Voorhees conducted this analysis to consider potential roles for the Center, but believe it serves as a “global public good” for all interested parties to help move this movement forward.  

Analysis highlights include:

  • The CSI movement arguably began over 12  years ago… with at least 11 key flashpoint events that have been foundational in building momentum, but there is still more work to do to tip the movement. 
  • 22 actors stand at the forefront of accelerating this movement and their efforts are worth looking out for.
  • There are 4 major gaps standing in the way of mainstreaming this movement that require attention.

We have 7 gap-closing ideas. Dive deeper here.

Our hope is that this will ground people’s understanding no matter where you may sit in the space – a corporation finding its position relative to others, a policymaker navigating the shifting system, or an academic seeking to teach business through a more current lens – and empower coordination.

With all of the Beeck Center’s work, we pair learners and expert practitioners. Watch MBA candidate and Student Analyst Audrey Voorhees’ capstone presentation as she shares her own journey and some of the research highlights.

Engage with us. 

This is our first pass at creating a comprehensive landscape analysis of the corporate social impact movement. As a community of practitioners driving impact at scale, we want this analysis to provide value along the learning continuum, from initiate to expert. How does this analysis resonate with you? And the market? We’d love your feedback.

The potential for corporates to drive social impact is scale is enormous. If partnerships can be leveraged, strategic alliances formed and critical gaps in the movement filled, this movement just might tip!

Sheila Herrling is a Fellow at the Beeck Center, where she pursues initiatives in impact investing and measurement, inclusive entrepreneurship and social innovation at scale.

Audrey Voorhees is a Student Analyst at the Beeck Center. She is currently pursuing an MBA at the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business.

Nate Wong serves as the Interim Executive Director at the Beeck Center, where he leads the Center’s pursuits and thinking on social impact at scale across its major portfolios. He previously helped launch social impact units at Boston Consulting Group and Deloitte Consulting LLP.


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