Who gets to decide what economic recovery looks like?
In 2018, Anand Giridharadas rocked the world with his book, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. The book took aim at the global elite who peddle sustainable capitalism and philanthropic impact, yet fail to address the deep structural inequities that enable concentrated wealth.
Fast forward two years. We’re now met with an entirely new world, harshly altered by a global pandemic. From The New York Times to Teen Vogue, experts are sounding the alarm on COVID-19’s exacerbating effects on long-held inequities in the United States and beyond, begging the questions: Who gets to decide what recovery looks like? How will their decisions ultimately determine who “wins” and who “loses” on the other side of the pandemic?
To date, many of the proposed economic solutions are made by the rich and powerful, not those who are most affected. As an example, the initial round of relief loans from the Paycheck Protection Program maintained prerequisites for existing relationships with banks — a challenge for many Black-owned businesses as a result of bias and the effects of historical practices like redlining. Mehrsa Baradaran, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, told NBC News: “Any time you create a big program and give banks the ability to choose which customers it prioritizes, you’re going to have disparities. Credit disparities are where past injustices lead to present disparities.”
As we have seen throughout history, solutions that prioritize economic rebuilding often ignore or, at worst, harm communities of color. This critique has remained consistent, re-emerging in force in Giridharadas’ 2018 Winners Take All in which the author asserts that many of the agendas pushed forward are market-based and self-serving … How can the leaders of today reach a different outcome?
Amplify proximate voices
The people who will be most affected in these decisions — workers, people of color — need to have a prominent voice in the solutions. They should be sought out both as experts on their own experiences, but also as entrepreneurs who are proximate to the communities we most need to reach. As an example, Camelback Ventures is an incubator working with proximate entrepreneurs to help them launch and scale their work, addressing the most pressing issues in their communities.
Solutions cannot be designed by figureheads and thought leaders behind closed doors. They need to bring workers into the conversation and seek out entrepreneurs who are closest to the communities they are trying to serve.
Engage employers early in the design process
Employers are key decision-makers in the future of work space. With the influx of flexible, remote work, we will likely see dramatic shifts in how companies hire. By engaging employers early, we have the opportunity to create long-awaited buy-in around more equitable hiring processes. As Vivek Ravisankar, CEO and co-founder of programming-challenge platform HackerRank, shared with Fast Company: “We were already seeing the shift toward prioritizing skills over pedigree in hiring. That will now evolve to skills over geography, making our tech talent pool more diverse, and our businesses and economy stronger.”
CodePath.org works with major employers to create open-source computer science courses, which can be taught on any campus and are targeted to engage underrepresented students. Their courses are aligned to the industry’s fastest-growing specialties, like cybersecurity, mobile app development, and are nimble enough to evolve with frequent technological changes. And, it’s working: within one year of completing a course, 85% of Black and Latinx CodePath alumni land tech jobs at companies such as Amazon, Tesla, Microsoft and others.
Climb Hire’s model prepares overlooked talent with 225 hours of training for jobs in the Salesforce ecosystem and is informed by LinkedIn’s data which shows that job seekers are nine times more likely to get a job through a referral. To fill this gap, Salesforce jumped in with nearly 100 hours of employee volunteering, opening up doors, and supporting Climbers as they navigate the learning platform. While the program is still in its infancy, Climb Hire has seen 63% of the first cohort get placed into jobs or social-capitally-rich internships that have either doubled or tripled their income.
Develop solutions that address the whole person
A recent Boston Globe article highlights how people of color are “bearing the brunt of economic pain on top of being disproportionately hit by the deadly virus.” Entrepreneurs and policymakers need to work alongside public health officials to understand how both health and economic issues play out across Americans’ lives during this pandemic — and present solutions that speak to the whole person. Organizations like The Workers Lab are funding innovative ideas that work for working people. Its Innovation Fund uncovers ideas that take a holistic look at a workers’ lived experience in terms of their financial, mental, physical, and economic well-being to support them on the road to a more prosperous future.
As we explore solutions for a future that does not yet exist, the possibility of transformation has never felt closer. But we must remember that it has not been an easy transition for all. Programs like the Innovation Fund showcase how entrepreneurs can consider the levers they touch and connect with experts to calculate what consequences (unintended or otherwise) might look like.
Policymakers, entrepreneurs and philanthropists are gearing up to uncover, validate and fund solutions. At New Profit, we’re tapping into our own network to amplify these ideas and will launch a $5 million dollar investment in organizations that have solutions to help create an equitable recovery. As we create a post-COVID-19 world, it’s critical that we prioritize true, meaningful equity — or risk falling into Giridharadas’ camp of leaders who perpetuate the very social ills they supposedly seek to dismantle.