Activation of Purpose

Activation of Purpose

March 1, 2021

I have spent a significant amount of time in the past decade focusing on building structure within our growing organization. Structure that will last far beyond my tenure. Painstakingly, we’ve built the foundation to which our many processes and systems are bolted. I often say, and firmly believe, that good people fail in the absence of structure.

Structure is visible, it is tangible, it is reliable. If we want people to do things in a certain way, is it written down? Are expectations clear? Are people held accountable for doing that which they were trained to do? If we want to track something, do we have a mechanism? Is this data compilation and tracking embedded into our technological planning? If we want to hire and keep top notch talent, are hiring and performance evaluation processes systematized, standardized and monitored?

Every year we make progress in building sustainable structure. It is not easy, but it is doable.

What is less tangible, and in many ways more complex, is the challenge of building a common understanding of purpose, and alignment around what our company stands for among board, leaders and staff.

Transforming a company around its purpose requires deep and sustained commitment. This is one of the special roles of a CEO—and one that holds both promise and peril. It takes courage to lead conversations about purpose. It requires a willingness to embrace the struggle of diverse perspectives, ambiguity and confusion. It may require that people from across the organization stretch in some uncomfortable ways. One of the mistakes CEOs can make is assuming that your organization’s purpose is clear, that it is as bold as it needs to be, or that everyone is in agreement with it.

A recent survey by McKinsey and Company of 855 people across a range of US-based companies, roles and tenure found that 44 percent of respondents indicated that they work at companies that haven’t activated their purpose—meaning that leaders’ decisions are inconsistent with the company’s purpose, or that the company isn’t living up to its words. Further, a similar percentage of respondents said that the company’s purpose is not aligned with their own sense of individual purpose or values. They don’t see how they contribute to it, nor do they feel accountable to act in line with it.

The Fedcap Group’s purpose is to create opportunities to improve the lives of people with barriers to economic well-being. This purpose sounds simple enough to rally around, but it would be a mistake to think that. Every day we are finding new points of clarity. In one of our recent company leadership meetings, we were delving deep into what this purpose looks like on a day-to-day basis. We considered our approach to the delivery of behavioral health services. If we hold true to our purpose, then we would not simply provide clinical treatment–even excellent clinical treatment—but we would provide clinical treatment that is focused on long-term economic well-being. We would intentionally and planfully integrate our clinical work with our work readiness efforts. We would measure our success not simply by reduction of symptoms, but by stabilization, and obtaining and/or sustaining employment. As one of our agency leaders said, “work completes treatment.” This is where purpose gets real and fundamentally drives practice.

It is the role of a CEO to do what it takes to ensure clarity around purpose.This is exciting work. It is why I get out of bed every day. It is my goal (and I am building structure to measure goal achievement), that clients, staff and board see every day, in every company of The Fedcap Group, in every program and in every interaction–how our purpose is activated.

1 Marzo 2021

Puesta en Marcha del propósito
He pasado una cantidad enorme de tiempo en la última década, centrándome en la construcción de la estructura dentro de nuestra creciente organización. Estructura que durará mucho más allá de mi mandato. Concienzudamente, hemos sentado las bases a las que estan sujetos nuestros muchos procesos y sistemas. A menudo digo, y creo firmemente, que la gente buena falla en ausencia de estructura.

La estructura es visible, es tangible, es fiable. Si queremos que la gente haga las cosas de cierta manera, ¿está escrito? ¿hay expectativas claras? ¿Se responsabiliza a las personas por hacer lo que fueron entrenados para hacer? Y si queremos monitorear algo, ¿tenemos un mecanismo? ¿Esta recopilación tanto de datos como de seguimiento están integrados en nuestra planificación tecnológica? Y si queremos contratar y mantener el talento de primer nivel, ¿están sistematizdos, estandarizados y supervisados los procesos de evaluación de la contratación y el rendimiento?

Cada año avanzamos en la construcción de una estructura sostenible. No es fácil, pero es posible.

Lo que es menos tangible, y en muchos sentidos más complejo; es el desafío de construir un entendimiento común del propósito; un posicionamiento en torno a lo que nuestra organización representa tanto para la mesa directiva, los líderes y el personal.
Transformar una organización en torno a su propósito, requiere un compromiso profundo y sostenido. Esto es uno de los papeles especiales de una Presidenta Ejecutiva; así como una que sostenga promesas y riesgos. Se necesita valentia para llevar a cabo conversaciones sobre el propósito. Se requiere de voluntad para acoger el debate de diversas perspectivas, ambigüedad y confusión. Se puede requerir que las personas de toda la organización se amolden de alguna manera incómoda. Uno de los errores que pueden cometer los Presidentes Ejecutivos; es asumir que el propósito de su empresa es claro, que es tan audaz como tiene que ser, o que todo el mundo esté de acuerdo con ello.

Una encuesta reciente realizada por McKinsey and Company a 855 personas en una variedad de empresas, roles y antigüedad con sede en Estados Unidos, encontró que el 44 por ciento de los encuestados indicó que trabajaba en empresas que no habian activado su propósito, lo que significaba que las decisiones de los líderes eran incompatibles con el propósito de la compañía, o que la compañía no estaba cumpliendo con su palabra. Además, un porcentaje similar de los encuestados dijo que el propósito de la empresa no estaba alineado, con su propio sentido de propósito o valores individuales. Ellos no veían cómo contribuían a ello, y no se sentían responsables de obrar en concordancia con ello.

El propósito del Fedcap Group es crear oportunidades para mejorar la vida de las personas con barreras al bienestar económico. Este propósito suena lo suficientemente simple como para solidarizarse con él, pero podría ser un error pensarlo. Cada día estamos encontrando nuevos puntos de transparencia. En una de nuestras recientes reuniones de liderazgo de la organización; estábamos profundizando en cómo se ve este propósito en el día a día. Considerabamos nuestro enfoque en la prestación de servicios de salud del comportamiento. Si nos atuviéramos a nuestro propósito; entonces no simplemente proporcionaríamos tratamiento clínico; aún hasta uno excelente; sino que proporcionaríamos uno que se centrara en el bienestar económico a largo plazo. Integraríamos intencional y planificadamente nuestro trabajo clínico con nuestros esfuerzos de preparación para el empleo. Mediríamos nuestro éxito no sólo por la reducción de los síntomas, sino por la estabilización, así como obtendríamos y matendríamos empleo. Como lo dijo uno de nuestros líderes de la organización, “el trabajo completa el tratamiento.” Aquí es donde el propósito se vuelve real y fundamentalmente impulsa la práctica.

Es el papel de una Presidenta Ejecutiva hacer lo que sea necesario para garantizar la claridad en torno al propósito. Este es un trabajo emocionante. Es por eso que me levanto de la cama todos los días. Es mi objetivo (y estoy construyendo la estructura para medir el logro de los objetivos) que los clientes, el personal y la mesa directiva vea todos los días, en cada filial del Fedcap Group, en cada programa y en cada interacción, cómo se activa nuestro propósito.

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Lesson Learned: Vocational Training Project

Lesson Learned: Vocational Training Project

February 22, 2021

Mark Rolls leads Palladium’s work on Skills and Employment in the EMEA region of the world (Europe, Middle East, Africa). He recently wrote about his work developing cost effective and successful vocational training, which may offer lessons for organizations like The Fedcap Group, as we work to address the unemployment crisis.

He stated that “Around the globe, employers are struggling to find workers with the skills they need. For workers, this can be a huge opportunity to re-train, upskill and find new well-paid jobs, which makes it all the more puzzling when reviews on the effectiveness of vocational training programs come back mixed. Recent evidence reviews find that many training projects have only a modest impact on job creation and employment and are expensive relative to the income gains that they achieve.” 

Rolls went on to discuss a joint vocational training project between the UK and Switzerland entitled Sudokkho—which over the last six years, has helped over 71,000 young people gain steady work. Rolls highlighted that the Sudokkho training model has been particularly successful at reaching the extreme poor, who represented 63 percent of Sudokkho trainees.

Below is an excerpt from this article, Vocational Training is Worth the Money: Private-Sector Led Training in Bangladesh.

Industry-Aligned Training: Sudokkho tested two models of training delivered by the private sector. The first was delivered by commercial training institutions, and the second was delivered directly by employers in the workplace.

Focusing on sectors with a shortage of semi-skilled labour in Bangladesh – garment and construction – the program seized on the often-ignored opportunity for the private sector to deliver training that met the needs of the poor who had fallen through the gaps in the skills training system.

In a context where training has historically been paid for by donors and government who pay high subsidies, Sudokkho instead sought out existing training courses that individuals were willing to contribute to and that employers valued. Partner training institutes have noticed a difference. “The quality of training has greatly improved, with trainers preparing lesson plans according to the curriculum and conducting the classes accordingly,” says Md. Sumon Molla, owner of the Glorious Technical Training Institute. “As a result, the rate of graduation has increased to almost 100%. Our employee performance, training outcomes, business growth, and the recognition and reputation of my organization have greatly increased.”

In-Factory Training in the Garment Sector: The approach to in-factory training with the garment sector proved to be particularly successful and has been implemented in 194 factories across Bangladesh, which have invested a total of 6.9 £ million in training. In this approach, unskilled workers (91 per cent of whom are women) received structured in-house training delivered and funded by the employer. The training courses are short and intensive, responsive to the needs of the factory floor, actively involved middle management, and were delivered by supervisors. According to Sakhawat Hossain Khan, Deputy General Manager at Far East Knitting and Dyeing Industries, employees trained by Sudokkho added productivity to their operations. “The biggest development we observed after we started working with Sudokkho workers was that we could quickly deliver trained workers within 15 days according to the demands of the production floor,” he notes. “It brought a drastic change to our way of working.”

Affordable and Effective Training: Why has Sudokkho’s training proven to be so cost-effective? First, it focussed on affordability. The direct costs for a Sudokkho course were between 56.00£ to 85.00£, which trainees could recoup within two months of employment. In contrast, other training courses typically range from 350.00£ to 12,500.00£ per person, which could take upwards of four years for employees to recoup the costs. Second, employers were more willing to invest in training delivered directly in the workplace. Finally, the emphasis on industry-aligned, competency-based training has helped over two-thirds of training graduates into better jobs.

This experience in Bangladesh provides insight into how we can jump-start upskilling in the US, the UK and other parts of the world. 1) Find existing, industry-aligned training models that are respected across the field and leverage economies of scale in delivery to reduce costs. 2) Create a joint incentive for success by having the training participant pay for (at least a portion) of the training. 3) Engage business to provide the training at the workplace. 4) Measure impact both in completion of training, immediate job placement and ongoing productivity of trained workers.

This next year is the time for smart, effective partnerships between business and the nonprofit sector—working to help the unemployed obtain training and secure jobs that employers are having a hard time filling.

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Technology as a Poverty Fighting Tool

Three young people smiling and looking at a laptop

Technology as a Poverty Fighting Tool

Three young people smiling and looking at a laptop

February 15, 2021

“Ultimately, technology is neither good nor bad on its own. It’s a tool, and what matters is how we use it. It’s up to businesses, nonprofits and governments to … get practical. Instead of wondering and waiting to see what the impact of technological change will be, they can guide it.”  – Melinda Gates

Technology is everywhere … increasing access to information, health care, education, sustainable energy, transportation and more. At The Fedcap Group we believe that by effectively leveraging technology as a poverty fighting tool, we can exponentially increase our impact. Over the past decade we have invested significant time and resources to create innovative technological platforms that are reaching more people, changing more lives.

In 2012 we developed Get Ready!, a web-based platform to help youth in foster care enter and succeed in college. In 2015 with the support of the Hilton Foundation, we developed PrepNOW!, a complimentary web-based tool to assist foster parents in developing a college-going culture in their homes. These investments continue to pay off as we work to improve the long-term outcomes for youth transitioning from foster care. In 2015, we initiated the development of FedcapCARES, focused on supporting individuals on public assistance to obtain and retain employment. We continue to invest in this platform, systematically expanding it across our footprint. In 2017, we combined with Single Stop, a nonprofit that developed a powerful technological tool to help people break the cycle of poverty.

For nonprofit agencies, technology offers a tremendous opportunity to significantly expand our reach. Below, I have described the impact one of our technology solutions is having on people struggling to make ends meet.

Most individuals in the helping profession know that the number one challenge for people in need, is finding available resources. The social service “system” is a maze of rules and regulations, paperwork and confusion. And when people are hungry, have no transportation, or are homeless, the barriers to getting help can seem insurmountable. Michael Weinstein, who holds a Ph.D. in Economics from MIT, knew that. Twenty years ago, he started a program in the basement of a church in a low income neighborhood in West Philadelphia. The goal—to leverage technology and community—creating a single stop for people to get the help they need, in a location they regularly frequent. In 2001, as the Sr. Vice President for the Robin Hood Foundation, he brought the idea to New York City, and through partnerships with organizations in communities where New Yorkers are struggling financially, Single Stop was launched.

Simply put, Single Stop is a technology-based solution to help individuals access the supports they need to meet their basic needs, i.e., food stamps, housing assistance, tax credits, health care subsidies—and more. By entering key personal data into the Single Stop system, people can learn what they are eligible for and where and how to access the resources. In 2006, Single Stop had evolved into one of the nation’s largest and most successful anti-poverty efforts. To date, Single Stop has served over 2 million households across a ten-state footprint and helped families draw down over $6.5 billion dollars in critically needed resources.

Single Stop is also making a difference on college campuses. Poverty persists across this country–in neighborhoods, in rural and urban areas and on college campuses. A report by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, College and University Basic Needs Insecurity, found that overall, 70 percent of students at two-year institutions and 61 percent of students at four-year institutions faced either homelessness, housing or food insecurity in the previous year. Bottom line–a significant number of students on our college campuses across the country are going to class hungry, and just $200-300 can mean the difference between students staying in college or not. In 2009 Single Stop became available as a resource to students on a growing number of college campuses. In the past 11 years, Single Stop has provided services to 269,272 students, helping each student, on average, draw down $3,300 in resources and tax credits, offsetting the cost of food and housing. In total, Single Stop has helped students draw down $548 million dollars in resources. And these resources are making a difference.

Single Stop’s college program has been evaluated by RAND Corporation and Metis Associates. These studies demonstrate that students who access Single Stop are more successful in college than their peers who do not utilize the organization’s services: Single Stop users were 6 percent to 11 percent more likely to persist into their next year of college.

In addition, students who use Single Stop are more likely to attempt more college credits, giving them a boost in completing their college programs. Single Stop has received two White House Social Innovation Fund Grant awards, enabling an expansion of its work on college campuses.

The Fedcap Group continues to invest in Single Stop, increasing its functionality and the ease of user interface. This is just one example of how, when designed thoughtfully and distributed effectively, technology can be a tremendous asset in the fight to eradicate poverty and lift people to economic well-being.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

La Tecnología Como Herramienta Para Combatir La Pobreza

February 15, 2021

“Básicamente, la tecnología no es buena ni mala por sí misma. Es una herramienta, y lo que importa es cómo la usemos. Depende de las empresas, las organizaciones sin fines de lucro y los gobiernos … ser prácticos. En lugar de estarse preguntando y esperando a ver cuál será el impacto del cambio tecnológico, para que puedan guiarlo.”  – Melinda Gates

La tecnología está en todas partes… aumentando el acceso a la información, a la atención de la salud, a la educación, a la energía sostenible, al transporte y más. En The Fedcap Group creemos que, al aprovechar eficazmente la tecnología como herramienta de lucha contra la pobreza, podemos aumentar potencialmente nuestro impacto. Durante la última década hemos invertido mucho tiempo y recursos para crear plataformas tecnológicas innovadoras que están llegando a más personas; cambiando más vidas.

¡En 2012 desarrollamos “Get Ready!”, una plataforma basada en la en la red para ayudar a los jóvenes en el cuidado de crianza; a entrar y tener éxito en la universidad. ¡En 2015 con el apoyo de la Fundación Hilton, desarrollamos “PrepNOW!”, una herramienta gratuita basada en la red para ayudar a los padres adoptivos; en el desarrollo de una cultura universitaria en sus hogares. Estas inversiones siguen dando sus frutos a medida que trabajamos para mejorar los resultados a largo plazo, en la transición de los jóvenes en el cuidado de crianza. En 2015, iniciamos el desarrollo de “FedcapCARES”, enfocado en apoyar a las personas en asistencia pública para obtener y retener empleo. Seguimos invirtiendo en esta plataforma, expandiéndola sistemáticamente a través de toda nuestra presencia. En 2017, se nos incorporó Single Stop, una organización sin fines de lucro que desarrolló una poderosa herramienta tecnológica para ayudar a las personas a romper el ciclo de la pobreza.

Para las agencias de sin fines de lucro; la tecnología ofrece una tremenda oportunidad para expandir significativamente nuestro alcance. A continuación, he descrito el impacto que una de nuestras soluciones tecnológicas está teniendo en las personas que luchan para hacer que dinero alcance para el fin del mes.

La mayoría de las personas en la profesión de asistencia, saben que el desafío número uno para las personas necesitadas; es encontrar los recursos disponibles. El “sistema” de servicio social, es un laberinto de reglas y regulaciones, papeleo y confusión. Y cuando la gente tiene hambre, o no tiene transporte o está sin hogar, las barreras para obtener ayuda pueden parecer insuperables. Michael Weinstein, que tiene un doctorado en Economía del “MIT”, lo sabía. Hace veinte años, comenzó un programa en el sótano de una iglesia en un barrio de escasos recursos, en el Oeste de Filadelfia. El objetivo: aprovechar la tecnología y la comunidad; creando una Single Stop, para que las personas recibieran la ayuda que necesitaban, en un lugar que regularmente frecuentaban. En 2001, cuando el Sr. vicepresidente de la Fundación Robin Hood, trajo la idea a la ciudad de Nueva York, y a través de alianzas con organizaciones en comunidades donde los neoyorquinos estaban teniendo problemas financieros; Single Stop fue lanzada.

Dicho simplemente, Single Stop es una solución basada en la tecnología para ayudar a las personas a acceder a los apoyos que necesiten para satisfacer sus necesidades básicas; es decir: cupones de comida, asistencia de alojamiento, créditos fiscales, subsidios de atención médica y más. Al meter datos personales clave en el sistema de Single Stop; las personas pueden saber para qué son elegibles; dónde y cómo acceder a los recursos. En 2006, Single Stop se había convertido en uno de los esfuerzos contra la pobreza más grandes y exitosos del país. Hasta la fecha, Single Stop ha servido a más de 2 millones de hogares en una presencia de diez estados y ha ayudado a las familias a recibir más de 6.500 millones de dólares en recursos de vital importancia.

Single Stop también está haciendo la diferencia en los recintos universitarios. La pobreza persiste en todo este país; en los barrios, en las zonas rurales y urbanas y en los recintos universitarios. Un informe del “Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, College and University Basic Needs Insecurity”; encontró que, en total, el 70 por ciento de los estudiantes en instituciones de dos años y el 61 por ciento de los estudiantes de instituciones de cuatro años se enfrentaban a la miseria, a la vivienda o a la inseguridad alimenticia en el año previo. En resumen: un número significativo de estudiantes en nuestros recintos universitarios en todo el país van a clase con hambre, y solo unos $200-300 dólares pueden hacer la diferencia entre los estudiantes que permanecen en la universidad y los que no. En 2009 Single Stop estuvo disponible como un recurso para los estudiantes en un número creciente de recintos universitarios. En los últimos 11 años, Single Stop ha proporcionado servicios a 269,272 estudiantes, ayudando a cada estudiante, en promedio, a obtener unos $3,300 dólares en recursos y créditos fiscales; compensando el costo de alimentos y vivienda. En total, Single Stop ha ayudado a los estudiantes a obtener $548 millones de dólares en recursos. Y estos recursos están haciendo la diferencia.

El programa de Single Stop con las universidades ha sido evaluado por “RAND Corporation y Metis Associates”. Estos estudios demuestran que los estudiantes que acceden a Single Stop tienen más éxito en la universidad que sus compañeros que no utilizan los servicios de la organización: los usuarios de Single Stop tenían entre un 6 o un 11 por ciento más probabilidades de persistir en su próximo año de universidad. Además, los estudiantes que usan Single Stop están más propensos a obtener más créditos universitarios; dándoles un impulso en la terminación de sus programas universitarios. Single Stop ha recibido dos concesiones del “White House Social Innovation Fund Grant”, permitiéndole una expansión de su trabajo en los recintos universitarios.

The Fedcap Group continúa invirtiendo en Single Stop; aumentando su funcionalidad y la facilidad de interconexión del usuario. Este es sólo un ejemplo de cómo; cuándo se diseña cuidadosamente y se distribuye eficazmente; la tecnología puede ser un tremendo recurso en la lucha para erradicar la pobreza y llevar a las personas al bienestar económico.

Como siempre, espero con ansia sus opiniones.

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Deepening the Pockets of Women

Deepening the Pockets of Women

February 8, 2020 

“We are valuable, and we have valuables…”

Designers from across the globe are catching on to something that has frustrated me for some time; on average, men’s pockets are 3 inches deeper than women’s pockets—that is when our clothes have pockets at all. And because women hold as many valuables as men (i.e. phones, wallets, business cards…), we struggle with where to carry things!

Women deserve deep pockets, both figuratively and literally. In researching this topic for the blog, I found that one can garner a sense of GENDER INEQUALITY … BY UNDERSTANDING THE HISTORY OF POCKET INEQUALITY.

Verve: She Said published an article by Chanju Mwanzan entitled The Bewildering and Sexist History of Women’s Pockets, describing how the inequality of pockets can be traced back to at least the middle ages. Mwanzan described “Both men and women in the middle ages lugged around little pouches that were slung from a rope, allowing them to carry any essentials around with them. Then came the 17th century idea of sewing these pouches right into your clothes, enabling the wearer to conceal the items they were carrying and keep them close to their bodies. The pocket was born. However, unlike men’s pockets which were easily accessible and sewn right into the linings of their coats, women still had to rely on having separate pockets that sat underneath their petticoats. As more tight-fitting dresses came into fashion in the late 1700s, the pocket for women basically disappeared. It wasn’t until the 20th century when women began to fight for their place in society that pockets came back—think Suffragette suits that had no less than six pockets. Sadly, the pendulum swung back in the 1950s as men returned from war and women’s roles shifted to raising a family and looking feminine. The days of Rosie the Riveter were over—and the style of women’s dresses meant that women needed to carry a purse to hold the many needs of their family.”

Over the course of the past 50 years women made some progress in the pocket department but it was slow. Julie Sygiel, an entrepreneur and strategy consultant states, “I’m on a quest to deepen women’s pockets by launching the Pockets Project, focused on bringing attention to pocket inequality and designing a line of dresses with deep pockets.” Many other designers including Sarah Greisdorf (Holdette) who launched the Leslie Suit with eight pockets(!) are also changing their designs—creating equity in pocket design between men and women.

The metaphor may be obvious, but it is worth it to delve a bit deeper. While there is some disagreement on the origin of the term “deep pockets,” today it generally understood to mean that a person or institution has substantial wealth. (Merriam-Webster). And based on pay scales around the globe, it is much more often men rather than women who possess these “deep pockets.” On average, women in the United States own a mere 32 cents to every dollar owned by men. According to Inequaltity.org, the global trend towards extreme wealth and income concentration has dramatically strengthened the economic and political power of the overwhelmingly male individuals at the top.

This is more than pay inequity—although that certainly exists. In 2018, a woman working full time, on average, earned 81.6 cents for every dollar a man working full time earned. Additionally, women’s median annual earnings were $9,766 less than men’s, according to the most recent available data from the US Census Bureau (August 2020). And Black women in the United States who work full time are typically paid just 62 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. According to a 2020 study published by Oxfam International “Our economic system was built by rich and powerful men, who continue to make the rules and reap the lion’s share of the benefit. Worldwide men own 50% more wealth than women,” the report notes.

A large percentage of the individuals served by The Fedcap Group are women of color living in poverty. They are working hard to make their place in a world where the odds are stacked against them. But they continue to fight. And The Fedcap Group is fighting alongside them. We are deeply committed to developing solutions to combat not just pay inequity but wealth and opportunity inequity. In our collaboration with Civic Hall Technology Center and merger with Apex Technical Institute, we are strategically positioning our company to help women develop the skills required to succeed in the competitive, technology driven marketplace. We are building the capacity to measure a set of key performance indicators that track our success at ensuring that everyone served by The Fedcap Group leaves having established a savings account and taken courses to become financially literate. And much more.

Our goal is to fundamentally change the future of women’s access to opportunity and wealth—building a community where they have “deep pockets” both in fashion and in life.

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Guest Blog: A Message by Christine McMahon to The Fedcap Group’s Leadership Academy

Guest Blog: A Message by Christine McMahon to The Fedcap Group’s Leadership Academy

February 1, 2020

In 2015, The Fedcap Group established a Leadership Academy. Staff from our 22 companies compete for a slot in this challenging, year-long professional development experience.

Christine McMahon, the CEO of The Fedcap Group, welcomes each new class. After sitting in on her presentation, I asked if I could serve as guest blogger this week to share the topline guidance, insight and expectations she imparted.

Chris began by stating that she does not actually self-identify as a leader; indicating that this title presumes people are following, which suggests a degree of hubris that is unfitting for a leader.

She went on to discuss the tremendous obligation and responsibility of every leader. “When organizations fail, while it is never easy to transfer from one agency to another, clients can usually find a new place to receive services pretty rapidly. The people who really experience the brunt of poor leadership are the employees. Their livelihoods are impacted, many having invested their entire professional career within a single company. Staff, and their families, are counting on leaders to do the right thing to ensure the solvency of the company. I don’t go a day without contemplating this.”

Chris stressed that this way of thinking is not imposed on leaders but comes to you over time. “And when it does, the pressure will weigh on you. Consistently, you’ll ask yourself, am I doing what is right for the staff/team?” She shared that this is what keeps her up at night, and that if there is a time when this feeling about her role disappears, she should no longer serve as CEO.

During the class, Chris highlighted the three core elements of leadership that have, over time, become the foundation of her approach:

1) Listening to understand. Chris stressed that listening to understand is very different than just listening. When people come to you to make a decision or resolve an issue, there is tremendous value in trying to understand the larger picture, as opposed to driving directly to a solution. She pointed out that “It’s not always easy to understand. For me, the only way to understand is to ask questions. If you approach me, be prepared to be pummeled with questions. I have learned that at times, the person communicating their position does not fully understand the larger picture. Questions can help them deepen their critical thinking. Leaders need to build the skills necessary to understand what the person is trying to communicate and why it matters.”

2) Mining Perspectives. Chris underscored the value of “mining a library of perspectives.” She talked about the fact that when making decisions, she presumes that she starts out with only about 10 percent of the information that matters, and that seeking out diverse perspectives gets her close to 70 percent of the information that matters. The speed in which a leader has to make a decision drives how many perspectives can be sought. A good leader must continually remind themselves that they do not have all the facts. “You just don’t know what you don’t know.”

3) Setting Vision. Chris emphasized that every person in a leadership position should develop the capacity to set a vision. Whether it is about productivity standards, program culture, staff professional development or the future direction of the company—leaders need to hone this skill. “Setting a vision is complicated. In all cases, it needs to be realistic and at the same time stretch the team or organization. It also needs to be forward looking, positioning the program or the organization to succeed in the changing marketplace. Vision setting, by definition, requires being comfortable in ambiguity. A well-thought-out vision is inspirational. I have found that people will aspire to reach a bold vision, even if they cannot see the promised land at the end.”

The 2021 Leadership Academy Class was deeply motivated by the comments of our CEO and expressed their commitment to developing their critical thinking skills and becoming thoughtful, seasoned leaders.

Thank you.

Lorrie Lutz
Chief Strategy Officer
The Fedcap Group

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The Effect That Beliefs About Poverty and the Poor Have on Service Design and Delivery

The Effect That Beliefs About Poverty and the Poor Have on Service Design and Delivery

January 25, 2020

Each week, executive and senior leadership from every company and corporate services department of The Fedcap Group meets to discuss operations and initiatives to enhance our relevance, sustainability and our impact.

We spend a portion of this two-hour meeting on an issue that is germane to our work or topical—such as Black Lives Matter or the assault on the Capitol. Leaders have very divergent views and as such, the conversations elicit different perspectives and insight.

Recently, we had an in-depth discussion on poverty. As an organization committed to the economic well-being of the individuals we serve, we are immersed in poverty fighting. To this end, it is critical for every employee of The Fedcap Group to explore the beliefs, values and biases that frame our approach to the work. To tee up to this conversation, I asked every leader what they believe about poverty in general and to describe some of the challenges people faced in trying to lift themselves out of poverty.

These kinds of conversations provide an opportunity to better understand what our leaders fundamentally believe, their critical thinking skills, and how beliefs and critical thinking are entwined with problem solving.

People’s beliefs about poverty, and by extension the poor, are complicated. Our attitudes directly impact the way we structure and carry out our work.

Research abounds on how educators’ beliefs about poverty and the poor impact teaching and classroom discipline. In 2019, Edward Fergus wrote an interesting article entitled Confronting Our Beliefs About Poverty and Discipline. “Poverty-disciplining belief,” he states, “is the assumption that poverty itself is a kind of ‘culture,’ characterized by dysfunctional behaviors that prevent success in school. In effect, it pathologizes children who live (or whose parents lived) in low-income communities. And while it doesn’t focus on race per se, it is often used as a proxy for race and to justify racial disparities in disciplinary referrals, achievement, and enrollment in gifted, AP, and honors courses, as well as to justify harsh punishments for ‘disobedience’ or ‘disorderly conduct’ or ‘disrespect.’”

In early 2001, a national poll conducted by National Public Radio (NPR), the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University’s Kennedy School asked 2,000 Americans 18 or older, “Which is the bigger cause of poverty today: that people are not doing enough to help themselves out of poverty, or that circumstances beyond their control cause them to be poor?” Respondents were roughly equally divided between “people not doing enough” (48 percent) and “circumstances” (45 percent). This pretty accurately depicts the divide in our political climate. On the one hand people say that it is the fault of the poor who made bad choices and that finishing high school, getting a job, and waiting to get married and have children, significantly reduces the chance that you will end up poor. On the other hand, there are those who blame the social construct of society–institutional and structural racism and gender inequality–for creating and perpetuating poverty.

These beliefs directly impact how helping systems are funded and designed and how services are distributed at the federal, state and local level.

They also impact how we, at the provider level, design and deliver our services. My goal in holding these complex conversations with our leadership team is to make sure that we know what drives our work. To shine a spotlight on the values and beliefs that underscore our day-to-day work.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

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The Inextricable Link Between Economic Empowerment and Justice

The Inextricable Link Between Economic Empowerment and Justice

January 18, 2021

Today across the US, we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and honor the continued fight for social justice—the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within our society. It is a day to remember the powerful messages woven throughout the iconic speeches of the felled leader of the Civil Rights Movement. Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he called on Americans “to sit down together at the table of brotherhood” and “meet our promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all.”

At the core of Dr. King’s messages was his dream for “equality of opportunity.” He saw civil rights inextricably linked with economic empowerment. Just weeks before his death in 1968, Dr. King was preparing to launch a Poor People’s Campaign as a tool to gain economic justice for Black people in America. To this end, Dr. King. gave a speech in Detroit called “The Other America” where he addressed the inextricable link between economics and justice.

The vision was an America where equity in opportunity would be demonstrated by equity in pay.

Yet consider for a moment, the tremendous inequity in pay that still exists for women of color in our country. According to an article posted on the Center for American Progress website entitled Breadwinning Mothers Continue To Be the U.S. Norm, more than 80 percent of Black mothers are key breadwinners for their families, which means their households rely heavily on their wages to make ends meet and get ahead. And over 25% of these nearly four million family households live below the poverty level.

According to the US Census Bureau, in the 25 states (including the District of Columbia) with the largest numbers of Black women working full time, year-round, pay for Black women ranges from 47 to 67 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men in those states. This translates to a median annual wage for Black women of $38,036 as compared to a median annual wage for white, non-Hispanic men of $61,576 (US Census Bureau). These lost wages mean Black women have less money to support themselves and their families, save and invest for the future, and spend on goods and services. Families, businesses and the economy suffer as a result.

According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, if the wage gap was eliminated, on average, a Black woman working full time, year-round would have enough money for approximately:

  • Two and a half years of child care;
  • More than two and a half additional years of tuition and fees for a four-year public university, or the full cost of tuition and fees for a two-year community college;
  • More than 16 additional months of premiums for employer-based health insurance;
  • 156 more weeks of food for her family (three years’ worth);
  • 15 additional months of mortgage and utility payments; and
  • 22 more months’ worth of rent.

Imagine the difference that economic equity would make for generations of children of color being raised by Black women. Imagine the economic opportunity that would result for children who could go to college, who see their future through the lens of potential and prosperity instead of poverty and limitations. Imagine the economic difference it would make to our country as an entire cohort is lifted out of poverty, able to purchase goods and services, released from the confines of government subsidies.

Fifty-three years after Dr. King’s death, economic equity remains an unfulfilled dream. But does it have to remain that way? Recently McKinsey and Company launched the McKinsey Institute for Black Economic Mobility with the mission of helping private, public, and social sector leaders take coordinated action to accelerate Black economic development. I salute McKinsey and corporate leaders who are taking a similar stand. As business leaders we can do something about pay inequity. We can be a force to change economic opportunity for people of color—especially women of color who are raising a new generation. We can be the difference makers.

“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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Our Children Are Still Watching

Our Children Are Still Watching

January 11, 2021

“In a democracy, the individual enjoys not only the ultimate power but carries the ultimate responsibility.” – Norman Cousins

As I watched citizens of the US storm the Capitol, like many of you, I was stunned. Since Wednesday, I haven’t stopped reflecting on the disturbing images.

While some of us spent considerable time focusing on how we got here, I found myself wondering where we go from here? And how do we take our children along in our journey so that in the end, they feel safe and secure in their future?

In early June, after the murder of George Floyd, I wrote in my blog entitled Our Children Are Watching: “As this painful week comes to an end, I am left thinking about the children. How are they internalizing what they see on TV? How do we answer their questions? This week of pain comes at a time already fraught with tension, compounding the destructive force of COVID-19 and the resulting financial crisis that is hitting our most vulnerable and marginalized communities the hardest. Our collective children are growing up and learning about their world, now with disturbing events unfolding in every direction. I wonder how we explain these times to our children. What will they take away from this point in time?”

Every word above could have been written about the events that unfolded this past week. And I find myself with the same concerns. Due to COVID-19, there are many children who are being schooled from home, which means that they may have seen these events unfold on TV in real time. How did seeing the images make them feel? What conclusions are they drawing about our country and about democracy?

We have an obligation to talk to our children about this week’s events. Talking about them calmly can quell fear. Yet, helping them make sense of the information we provide is no easy conversation. How do we help our children sort through the fact and fiction surrounding the day? How do we respond to them when they ask why? And equally important, what do we say when they ask “what will you do to make it better?”

My hope is that our children see us authentically struggling with what to do next. That they see the vulnerability in our conversations. That our children see us refusing to gloss over the events, because we just can’t. And that they come to understand that the questions we ask ourselves are just as important as the answers.

Our children are watching. I believe today, as I did in June, that what we do next must be done very well.

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Why We Value Work

Why We Value Work

January 4, 2021

Work is a significant part of our lives—an activity to which we’ll devote more time than anything else. If we start working full time at age 18 (and most start well before), by the time we are 65, we will have spent 97,760 hours on the job.

At The Fedcap Group we have spent considerable time focusing on the value of work. Work brings purpose, structure and self-esteem. Work builds confidence. Work pays bills and allows us to meet basic needs. Work teaches responsibility and accountability. Work unleashes creativity. Work creates meaningful and often lifelong connections–thus the phrase “my work family.”

All we have to do is look around and we can see the tangible and intangible impact of unemployment. Deborah Belle and Heather E. Bullock wrote a compelling piece entitled The Psychological Consequences of Unemployment. They state, “Job loss is associated with elevated rates of mental and physical health problems, increases in mortality rates, and detrimental changes in family relationships and in the psychological well-being of spouses and children. Prolonged unemployment results in social isolation and reduces one’s sense of contribution to society.” 

Every year approximately 30,000 people come to The Fedcap Group for assistance with becoming employed. One of the consistent themes we hear from people wanting to work is that when they lose their job and cannot find work, they feel invisible. For many, morale and confidence decline with each month that passes in unemployment. All this is reinforced in stories from our clients.

In response, building on our 85-year history of putting people to work, The Fedcap Group is deepening our commitment to help people find employment through the launch of ™IWORK!—a campaign to create enduring social and economic value through a focus on work.

™IWORK! is our contribution to counter the challenges and risks of exclusion and marginalization. As countries around the globe seek to transform lives and communities hit hardest by the pandemic, ™IWORK! is a clarion call for leaving no one behind. Efforts to spur the economy and address inequality must not forget individuals with barriers to employment–adults with disabilities, the formerly incarcerated, those in recovery, young adults leaving foster care and men and women without an employment history.

In the coming weeks and months you will hear more about ™IWORK!…

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

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Reflection Requires Paying Attention

Reflection Requires Paying Attention

December 28, 2020

For many, New Year’s is a time of reflection. A time to look back and consider all that happened over the past 12 months; how events surprised, and transformed, how they wounded and how they strengthened. For many, 2020 may have been the kind of year that we simply want to forget. It may have been filled with just too much uncertainty or loss. Yet, I think that if we just let the year go, if we don’t reflect on all that happened, we may miss all that 2020 taught us—if we paid attention.

In her book Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, Winifred Gallagher writes:

“That your experience largely depends on the material objects and mental subjects that you choose to pay attention to or ignore is not an imaginative notion, but a physiological fact. When you focus on a stop sign or a sonnet, a waft of perfume or a stock-market tip, your brain registers that ‘target,’ which enables it to affect your behavior. In contrast, the things that you don’t attend to in a sense don’t exist, at least for you.
All day long, you are selectively paying attention to something, and much more often than you may suspect, you can take charge of this process to good effect. Indeed, your ability to focus on this and suppress that is the key to controlling your experience and, ultimately, your well-being.”

Every single day, your life is driven by what you’ve paid attention to and what you haven’t. Paying attention is an act of will. When you pay attention, you are devoting your thoughts, energy, and time to what is happening in the present. Auschwitz-survivor Viktor Frankl wrote “Everything can be taken from man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstance, to choose one’s own way.”

So, what have I paid attention to in 2020?

  • The extraordinary impact of timely and thoughtful communication
  • Resilience—it is all around me
  • Leaders at all levels
  • The hard work involved in teamwork
  • All that frustrates and all that inspires
  • The value of connection
  • Planning

The following poem captures the spirit of this approach to living.

ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION?
Everything comes from this
This feeling
Do you feel it
Are you paying attention?
This fire
Inside you
It can burn you into ash
And you will float away in tiny pieces
Or it can fuel you
It will fuel you
It will be the force to guide you
It will be the light to find you
What do you want
Stop worrying
What is your heart telling you
Listen
Everything comes from this
This feeling
Feel good
You are here
You are amazing
Do you feel it
Are you paying attention?

– SHILOW

Each week, in the hopes of creating community, I strive to be authentic and transparent in my messages. Thank you for sharing the many highs and lows of 2020 with me and for enabling us to learn together.

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