White House: #YesWeCode and TechHire Initiative

It’s been a historic week for #YesWeCode!

On Monday, The White House officially announced its TechHire Initiative, which includes:

  • #YesWeCode’s commitment to raising and delivering $10 million in scholarships for 2,000 underserved minorities across the nation, to attend coding bootcamps over the next ten years.

  • #YesWeCode's plan to launch a national job-training pilot in Oakland, California in 2015. Through this pilot, we will design a 9-month, industry-driven model to successfully prepare students from low-opportunity backgrounds for careers as software engineers.

  • #YesWeCode’s partnership with celebrities, athletes, tech and political leaders, and other influencers, to support the mission of #YesWeCode to find, finance, and encourage 100,000 non-traditional students to become top-level coders. 

TechHire is a bold multi-sector initiative of the White House. It aims to empower Americans with the skills they need through universities, community colleges, high-quality online courses — as well as nontraditional approaches like “coding boot camps”, to secure well-paying jobs. Read the full White House Fact Sheet here.

Click below to watch an excerpt from President Obama’s TechHire announcement

"At a time when we all lead digital lives, anybody who has the drive and the will to get into this field should have a way to do so, a pathway to do so." - President Obama

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  • For @WhiteHouseOSTP #TechHire initiative, #YesWeCode will target diverse communities for careers in tech! http://bit.ly/1GCrdj3

Wired: Obama has $100 million plan to fill the tech shortage

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BUSINESSES IN THE US are on a hiring spree, but jobs that require tech skills sit open—500,000 in all.

It’s that gap that the Obama administration hopes to close with its new $100 million TechHire Initiative, announced by the president today. At its core, TechHire aims to convince local governments, businesses, and individuals that a four-year degree is no longer the only way to gain valuable tech skills.

“It turns out it doesn’t matter where you learned code, it just matters how good you are at writing code,” Obama said. “If you can do the job, you should get the job.”

That’s an idea that training startups like Codecademy and General Assembly, as well as online course companies like Coursera, have been pushing for years. Now, the White House is urging businesses and local governments to embrace that concept, as well.

In Silicon Valley, the idea of non-traditional training as a viable alternative to college is a familiar concept. In the rest of corporate America, not so much. And yet, non-tech industries like financial services and healthcare, are where two-thirds of the country’s tech jobs exist. So, to make this idea more palatable to non-tech employers, TechHire is working to develop some standards for alternative education.

“When companies have job openings they cannot fill, it costs them money,” he said, speaking to thousands of local leaders at the National League of Cities’ annual conference. “If these jobs go unfilled, it’s a missed opportunity for the workers, but also your city, your country, your state, and our nation.”

Setting the Standards

To create these standards, the Obama administration is working with the business advisory firm CEB to develop a guide for employers on how to recruit tech workers from less traditional places. It’s also working with a company called Knack to make a standard tech aptitude test free to employers and training organizations. The goal is to make it easy for employers to assess the quality of a job candidate, who doesn’t have a computer science degree on his resume.

There are financial incentives, too. In his speech, Obama announced that the Department of Labor would run a $100 million grant competition to fund programs that have a proven track record of helping underrepresented groups, like women, minorities, veterans, and people with disabilities, land tech jobs. Through TechHire, the group #YesWeCode also committed to donating $10 million in scholarships, which will fund 2,000 coding bootcamp scholarships for minorities.

Read the full article here.


FACT SHEET: President Obama Launches New TechHire Initiative

The White House

Office of the Press SecretaryFor Immediate Release

President Obama Announces Multi-Sector Effort and Call to Action to Give Americans Pathways to Well-Paying Technology Jobs; Makes Available $100 Million in Grants

The President and his Administration are focused on promoting middle class economics to ensure that all Americans can contribute to and benefit from our American resurgence. Part of that effort requires empowering every American with the education and training they need to earn higher wages. Today’s announcement is the latest part of that effort: In his remarks to the National League of Cities, the President will announce his TechHire initiative, including a new campaign to work with communities to get more Americans rapidly trained for well-paying technology jobs.

Middle class economics has driven the President from day one, and it is what has fueled our comeback. On Friday, we learned that our economy created nearly 300,000 new jobs in February. American businesses have now added more than 200,000 jobs a month for the past 12 months, the longest streak of job creation at that pace in 37 years. All told, over the past five years, our businesses have created 12 million new jobs.

While we are seeing an economic resurgence, the President has made clear that there is still work left to do. America has about 5 million open jobs today, more than at any point since 2001. Over half a million of those job openings are in information technology fields like software development, network administration, and cybersecurity- many of which did not even exist just a decade ago. The average salary in a job that requires information technology (IT) skills – whether in manufacturing, advertising, retail or banking – is 50 percent higher than the average private-sector American job. Helping more Americans train and connect to these jobs is a key element of the President’s middle-class economics agenda.

As part of that agenda, TechHire is a bold multi-sector effort and call to action to empower Americans with the skills they need, through universities and community colleges but also nontraditional approaches like “coding bootcamps,” and high-quality online courses that can rapidly train workers for a well-paying job, often in just a few months. Employers across the United States are in critical need of talent with these skills. Many of these programs do not require a four-year degree. Key elements of the initiative include:

    • Over twenty forward-leaning communities are committing to take action – working with each other and with national employers – to expand access to tech jobs. To kick off TechHire, 20 regions, with over 120,000 open technology jobs and more than 300 employer partners in need of this workforce, are announcing plans to work together to new ways to recruit and place applicants based on their actual skills and to create more fast track tech training opportunities. The President is challenging other communities across the country to follow their lead.
    • $100 million in new Federal investments to train and connect more workers to a good job in technology and other in-demand fields. The Administration will launch a $100 million H-1B grant competition by the Department of Labor to support innovative approaches to training and successfully employing low-skill individuals with barriers to training and employment including those with child care responsibilities, people with disabilities, disconnected youth, and limited English proficient workers, among others. This grant competition will support the scaling up of evidence-based strategies such as accelerated learning, work-based learning, and Registered Apprenticeships.
  • Private sector boosts tools and resources to support and expand continued innovation in technology training, with a focus on reaching under-served populations. Private sector leaders are announcing commitments to provide free training through online training slots and expanding “coding bootcamps” – which provide intensive training for well-paying jobs, often in the course of just a few months – to low-income and underserved Americans including women, minorities, and veterans across the nation. National organizations are committing to work with interested cities to share job and skills information, job-matching tools, and other resources to help support the growth, adoption, and creation of promising practices across the United States.

Details on the Tech Hire Initiative

The TechHire initiative builds on work communities like Louisville, St. Louis, Philadelphia, New York City and the State of Delaware are doing to connect more Americans to well-paying technology jobs through a potent combination of new tools and training models:

Over twenty forward-leaning communities are committing to take action – with each other and with national employers – to expand access to tech jobs: The TechHire initiative will achieve its goals by connecting communities together so promising ideas happening in one community can be rapidly adopted by other regions. Today, 21 communities are stepping up and responding to the President’s call-to-action, including:

Louisville New York City Philadelphia Delaware City of Kearney and Buffalo County Rural Eastern Kentucky
St. Louis Salt Lake City Los Angeles Minneapolis Kansas City Chattanooga
Memphis Nashville Rochester Detroit Portland

Building on the promising work already underway in their communities, they are all committing to three actions:

  • Using data and innovative hiring practices to expand openness to non-traditional hiring: Having a data-driven assessment of employer demand is critical to building a successful regional strategy. Communities are committing to work with employers to build robust data on where they have greatest needs and what skills they are looking for; communities will work with employers to build willingness to hire from both nontraditional and traditional training programs; and communities will work with employers to review -and upgrade -their recruiting and hiring practices to enable non-traditional hiring.
     
  • Expanding models for training that prepare students in months, not years: Communities will recruit, incubate and expand accelerated tech learning programs – such as coding bootcamps and innovative online training – which enable interested non-tech-experienced students to gain coding skills in months, not years. These new models also have potential to reaching to a broader set of students than have traditionally chosen to pursue tech careers. These new training programs can be run both independently or embedded as part of a local community college or university education offering.
     
  • Active local leadership to connect people to jobs with hiring on ramp programs: Communities will build local strategies and partnerships to connect people to jobs, with steps ranging from investing in and working with industry-trusted organizations, which will vouch for those who have the skills to do the job but who may lack the typical profile of degrees and career experience. They will host local tech community gatherings with engaged employers, attract new non-traditional training providers to their regions, and bring visibility to existing local activities such as tech meet-ups, startup co-working spaces or startup-weekends - which are already in place in most middle-size cities or encouraging the founding of these groups if they are not available locally.

The Administration is encouraging more communities and employers to follow in their lead with similar innovative strategies to advance these goals.

Examples of TechHire Community Commitments

    • St. Louis, MO. A network of over 150 employers in St. Louis’ rapidly expanding innovation ecosystem will build on a successful Mastercard pilot to partner with local non-profit Launchcode, to build the skills of women and underrepresented minorities for tech jobs, and will also place 250 apprentices in jobs in 2015 at employers like Monsanto, CitiBank, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, and Anheuser Busch.
    • New York City, NY. With employers including Microsoft, Verizon, Goldman Sachs, Google, and Facebook, the Tech Talent Pipeline is announcing new commitments to prepare college students in the City University of New York (CUNY) system for and connect them to paid internship opportunities at local tech companies. NYC will also expand successful models like the NYC Web Development Fellowship serving 18-26 year olds without a college degree in partnership with the Flatiron School.
    • State of Delaware. The new Delaware TechHire initiative is committing to training entry-level developers in a new accelerated coding bootcamp and Java and .Net accelerated community college programs giving financial institutions and healthcare employers, throughout the state, access to a new cohort of skilled software talent in a matter of months. Capital One, Bank of America, Christiana Care and others are committing to placing people trained in these programs this year.
  • Louisville, KY. Louisville has convened over 20 IT employers as part of the Code Louisville initiative to train and place new software developers, including Glowtouch, Appriss, Humana, Zirmed, and Indatus. Louisville will build on this work in support of the TechHire Initiative: the city will recruit a high-quality coding bootcamp to Louisville and establish a new partnership between Code Louisville and local degree granting institutions to further standardize employer recognition of software development skillsets.

A $100 million competition for innovative approaches to connect Americans with disabilities, disconnected youth, and others to the fastest path to a good job in technology and other in-demand fields.

Today the Administration is announcing its commitment to make $100 million available through the Department of Labor to support innovative approaches to moving lower skilled workers with barriers to training and employment on the fastest paths to well-paying information technology and high growth jobs in industries like healthcare, advanced manufacturing, financial services and other in-demand sectors. The grant will focus on providing workers the skills for a pathway to the middle class while providing employers with the skilled technology workers need to grow and expand. This grant will serve people with barriers to accessing training including people with childcare responsibilities, people with disabilities, people with limited English proficiency, and disconnected youth, among others. It will serve both unemployed and low skilled front line workers.

Grants will pilot and scale innovative partnerships between employers, workforce boards, training institutions, non-profit organizations, and cities and states across the country. These partnerships will support the implementation of job-driven training strategies to help workers complete basic and technical skills training using evidence-based strategies such as accelerated learning, work-based learning and Registered Apprenticeships. A solicitation for applications for these partnerships will be available this fall and awards will be made next year. These grants will be financed by a user fee paid by employers to bring foreign workers into the United States under the H-1B nonimmigrant visa program. 

Private sector leaders are announcing tools and resources to scale continued innovation in technology training, with a focus on reaching under-served populations.

Expanding accelerated models for training in months not years:

    • A group of 10 bootcamps are jointly announcing a shared, third-party validated format for annually publishing completion and employment outcomes to help continue to drive innovation in the bootcamp model.
    • The accelerated training providers Dev Bootcamp, Hack Reactor, Microsoft, Treehouse Island, Inc., and Udacity will all be expanding free or discounted training slots for underserved communities and individuals.
    • General Assembly will work with community colleges, other training providers, and employers with the aim of further standardizing web development training
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    • Flatiron School, Hackbright Academy, and Rural Sourcing are announcing they will provide pro bono consulting to help interested communities expand and improve training.
  • Cisco will provide select individuals interested in career opportunities in IT with free access to online IT networking skills including hundreds of online training assets.

Support for local leaders:

    • Opportunity@Work, a national civic enterprise that is launching at New America today, will aim to connect policy to action and will collaborate with private and philanthropic partners to create freely available tools to scale-up employer commitments to inclusive hiring practices, to facilitate a nationwide learning network for communities, and to create new financing to help lower-income Americans be trained and placed into technology jobs.
    • Capital One, through its FutureEdge initiative, a $150 million effort that will help increase tech skills and hiring, will collaborate with Opportunity@Work to provide support tailored to the needs of communities.
  • #YesWeCode commits to delivering $10 million in scholarships for 2,000 underserved minorities across the nation, to attend coding bootcamps over the next ten years.

Using data and innovative hiring practices to expand hiring to include non-traditional training paths:

    • CEB will develop their own best practices playbook for employers with guidance to private and public employers on how to recruit tech talent from non-traditional sources.
    • LinkedIn will provide free data about the supply and demand of IT skills to communities to help them identify shortages and focus training resources on skills most in-demand.
  • Knack will for the first time make its aptitude test technology available free of charge to employers, communities, and accelerated training providers that are launching inclusive training and hiring campaigns aimed at underserved minorities, women, and veterans.

A complete list of private sector commitments can be found here.

The President’s Agenda to Create Pathways to the Middle-Class Through High-Quality, Job-Driven Training. TechHire is part of the President’s broader agenda to invest in job-driven training:

    • Vice-President Biden’s Job-Driven Training Review. The President’s TechHire initiative builds on the job-driven training review that the President asked the Vice President to lead in the 2013 State of the Union. Amongst other findings, the Vice President’s review identified information technology generally and cybersecurity in particular as an emerging area of growth that requires job-driven training strategies to meet business needs and provide more workers with a path to the middle class.
    • VA Accelerated Learning Competition. To ensure that Veterans can take full advantage of innovative learning models, VA will apply $10M in innovation funding to leverage accelerated learning and test its effectiveness for transitioning Servicemembers and Veterans over the next two years. VA will concentrate this initiative in communities where conditions are conducive for VA to provide industry-specific and place-based support to Veterans and transitioning Servicemembers 
    • American Apprenticeship Grant Competition. Last year, DOL opened a $100 million competition to spur partnerships between employers, labor, training providers, and local governments to expand apprenticeships into high-growth fields like information technology and scale models that work. The deadline for this application is April 30, 2015, and more information is available at the Grants.gov application page.
  • Information Technology Industry-Credentialing partnerships. The President’s FY2016 budget proposes $300 million to fund IT jobs partnerships between regional employers to develop and adopt assessments and credentials that will give more people the chance to qualify for a better, higher-paying tech job regardless of their pedigree.

Click to see full press release.


The Atlantic: Do the Koch Brothers Really Care About Criminal-Justice Reform?

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Some liberal critics see the conservative billionaires' latest crusade as a PR stunt. Could it advance the cause anyway?

Here is the thing the Koch brothers wish their critics understood: They just want to help people.

"Everything we do is designed to help people improve their lives, whether you're talking about our business or our philanthropy," Mark Holden, the senior vice president and general counsel for Koch Industries, told me recently from his office in Wichita, where the multibillion-dollar international manufacturing conglomerate that Charles and David Koch inherited from their father is headquartered. "We think a free society, consistent with classical liberalism and individual liberties, is the key to success for everyone, and that's what drives a lot of our activities. And criminal-justice reform is good for all of us—the rich, the poor, and everyone else."

Though the Kochs are best known—and, to liberals, notorious—for the massive amounts of money they pour into politics, they have lately been calling attention to a less polarizing crusade: an attempt to address what they term "the overcriminalization of America." But not everyone is convinced that their efforts are quite so sincere.

Critics such as Robert Greenwald, director of the documentary Koch Brothers Exposed, suspect that the push to roll back the criminal code is really just the brothers' deregulatory agenda by another name. Indeed, Charles Koch, the company's chairman and CEO, has said he became interested in criminal-justice reform after a grand jury's 1995 indictment of a Koch refinery in Texas for 97 felony violations of environmental law. The company spent six years fighting the charges and eventually settled with the government for $10 million. Seen in this light, the criminal-justice pitch is just another attempt to manipulate the political process to advance the company's financial interests. That's the view of the liberal group American Bridge, which maintains the anti-Koch "Real Koch Facts" website. "Their own bottom line isn't just an important factor in their activity, it's the only thing," a spokesman for the group, Ben Ray, told me.

This is the question that has always swirled around the Kochs and their political efforts—the massive juggernaut of funding for conservative activism and candidates that critics dub the "Kochtopus": Are the brothers sincere ideologues dedicated to a libertarian vision for America? Or are they simply trying to tilt the political system to favor themselves and their companies?

Various tentacles of the Kochtopus have been involved in criminal-justice issues for about a decade; during that time, Charles Koch has quietly made contributions amounting to seven figures to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, money that has been used to provide lawyers for poor defendants. In 2011, the group honored Koch Industries with its annual Defender of Justice award. "They are in complete agreement with us on the fundamental policy—to make the Sixth Amendment a reality for every person in the country," said the association's executive director, Norman Reimer.

But the Kochs' advocacy has become more vocal in recent months, from public statements to new partnerships with such groups as Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the American Civil Liberties Union, and even the liberal Center for American Progress. The bid for more attention for the reform effort has received overwhelmingly positive attention, and coincides with a new PR push to show Koch Industries in a friendlier light, including a "We Are Koch" national television campaign that casts the company as heartland job creators—prompting the Kochs' critics to suspect a whitewash. After all, the investment in criminal-justice reform pales in comparison to the hundreds of millions the Kochs and their donor network have spent electing Republicans, many of whom don't share their views on civil liberties, Greenwald noted. "Certainly the scales tip against the impact of this, except from the press point of view," he said of the reform push.

And yet the Kochs have found many willing partners on the left for this effort, even among their erstwhile critics. In 2011, the civil-rights activist and former Obama administration adviser Van Jones cited the Kochs as emblematic of the "economic tyranny" plaguing America, declaring, "We will not live on a national plantation run by the Koch brothers." He appears in the Koch Brothers Exposed(tagline: "The 1% at its very worst"). But Jones has welcomed the Kochs' support for his new Cut50 project, which aims to halve the prison population over the next decade. At a recent panel discussion in Washington, he sat next to Holden and gave him a hug. Koch Industries has agreed to participate in an upcoming conference Jones is sponsoring on prison reform. When I asked Jones if it made him uncomfortable to team up with people he's previously depicted as villains, he responded, "When you've got more than 2 million people behind bars, I'll fight alongside anybody to change those numbers."

Click to read full article.

 


The Marshall Project: How to Cut the Prison Population by 50 Percent

Marshall Project

A growing number of criminal justice reform organizations, among them the ACLU, Rebuild the Dream, and Just Leadership USA, are uniting behind one big goal: to reduce the prison population by 50 percent within the next 10 to 15 years.

With 2.3 million Americans incarcerated in prisons and jails, a 50 percent reduction would mean changing sentencing and parole rules to cut the net population by more than 1 million people, either by releasing current inmates or by not incarcerating future offenders.

Left mostly unsaid is that achieving the goal of this “Cut50” movement would entail touching what has long been a third-rail in criminal justice reform. To halve the prison population, sentencing would have to change not only for the so-called “non, non, nons” — non-violent, non-serious, and non-sex offender criminals — but also for some offenders convicted of violent crimes.

These changes could include shortening sentence lengths; making it easier for prisoners to win parole; deciding that probation or community service are more appropriate consequences than prison time for entire classes of crimes; diverting more suspects to mental illness programs or addiction treatment; and even redefining what offenses are considered violent in the first place.

Simple math shows why violent offenders would have to be part of any serious attempt to halve the number of prisoners. Consider the nation’s largest incarcerated population, the 1,315,000 held in state prisons. Only 4 percent are there for drug possession. An additional 12 percent are incarcerated for drug sales, manufacturing, or trafficking. Eleven percent are there for public order offenses such as prostitution or drunk driving, and 19 percent for property crimes such as fraud and car theft, including some property crimes that many consider serious or violent, such as home invasion.

That leaves a full 54 percent of state prisoners who are incarcerated for violent crimes, including murder, kidnapping, manslaughter, rape, sexual assault, and armed robbery.

So if 100 percent of all people convicted of drug, public order, and property crimes were released early or sentenced to punishments other than prison time, you would still need to free, say, 30 percent of robbery offenders to achieve a 50 percent reduction in the prison population.

Click to read full article.


Sacramento Bee: Finally, a movement to roll back the prison industry

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The “tough on crime” movement of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s ended up as a movement toward mass incarceration. The “lock ’em up” mentality succeeded at turning the home of the free into the land of the imprisoned – but it failed at making us safer.

Today, we are seeing the rise of a new movement – one that aims to roll back the prison industry by using hard science, objective data and innovative models that work.

It’s about time. The United States has only 5 percent of the world’s population, but we are responsible for 25 percent of the jail and prison population. More Americans are under correctional supervision than live in the entire Los Angeles metropolitan area. At a time of tight government budgets, we spend billions each year to put people behind bars – including many who sit in a jail cell simply awaiting trial.

Making even less sense, a disproportionate number of people are behind bars for nonviolent, drug-related crimes. Six out of every 10 people who leave a California prison return within three years; our “corrections” system is not correcting much.

Worse, people of color bear the brunt of this broken system. The U.S. Sentencing Commission found that African Americans receive sentences that are 10 percent longer than those for whites convicted of the same crime. And The Sentencing Project found that black defendants are 20 percent more likely to face prison time.

California and the nation are left with a massive incarceration industry that locks up too many people, wastes too much money, ruins too many lives and violates our sense of racial fairness – all while failing to make our communities much safer.

So how do we get smarter on crime? That question is bringing together unlikely allies from opposite sides of the political spectrum around novel solutions.

State legislatures across the country are finally undoing many failed, inhumane and costly sentencing laws. Here in California, Proposition 47, passed last November, reduced six low-level felonies that can carry prison time to misdemeanors. Just three months later, the law is credited for reducing crowding in jails and prisons – helping the state meet a court-ordered population cap a year earlier than scheduled.

In additional to long-standing reformers who supported Proposition 47, conservatives including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky lent their support. The campaign’s single largest individual donor was B. Wayne Hughes Jr., a conservative billionaire from Southern California.

That’s why my organization, the Dream Corps, has launched #cut50, an initiative to safely and smartly reduce America’s prison population by 50 percent by 2025. Our surprisingly broad sweep of partners include everyone from Gingrich to the ACLU.

Meanwhile, there are innovative new approaches to harness data and technology to improve the criminal justice system. DNA testing has reduced the number of people locked up for crimes they didn’t commit; vehicle and body cameras may be able to help improve police-community relations; and gunshot location devices can pinpoint shooters. And we can make better criminal justice decisions by incorporating the kind of data used by health officials to track diseases, by cities to reduce rush-hour traffic and, perhaps most famously, by general managers trying to build a winning baseball team.

In Kentucky, judges in all 120 counties have been using a new risk-assessment tool to assist them when they consider whether to lock up or release defendants between their arrest and trial. This tool is already being used in counties in three other states, including Santa Cruz County here in California. The Laura and John Arnold Foundation, which developed the tool, found that in the first six months, a greater percentage of defendants in Kentucky were released before trial. At the same time, crime among pretrial defendants went down by about 15 percent. Especially important, the tool is race-neutral and relies on a defendant’s criminal history rather than demographic information.

Ultimately, the status quo in our jails and courthouses is bad for California, bad for America and bad for communities of color. The incarceration industry needs a top-to-bottom overhaul – from pretrial detention through to sentencing and rehabilitation. But if we want to reverse this untenable situation, we need to consider creative, data-driven solutions such as Kentucky’s pretrial tool and execute them wisely.

If we are willing to step out of our comfort zone, the result will be fewer people behind bars, less bias and discrimination, lower costs – and safer communities. Now that is getting smart on crime.


#PolicyforJustice at the New School

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On Feb. 9, Van Jones visited the New School to share his vision for Rebuilding the Dream: Framing Civil Rights for the 21st Century.

The 2015 Henry Cohen Lecture Series, Public Policy in Action, is devoted to advancing social equity in America.  The series examines how public policy serves as a vehicle to advance economic and social inclusion in the context of evolving demographic, economic, and political shifts in America. This series serves as a catalyst for the continuing dialog on the state of social justice in America.

Watch the full video below.

Click to see event gallery.


Fast Company: It's Time for Tech to Embrace Prison Reform

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LET'S EMBRACE PRISON REFORM, RATHER THAN JUST RETHINK EDUCATION AND IMMIGRATION, TO HELP ADDRESS OUR LABOR ISSUES. 

BY BARATUNDE THURSTON

Shaka Senghor spent 19 years in prison for murder. Since his release in 2010, he’s become a teacher at the University of Michigan, a published author, a sought-after speaker (his 2014 TED talk is a must-see), and an MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow, which is how he and I met. Senghor paid his debt, and he’s a one-person testimonial to the value that exists in everyone.

And he doesn’t want to be the only one.

There are currently two separate, parallel debates taking place in Silicon Valley about the future of its workforce. One is about how the technology industry can be more diverse. Much of the effort to that end has focused on encouraging girls and people of color to embrace tech at a young age. The other conversation centers around immigration reform. Industry leaders argue that it’s vital to lure the talent necessary to fill the engineering jobs at companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, and Dropbox. This is why Mark Zuckerberg created the lobbying group Fwd.US, although its record has been spotty.

I’m all for promoting tech and welcoming immigrants. But neither of these are enough. Not when there are more potential Shaka Senghors behind bars. There are more than 1.5 million prisoners in the United States, many of them nonviolent drug offenders. Our society is just now coming to terms with the cost of letting these people rot away in jail for decades. When rehabilitated ex-cons reenter their communities, they face a jarring cultural disconnect. Not only is it hard to find employment, it’s challenging to adapt to a world that presumes ever more technological ­literacy. When Senghor went to jail, laptops and suitcases were indistinguishable in size. The only talking car he’d ever hear of was on Knight Rider. But when he was released five years ago, "It was really like, ‘Welcome to an urban episode of The Jetsons!’ " he tells me.

Senghor admits that he still struggles with life beyond bars, and he’s made it his mission to help reintroduce others to society, including an immersion in tech. He’s teamed up with Van Jones­—founder of Rebuild the Dream, onetime Obama green jobs czar, and CNN ­commentator—on #Cut50, Jones’s initiative (with Newt Gingrich!) to trim by half the U.S. prison population. Senghor believes his efforts can help reduce recidivism.

Other people are working to create opportunities related to technology for reformed felons. A program in California called The Last Mile is working to provide entrepreneurship training in prisons. Isidore Electronics, run by Kabira Stokes, hires formerly incarcerated ­individuals to recycle the electronics we might otherwise toss into landfills, proving that we don’t have to waste our gadgets or our fellow human beings.

We can do even more, which is why we should add tech’s biggest brains to the conversation. "The whole idea of coding is ­iterating and innovating around necessity," Senghor says. "Well, in [a prison] environment, innovation and iteration are happening out of necessity." He then regales me with stories of inmates creating tattoo guns out of tape players and heating water without a microwave. In prison, terms like DIY, makers, hacking, and minimum viable product come to life every day.

What if the resourcefulness and hustle currently trapped behind bars could flood back into a nation that needs it? The labor potential of these soon-to-be ­returned citizens could be as profound as getting an 8-year-old excited about tech. And the payoff could come much sooner.

Click here to read more.


#cut50 Briefing in D.C. (January 22, 2015)

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#cut50 packed the house with political movers and shakers on Jan. 22 in Washington, D.C. to address the critical need for criminal justice reform. Speakers included our own Van Jones, Right on Crime's Vikrant Reddy, Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, Senator Cory Booker, and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.

Click to see event gallery 


#YesWeCode at Social Good Tech Week SF

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Social good organizations deserve the most innovative technologies. That's why Social Good Tech Week will be featuring the coolest technology companies and highlight stories of social good organizations and startups using technology to solve some of the world's most challenging problems.

Get 50% off tickets to Social Good Tech Week from Jan. 27 - Feb.1 Use code: SGTWSPEAKER50.

And you don't even have to be in the Bay Area to participate. There will be plenty of satellite events and workshops for virtual participants. 

Plus, watch #YesWeCode founders Amy Henderson and Cheryl Contee give ignite talks on Friday at the Victoria Theater // 2961 16th St. in San Francisco

Afternoon Ignite Talks (2pm)

  • Jobs for the Future: Using Technology to Empower in the 21st Century Economy, Tess Posner, Managing Director, SamaUSA
  • How Technology is Helping Detroit Get Access to Water, Tiffani Ashley Bell, Founder, Detroit Water Project
  • Useful, Beautiful, Data, Matthew Scharpnick, Elefint Designs
  • Thumbs for Good... How Our Cell Phones Can Advance Social Good // Dominique DeGuzman, Software Engineer, Twilio
  • What I Learned From Kittens, Puppies and Goats About Social Media for Social Goood, Cheryl Contee, Co-Founder, Attentive.ly
  • How Africa's Tech Revolution is Shaping the Next Generation of African Social Entrepreneurs, Elizabeth Dearborn Hughes, CEO & Co-founder of the Akilah Institute for Women
  • How Technology Activated Over a Million Asian Americans at the Ballot Box, Samala, Founder, 18millionRising
  • How #YesWeCode is Using Technology to Transform the Lives of 100,000 Low-opportunity Youth, Amy Henderson, #YeWeCode, Co-founder & Chief Innovation Officer

Check out the full schedule for Social Good Tech Week or buy tickets: http://socialgoodtech.org/


THE CAP TIMES: Van Jones, Scott Walker agree on MLK Day: 'There's more we can do'

It was a collision of past, present and future as elected officials, dignitaries and citizens gathered in Wisconsin's Capitol rotunda to honor the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Speakers including Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Wisconisn Public Radio broadcaster Jonathan Overby, environmental advocate and civil rights activist Van Jones and Gov. Scott Walker paid tribute to the civil rights leader in a Monday afternoon ceremony.

Some noted that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches. Some called attention to the renewed push for racial justice, as protesters respond to the highly publicized killings of black men by police and to racial disparities across the country.

Political opposites Walker and Jones found some common ground, agreeing there's more to be done to address racial disparities in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

Click here to read more.


USA TODAY: Van Jones on teaching 100,000 low-income kids to code

 Van Jones

SAN FRANCISCO — Shortly after the Trayvon Martin verdict, Van Jones says he was talking about race with his friend, music legend Prince.

"Every time you see a black kid wearing a hoodie, you say: there's a thug. If you see a white kid wearing hoodie, you say: there's Mark Zuckerberg," Jones said. "I said, 'that's because of racism. And Prince said, 'maybe so, or maybe you civil rights guys haven't created enough Mark Zuckerbergs.'"

That challenge inspired Jones to create Yes We Code, an initiative of his Rebuild the Dream organization that aims to teach 100,000 low-income kids to write code. Prince promoted the initiative in July by headlining the Essence Festival in New Orleans where Yes We Code held its first hackathon.

"How do we create a situation that when you see a young black kid in a hoodie, you think, maybe I should go up and ask the kid for a loan or a job as opposed to assuming the kid's a threat," Jones said during an interview in USA TODAY's San Francisco bureau.

Computer science is one of the fastest-growing and best-paying career paths in the USA. Yet most computer science students are white men, and too few African-Americans and Hispanics even consider it.

Yes We Code is helping dozens of organizations around the country that are trying to address high-tech's racial and gender gap from Black Girls Code to Hack the Hood. It connects those groups with the resources they need, Jones said.

"Yes We Code aspires to become the United Negro College Fund equivalent for coding education," Jones said. "Yes We Code exists to find and fund the next Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg in communities you would never expect to find them."

Yes We Code counts among its partners Facebook and Google. And for good reason. The tech industry needs these kinds of efforts.

In 2014, leading technology companies released data showing they vastly underemploy African-Americans, Hispanics and women.

Tech companies are mainly staffed by white and Asian men. African-Americans and Hispanics make up 5% of the companies' workforces, compared with 14% nationally.

That means Silicon Valley may be missing out on the next big idea or company because it employs too few women and people of color, Jones said. And young people are missing out on their chance at a better life.

"Aptitude tests show one out of five kids of any color have an inherent aptitude for the kind of problem solving that is required to be a computer programmer. So that means one out of five kids out here in low-income communities, Native American reservations, Appalachia, housing projects, barrios, ghettos could be on the Mark Zuckerberg track," Jones said. "The problem is their mother doesn't know, their father doesn't know, the coach doesn't know, the teacher doesn't know, the preacher doesn't know. So they all want to be LeBron James.

"The math doesn't work. You have a million low-income kids playing basketball this weekend all trying to get into the NBA. The NBA has 450 players and they hire 15 kids a year So you have 1 million mostly black kids trying out for 15 jobs. Meanwhile the technology sector says they are going to be a million workers short in eight years. And if we are not careful, we will have 15 black Urkels trying out for a million jobs." Click here to read more.