Jerelyn Rodriguez , WOMEN@FORBES
Black woman working on computer
Is America just waking up to the fact that #BlackGirlMagic is real?
A few weeks ago the world was raving about the 98% of Black female voters that prevented Roy Moore, accused of sexually assaulting teens, from taking the Senate seat in Alabama. The next day titles like “black women saved America” took over the internet. But let’s not forget that black women have been trying to save the world for generations and in some cases only lack the resources to realize true impact.
A report issued last year from DigitalUndivided found that even though women accounted for 30% of all small business owners, they received 4.4% of small business loans. In a recent EdSurge article, Aaron Walker from Camelback Ventures highlights that of venture capital funding, “on average, black women raise $36,000, while White men raise $1.3 million.” The disparities in venture and nonprofit funding are slowing down authentic social innovation efforts tackling society’s biggest problems.
One example is social innovation taking place in the South Bronx, the poorest congressional district, where nearly 30% of young South Bronx residents are unemployed. To solve this, in 2016, with the support of JobsFirstNYC’s Young Adult Sectoral Employment Project (YASEP), The Knowledge House designed the Bronx Digital Pipeline (BxDP). BxDP is a strategic partnership among ten technology education organizations and higher education institutions offering technology skills training to young people from Bronx. The objective is to connect disadvantaged young people to occupational training customized to employer needs that lead to industry-recognized credentials, entry-level tech jobs, and higher wages.
Emphasizing technology training and entrepreneurship in the Bronx allows disadvantaged young adults to gain exposure to the technology field, helping close the opportunity gap, and fueling an education to employment pipeline of diverse talent. The Bronx can add value to the technology field by providing a centrally and economically accessible pool of well-trained and well-vetted talent so employers can fulfill their various hiring needs. But absent of resources, will we be able to achieve our vision of alleviating poverty? Will we be able to fulfill the promise to the young people in the South Bronx that armed with proper training they too can take part in and thrive in a growing tech industry?
It has been challenging to fundraise as a young, female, entrepreneur of color. I get called to share my expertise on how to bring technology to the Bronx. Too often I see investments go to outside experts and entities to lead new projects in low-income communities instead of existing grassroots-driven initiatives. Walker states, “companies and organizations led by people of color make a difference in building better solutions for students who look like them. It’s a lot easier to empathize with your user when you are your user.”
This is why I was intentional about staff hiring at The Knowledge House(TKH). At TKH 100% of our staff are from or currently reside in the area that we serve, 100% identify as African American/Black, Hispanic/Latino or Asian, approximately 60% identify as female, and 50% are alumni of the program. We believe this makes us innovative because students are being taught by people that look like them and have gone through similar experiences. We are inspired by our students and early results — this year 70% of Knowledge House students have been matched to entry-level technology employment. Noteworthy placements include Barclays, Bloomberg, and NYC Department of Education.
The ideas and proposals from entrepreneurs of color that could potentially impact the most needy communities are not being valued. If we are being denied the right to serve those that look like us, who is being given the right? Walker said it best, ‘What do we miss out on because we failed to provide the financial support necessary for their ideas to take root and spread?’ If we want social innovation to move forward, funders need to believe in our visions as we have developed and iterated them based on our own experiences.
Let’s hustle together. Let’s invest in leaders who are bringing social innovation to their community. Let’s celebrate, invest in, and champion #BlackGirlMagic.