Bertina Ceccarelli is CEO of NPowera national nonprofit, rooted in community and on a mission to advance equity in the technology industry.
Across the spectrum of social welfare, there has been a long-standing debate – reignited by the pandemic – about whether companies, non-profits and other organizations should direct their social investments towards the large-scale future needs of humanity rather than more direct needs.
As a former corporate executive who now runs a national nonprofit that invests in people, I don’t believe the question is present versus future. It must be both at the same time. How do you do that? Take care of the people today and they will take care of humanity tomorrow.
For example, the nonprofit I lead, NPower, provides military veterans and young adults from underserved communities with technical training and support services to prepare them for relevant careers as a gateway to economic mobility. In this way, we serve people from racial, educational and socioeconomic backgrounds who are underrepresented in the technology sector.
As an illustration, after a student completed a technical training program at my organization, he landed a job as a business engineer at a large financial services company. From here they could buy their first house. This is drastic for many reasons, including the fact that they can now build equity to pass on to the next generation. Investments in people can pay off long into the future.
In my experience in both the business and non-profit sectors, companies have plenty of options to make their altruism effective now and beyond. Here are three ways.
1. Invest in your best asset: your people.
Just as you invest capital in cloud technology, plants and equipment, innovations and product development, you must prioritize investments in skills, aspirations, growth, performance and opportunities for every level of your workforce.
With a venture capitalist mindset – and leaning towards diversity and inclusion – you can discover and invest in your ‘hidden figures’ by paying attention to the unique skills and abilities of all your talent.
2. Involve the people you invest in.
Social good initiatives can be ineffective if they fail to attract the people you are determined to help. I remember that not so long ago schools in major American cities hosted thousands of tablets, but neither the teachers nor the students had the training or curriculum to use them. The main stakeholders were clearly not involved in this initiative.
I realized early on that the curriculum doesn’t always work for students because different people learn in different ways. IT training is especially tough because it is technical and sometimes theoretical. By interviewing students, alumni, and their employers, you can find effective ways to vary your approach. I know from my own experience that by providing more hands-on, practical training, students can experience what it is like to work at an IT helpdesk on a daily basis.
Another example: Some students say they can’t wait 16 weeks or more for a full training program to get a job. There are ways to reconfigure shorter certification courses so that students can land an entry-level job and then move on to more advanced training for even higher-paying jobs.
3. Leverage the non-profit sector for talent and insights.
Really collaborate with nonprofits. Recruit from them. Offer rotations and internships to your people and theirs. Gone are the days of division between business and the non-profit sector, especially now that we need each other to achieve our intersecting goals.
Nonprofits can open doors to new resources, allies, and advocates to strengthen and expand your programming and impact. Corporate social responsibility and environmental, social and corporate governance initiatives will not succeed if they are set up in isolation at headquarters. I urge companies to expand their network with the expertise nonprofits can provide, including long-term studies and co-developed internship programs.
These human-centered strategies may seem elementary — they are. But I’ve found they’re often overlooked, unprioritised, or set aside for short-term business pressures.
Imagining how philanthropy can support futuristic endeavors like colonizing Mars or anticipating sentient technology seems sexy and visionary. But isn’t this mentality a bit arrogant? It can also be dangerous if it means freeing ourselves from the real and pressing social issues of today and diverting altruistic resources.
Solving the future must start now. It requires humility, empathy, close knowledge and wisdom. And it starts with investing in people who are making a difference today – in their own lives and in the lives of others.