Youth unemployment is at its highest sustained level since World War II. This crisis and the structural inequities in our socio-economic system have created a lack of economic opportunity for millions of young adults in the United States and around the world.
Even when hard-working young people do find jobs, they often come with a low-income, and little to no upward mobility. The Great Recession’s legacy is that nearly every age group has recovered across key metrics of well-being since except for young adults. According to the International Labour Organization, over 50 per cent of young adults who are employed are only temporary or part-time workers. Careers and a living wage remain out of reach and automation is sure to widen this gap. And to make matters worse, new businesses – the main driver of job creation – are being started at half the rate today in the US than a generation ago.
The White House Council found that America’s unemployed youth will cost an estimated $4.7 trillion, over their lifetimes, in lost revenue, welfare, crime and health care expenditures. But, we don’t just need more jobs, we need better ones – jobs that gainfully employ the hundreds of millions of young adults entering or already in the workforce.
These are pressing problems that demand urgent, scalable responses from the nonprofit sector, yet that very sector lags far behind on the tools best suited to the problem – technology.
A 2017 report by Accenture titled, “Digital Adoption: How workforce development nonprofits can accelerate employment and entrepreneurship outcomes at scale” found that 83% of nonprofit leaders surveyed said that their organization’s lack of digital maturity was a major obstacle to adopting technology. Conversely, for those nonprofits that have embraced digital, their teams reported efficiency gains of up to 91 percent.
skysthelimit.org (STL) is an excellent example of a nonprofit transforming its service model delivery from a traditional brick-and-mortar approach to a digitally native one. At STL, the nonprofit leverages technology to connect underserved young adult entrepreneurs with resources and vetted business advisors & mentors. Their digital platform approach provides unique benefits over the traditional brick-and-mortar approach used by most nonprofits today:
Scale: The organization expanded the geographic scope of their program services from the San Francisco Bay Area to serving beneficiaries in 46 states in just 6 months.
Efficiency: They forecast a 95%+ decrease in annual cost to serve per beneficiary within three years.
Machine learning: Through a partnership with Accenture’s Innovation Labs, skysthelimit.org uses a custom machine learning algorithm to predict increasingly higher quality matches between young entrepreneurs and business advisors. They also plan to use AI to predict other interventions in a young entrepreneur’s journey to increase their likelihood of success.
Network effects: One of the primary benefits of a digital platform is that the more people who join them, the more valuable the service becomes to the users on the platform.
Transparency: On STL, members of the community can view the profiles of young entrepreneurs and volunteers, and see the beneficiaries of the organization. The organization plans to implement blockchain technology to publicly attest the impact of its services on underserved young entrepreneurs. They even plan to issue their own cryptocurrency to allow donors to more directly make an impact on a young entrepreneur’s business dreams.
Real-time data: With consistent, accurate data about user behavior, the organization’s team can quickly adapt to the needs of the community, increasing the quantity of beneficiaries served and quality of the services they deliver.
While to many of us, the advantages of digital adoption need not be explained, it is important to note that many nonprofits want to use technology to improve their organizations but face barriers. Related to the earlier cited difficulty that nonprofits have in building digitally fluent teams, many nonprofit leaders have trouble attracting funding for technology adoption.
In a sector tackling some of the world’s toughest problems, where efficiency and scale are prized attributes, one would hope that more funders would step forward to address this obvious opportunity.