The following post is a thought experiment. It’s entirely hypothetical and biased by my own relationships within and opinions about the nonprofit community.
What could we do if the for-profit, nonprofit, and government sectors all worked collaboratively toward a specific issue or issues? Recently, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) released the city’s graduation rate – approximately 60%. While this number far exceeded a previous prediction (43%), it is still perilously low if we imagine an economically prosperous future.
So, come with me into the future, on a tour of Gateway DC – nestled between Benning Road and East Capitol Street, on a piece of land currently occupied almost entirely by parking lots. As you arrive at the front door, you see a list of the partner nonprofits: AYA Markets, Brainfood, College Bound, Covenant House, Critical Exposure, DC Social Innovation Project, First Time Computers, Reach Incorporated, and Urban Alliance.
In the office building at the center of campus, these nine organizations share space. There are meeting spaces and event spaces. And, equally important, there are immense cost savings through shared resources – one front office staff, one printing and copying center, one vetting process for potential volunteers, and one central repository of office supplies. Extra offices will be rented to create revenue, while a single office will be donated to the most recent winner of the DC Social Innovation Project Bright Idea Challenge – granting one new leader access to learning from more established organizations.
This, however, is no normal office park. To each side, a series of storefronts extends from the central office complex. To one side, you see Busboys & Poets. This version of the DC establishment is slightly different – no employee is over 20 years old. In partnership with Brainfood, all cooking and management will be done by its students. Next door, you’ll see First Time Computers and Critical Exposure operating an electronics store in partnership with Best Buy. On the other side of office complex you’ll find a furniture restoration shop, staffed by apprentices from Covenant House’s woodworking program. Lastly, Politics & Prose NE will round out the community-based strip mall.
On the back of the complex, you’ll find the academic center – participants connected to each of the partner nonprofits will have access for academic support, credit recovery, and online learning opportunities. On weekend mornings, part of the parking lot would become a thriving farmer’s market – using the harvest from the rooftop gardens (which obviously top the office building).
These for-profit and nonprofit partnerships would generate revenue while providing job-training opportunities in a variety of potential vocational areas. Employment opportunities would be earned through successful participation in partner nonprofit programming, with these nonprofits working together to provide year-round supportive programming from 8th grade through college graduation. Nonprofit partners would have to buy in by raising $1 million dollars – local corporations could do the same to become corporate champions. The remainder of the constructions funds would come from philanthropic and government grants.
So, what’s the role of the DC government? We would ask that DC give this nonprofit collaborative the land. Plus, they would provide tax benefits to for-profit partners willing to partner directly with youth-serving nonprofits to fulfill all staffing needs. For taking on this additional risk of hiring non-traditionally trained employees, the for-profit partners would gain some financial incentives.
This would be a truly unsectored collaboration creating economic development, job training, and education reform. These nine organizations could serve more than 1,000 students, with a high level of rigor, at a single location. By creating the opportunity for unsectored collaboration, we could address high school graduation rates while bringing economic development to an unused piece of land.
Photo credit: sandman_kk
What could we do if the for-profit, nonprofit, and government sectors all worked collaboratively toward a specific issue or issues?