How AI and tech are disrupting non-profits

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. 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.

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.

While mankind has created software and technologies allowing people around the world to connect to one another, many people are feeling more divided and isolated than ever before. I’ve spent my entire career in tech start-ups and more recently have begun reflecting on this problem. I’m not the only one.

In an interview last month, Bill Gates was asked what he thinks is the most pressing issue society could feasibly solve in the next 10 years.

His response: "A lot of people feel a sense of isolation. I still wonder if digital tools can help people find opportunities to get together with others – not Tinder but more like adults who want to mentor kids or hang out with each other. It is great that kids go off and pursue opportunities, but when you get communities where the economy is weak and a lot of young people have left, then something should be done to help."

He’s right and we can help now. The non-profit sector is ripe for serious disruption. We think the learning cycle about what does and does not work in NGOs can be vastly shortened by leveraging open source technologies, data, and AI – we can build learning solutions that adapt dynamically to meet our beneficiaries needs.

A few years ago my partner Bo and I created a nonprofit focused on helping underserved young adults start businesses in Oakland, CA. Our idea was simple, if we could help young entrepreneurs get the right support, from the right people, and at the right time in their entrepreneurial journey, then they could achieve their business goals.

Over the past few years, we’ve supported hundreds of entrepreneurs through our program, but we’ve always wanted to scale our impact.

Over the past nine months we’ve been building a digital platform to address the issue identified by Bill Gates. We have also been applying the same development techniques that created Silicon Valley unicorns like Facebook, Slack, and Airbnb. The SKY'S THE LIMIT platform was created to capture the essence of our young entrepreneurs' aspirations.

In the United States alone there are over 11 million low income aspiring entrepreneurs that say they want to start a business, but lack the support to do so. We believe the most precious resources in our country are the time and talents of our people. We know that talent is everywhere, but opportunity isn’t. Young people of color are disproportionately affected by underemployment. Therefore, we need to create a pathway to business ownership for young entrepreneurs of all backgrounds.

With the majority of jobs created coming from start-ups, we need more and better jobs from diverse entrepreneurs. And we can help more start-ups succeed by giving them expert support from professionals across the country.

Our platform at skysthelimit.org uses sophisticated AI to match our entrepreneurs with vetted, volunteer business mentors and subject matter experts. We use data provided from our entrepreneur and volunteer users – such as their skills or needs, location, and stage of business – to predict and recommend high-quality matches. Then, we monitor and support these matches over time to help our entrepreneurs develop skills, build businesses and create jobs for themselves and others in their communities. Our platform allows us to recruit, screen, train, match, monitor and support young entrepreneurs and volunteers at scale. We’ve also embedded a feedback mechanism that helps us improve matches over time.

We believe that a key part to growing together into a brighter future is to bridge this divide one authentic relationship at a time – within cities, rural areas and between the two. The platform is currently in Beta and will roll out across the United States with international expansion coming shortly after.

We know we don’t have everything figured out yet, but in the wise words of Richard Branson, “You learn by doing and by falling over.”

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. 

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