2. How to turn around a city （subtitles）
Has anyone here been to Fresno?
OK, good, good.
That’s where I’m from,
where I was born
and where I live today.
For those of you less familiar,
Fresno and the entire Central Valley of California
is a place that’s built by agriculture:
miles and miles of farmland for as far as the eye can see
with a couple of large, poor cities dotting the landscape.
My family, like much of the local population,
is a family of immigrant farm laborers:
those toiling away in the fields hoping for a ¢25-an-hour raise.
I didn’t see myself destined for the glamour of Silicon Valley,
but I did find my way to college, and something miraculous happened.
I got a job in tech.
And I remember the first time I didn’t have to count the change
when trying to figure out how much to tip for pizza delivery,
when I realized that this industry,
the technology industry,
was going to change my life forever.
And I remember thinking to myself,
if it can happen to me,
a poor, queer Brown woman from nowhere,
why can’t it happen to entire cities of people like me?
And so for the last eight years,
that’s what I’ve been working on in Fresno:
building a business that could expose what it takes to cause an entire city --
and not just a select few people in it --
It turns out we only need three pretty simple ingredients.
Training, proof and community.
So the cornerstone of everything that we do is job training.
The communities that we work with are often from very poor populations,
maybe folks who are learning English as a second language,
maybe they were unhoused,
the formerly incarcerated,
folks who are very often from retail or factory work.
These folks, their issue is not their ability to learn technical things.
Their problems center on things that are a lot less obvious.
Things like childcare,
So those are the things that we focus on.
It can be especially hard on families.
How do you justify learning to do something like write code
when there are bills to pay?
Wouldn’t it be better for the family if you just got a job at McDonald’s
and put in as many hours as you can?
Because that’s a check,
and who’s going to watch your little brother?
That’s what we do as a family;
we pitch in.
But how do you justify to the people around you
when it looks to them like you’re just playing around on the computer?
We just focus a lot more
on the things that actually prevent people from learning it.
In addition to connecting our students to things like bus tokens
and free regional transit options,
we also just deploy a fleet of vehicles
whose only job is to pick these folks up before their study groups
and drop them back off after class.
If they need food, we get them food.
We work with food cupboards and pantries,
making sure that boxes of food are delivered to these students’ homes
with enough for a family of three to five people.
We connect them to childcare options
that make sense for their schedules and their budgets.
But most importantly,
because cash is such a center of energy and decision-making
for these families,
through our apprenticeship program,
we literally pay them to learn.
So not only do they get to earn a wage
and are exposed to real-world work,
but now they also have that first line on the resume.
The one that’s so hard to get
and the one that builds confidence in the rest of the world
that you might know what you’re talking about.
And so you might be thinking to yourself,
“OK, Irma, this sounds great,
but it sounds really expensive.”
So how do you pay for it?
We’ve turned a long-held idea on its head.
We have to stop putting the burden --
the financial burden --
on the student and the families who are already struggling
and start putting it on the people
and the entities that benefit most from their untapped potential.
Entities like government,
These are the entities that benefit from the development of that talent,
and so that's who we get to pay for it.
Let’s throw back the curtain on what I’m trying to say here.
Let's take the government.
The US spends a trillion dollars scaling up a workforce for this country.
Many of those programs have mixed results,
and while some folks who come out of them do in fact earn higher wages at the end,
while they’re still learning,
when they’re still in training,
many of these folks can’t also work,
which means that they’re not bringing home a check,
which means that they’re still in survival mode,
which means that the people who would benefit most can’t participate
to begin with.
That’s where a system like ours makes some sense.
We apply for allocations of that same kind of money,
and use it to pay people to learn.
We also work with corporations.
QA testing, for example, is a job that can be taught
and a role that companies desperately need.
Training up a batch of QA engineers is low-hanging fruit
and has almost instant results for companies.
For the companies to invest in the development of that talent,
it breeds them a local and eager technology workforce from which to choose.
Companies that are in a growth mode
or who are experiencing a digital transformation,
they know that the key to their future
is their ability to find, hire and retain talent.
We can train up entire cohorts
or a generation of junior-level and apprentice-level technologists
trained directly to their systems,
ready to be hired on day one.
We’ve worked with all kinds of companies,
getting them to pay for things like tuition
and money for students to accomplish exactly this goal.
Philanthropy’s interests here may be even easier to describe.
Foundations and nonprofits,
they want to see their money put to good use.
Take the Quality Jobs Fund, for example.
It’s a collaborative effort
between the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco
and the New World Foundation,
and their express mission is to address inequality
through quality jobs expansion and skills development.
We apply for allocations or grants from philanthropies like those,
work with the government dollars that we just described,
and companies in the way that we just talked about,
put it all together to use it to pay people to learn.
So that’s how you pay for it.
Now, what is it that these folks should learn on?
In our view, it’s real-world software projects,
because that is the proof.
all of the software that the world needs built has to get made.
And so we can leverage talent from these underrepresented communities
to deliver on that need,
build a training ground for green talent
and also build a really robust business.
We’ll take OnwardUS as just one example.
It was a rapid-response initiative in response to COVID
where we partnered with the Kapor Center.
It was adopted by the state of California and then 10 other states.
The idea was to take displaced workers --
folks who are affected by COVID --
connect them to money and services and new jobs.
We took a high-level senior software engineer
who could architect the full platform
and then apprentices who could execute on that roadmap,
and in 11 days,
we had a functioning prototype.
You see, the local mom-and-pop,
the school district,
the regional manufacturer,
they all have software needs, and they’re going to pay someone to do it.
With this model,
they can have their solutions delivered back to them,
but also participate
in the creation of high-growth, high-wage jobs in their area.
The last ingredient in our recipe is community.
We need vibrant spaces
that meet the aspirations of technologists and entrepreneurs,
so we build castles for the underdogs.
We buy blighted buildings in our downtowns for pennies on the dollar,
lease them back out to ourselves and others in the technology industry.
This creates community around the idea of leveling up entry-level humans
and builds a shared understanding
and value around what it means to have access to unlimited talent.
The first project that we did
was a building that had stood empty for 40 years before we took it over.
We showed up with our tenant list and our ability to do work.
Our partner showed up with a building that was empty and decaying.
We painted the walls,
we built a bunch of desks,
we hung a lot of TVs,
and when the coffee shop opened at the front of that building,
it was like someone had flipped a switch on that corner of downtown.
Suddenly, there were a thousand students and tenants
and community members visiting that building each day.
when you take them all together,
they produce real impact driven by real change
that affect real people
who have names and faces and families and pets.
Just one quick example.
Our pal, Miguel,
who was once incarcerated,
he didn’t have any prospects for his future,
his professional life or really, his family.
He was scholarshiped through our pre-apprenticeship program
using government dollars.
Miguel veered just to the left of computer programming,
landed neck-deep in analytics and website funnels.
He apprenticed for our digital marketing program.
Eighteen months later,
Miguel has a full-time job,
a great salary,
benefits and a matching 401(k).
We’ve worked with over 5,000 students,
and of those entering our career programs,
over 80 percent earn technical employment.
And in Fresno, this means that the new technology workforce
is greater than 50 percent female or gender nonconforming,
greater than 50 percent minority or Latinx
and 20 percent first-generation.
And those demographics mirror the demographics of our county.
These are folks leaving restaurant, retail, factory and field labor,
earning on average less than 20,000 dollars a year,
exiting the programs earning 60-80,0000 dollars a year.
That’s gas in the tank and rent paid on time.
And when you do that enough times,
you see more sandwiches being purchased at the local panini shop;
newer, more reliable cars taking these folks to work;
the tax base improving,
which invests in schools and rebuilds roads;
homes in those communities that are being built or bought
by the people who are actually going to live in them;
dilapidated buildings that once stood empty
now full of energized underdogs sipping coffee and writing code
and, most importantly,
bringing with them the next generation of human
that didn’t see themselves leaving the packing house
until they saw their pal make it work.
And we can do this.
You know, it's not at all a mystery,
especially now that we’ve spent 10 minutes talking about it.
But we do have to do three very specific and deliberate things.
Invite the underdog in the front door;
pay them to learn like it’s their job;
and then build them castles in their hometowns.
It’s worked in Fresno,
it’s working in Bakersfield and Toledo, Ohio
and it can work in underestimated cities all over the world.
Thank you so much for your attention.