Obstacles inside and outside of the workplace often leave individuals who want to work sitting on the sidelines of the economy. These obstacles can include lack of transportation, childcare, support from employers, equal opportunities and more. Part-time work often exacerbates the cycle of poverty because of the benefits cliff that leads to a lack of insurance and paid time off that can allow an individual’s financial situation to become volatile and unforgiving. There are often costs that go into gaining and maintaining employment that make it really difficult to break the cycle of poverty. It’s expensive to be poor in America, that’s why we were so excited to launch the second iteration of the Reconstruct Challenge earlier this year with the help of our partners at Access Ventures and the UofL Health Equity Innovation Hub.
The Reconstruct Challenge is a national reverse pitch competition that seeks to find and fund innovations that are addressing some of our nation’s most pressing problems and apply them at the community level. This program is designed to decrease costs or increase wealth for the employment insecure population. Winners will participate in a 18-month proof-of-concept phase where they will test their innovations in the Louisville and Southern Indiana region. After this period, one of the five innovations will have the opportunity to receive an additional $250,000 to further scale. Grant recipients retain all rights and ownership of intellectual property arising from this competition. We are focused on finding solutions to help remove barriers to employment and better support low-income workers in our community.
The inaugural Reconstruct Challenge launched in 2019 focused on finding creative solutions to the affordable housing gap in the United States and granted six innovations with $300,000 each. Like the new competition, winners participated in a proof-of-concept phase where they tested their innovations in the Louisville and Southern Indiana region. Winners included Padsplit, Working Your Way Home, Urban Institute, Nesterly, Haven Connect, and mRelief, of which the latter three received $350,000 (mRelief), $100,000 (Nesterley), $100,000 (Haven Connect) in follow-on capital to further scale. Through the first program iteration alone 20,785 lives have already been impacted, over $14,000,000 unlocked for families, and a 9X return on impact realized through these 6 innovative solutions and we will continue to see these numbers increase as they deepen their work within our region over the coming years.
There are several factors that contribute to the growing struggle with poverty in the United States and there is no silver bullet solution. It will take a multitude of people and organizations working on the problem from different perspectives to combat the issue. The Reconstruct Challenge platform is designed to test ideas that traditional funders and governments lack the capacity to.
This year, twelve high-quality finalist organizations were selected by our expert panel of evaluators to move on to the final stage of interviews where five organizations were selected to receive grant funds by our selection committee. These five organizations were showcased at an event at West Sixth Brewery in August. Four of the five recipients of the Reconstruct Challenge: Employment are not from the region so this event not only was a celebration of the selection of the recipients but also a way to introduce them to the people in our community that can support their implementation. We are so excited to give these companies a warm welcome to our community and even more so, inspired by the entrepreneurial minds behind these organizations that have dedicated their careers to solving these systemic challenges. We are hopeful about the impact these organizations will have on our community and can’t wait to share more once their proof-of-concept phase is complete.
The five winners are:
Honest Jobs (Denver, CO): Honest Jobs is the nation’s leading fair-chance employment platform, helping people with criminal records find better jobs faster. Nearly 1,000 employers across the U.S., ranging from single-location operations to Fortune 50 companies, use the platform to tap into this loyal, qualified talent pool. Honest Jobs works with community partners, DOCs, probation, and parole to connect with job seekers. Over 30,000 justice-involved job seekers utilize the platform to find jobs and build careers. To learn more about this social enterprise and its impact, visit honestjobs.com.
Leap Fund (Brooklyn, NY): Leap Fund has seen workers across the country turn down income that they have earned at their jobs, out of fear of hitting the benefits cliff (essentially: earning a dollar or two more an hour, but as a result, losing public benefits that were worth much more than the income increase). We’re changing things for workers receiving public benefits that are afraid of this financial catastrophe affecting them: We have built a benefits cliff coaching program, which includes predicting individualized cliffs, and employers tools, to better understand the scope of the problem, and actually help employees avoid benefits cliffs altogether. Leap Fund is creating products that empower optimism, financial and career growth, future planning, and security for working families that need it most. Learn more at myleapfund.com
Dollar For (Portland, OR): A medical crisis shouldn’t mean a financial crisis. Dollar For eliminates medical debt by advocating for patients and enforcing hospital charity care policies. Our mission is to make Charity Care known, easy and fair. We crush medical bills – for free with no strings attached.
finEQUITY (Brooklyn, NY): finEQUITY advances the financial futures of those impacted by long-term incarceration. We offer no-cost financial tools, such as credit building opportunities, to justice-impacted community members in order to ease access to employment, affordable housing, utilities, phone plans, and more.
FMS (Louisville, KY): Facilities Management Services employs 600 custodians in Metro Louisville. The biggest challenge applicants face to work at FMS is lack of accessible, affordable transportation. Working Your Way to Wheels is a multi-stakeholder strategy leveraging the successes of Working Your Way Home to assist custodial workers with owning and maintaining their own vehicle.