I’ve been meaning to post this blog for several months….I first started writing it in late 2013 as we worked behind the scenes to launch the Opportunity Fund. We launched the Opportunity Fund at GA in April 2014 and now, 6 months later, our first round of fellows have graduated with several more in class and ready to start.
Diversity has become a large focus in the tech world, primarily focused on the need to bring more women into tech and make the tech industry a more welcoming place for women. As a Black woman working at a tech education startup, I’m thrilled that these conversations are happening. Reading through statements by companies promising to make diversity a top agenda item, I’ve seen many organizations cite the appalling statistics: only 24% of engineers graduating from undergrad are female, only 1% of all startup founders are black, and so on. Great organizations have sprung up to address the dearth of underrepresented groups in tech including: Girl Develop It, Code2040, AllStarsCode, Black Girls Code, and Railsbridge, just to name a few.
At GA I’ve had the great privilege of getting to design several parts of our approach toward diversity in tech. When we initially decided we wanted to begin tackling diversity problems, we reviewed what we’d seen others in our industry do – give scholarships to all women that take your classes. We all agreed this didn’t feel like we were making enough of a difference. In fact, it almost felt cheesy, as if we were using diversity initiatives to market our classes.
To solve a problem as complex as diversity and inclusion in a meaningful way, we knew we needed a holistic program that touched all aspects of the problem and pushed the agenda forward outside of our own walls.
So how can you design an initiative that creates exponential impact to solve social issues? Here is an unscientific finding of what made the program we designed exponential in its impact:
- Implement pay-it-forward policies that double down on your cause
- Engage people already doing the work
- Bring together two players that don’t normally speak to one another
- Address several generations and their perception of the social issue
- Give donors a voice in the solution
Opportunity Fund is unique due to our focus on attacking the problem in 3 ways:
- Change Today – By giving scholarships, we enable diverse populations to access and afford our classes that teach them how to code, design, etc. Recipients agree that the substantial scholarship is the only way they could take our immersive programs, and we change the face of tech, one newbie developer at a time.
- Change Tomorrow – By raising funds from large companies, we bring the conversation on diversity into employer’s boardrooms. In our fundraising process, our sponsors are required to choose the type of underrepresented group(s) they want to support. This means when big dollars are being allocated, the organization has to consider why they think certain groups should receive these funds and publicly state their commitment to diversity.
- Change in 10 years – By requiring fellows to pay it forward with volunteering, we teach diverse youth (K-12) how to code, so we help expand access and participation in the future. In return for the scholarship, fellows are required to volunteer 100 hours with non-profit organizations that teach youth to code. We engage great organizations already doing the work and help push their agenda further forward. Our hope is that we eradicate this problem at its root by influencing youth to pursue fields they wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise.
I’m confident the Opportunity Fund is a strong, meaningful, step toward beginning to solve issues in diversity in tech, but I know we can’t stop there. I hope that others will take some of our learnings so far and improve upon them so we can find more ways to provide exponential impact.