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A Future That Works

This article was originally published on The Morgridge Family Foundation website.

When I was 25, I worked at a real estate office by day, and as a waitress at night. I didn’t have a college degree or family connections to a secure job. What I had was tenacity, an entrepreneurial spirit, and the drive to build something I would be proud of. 

Then a guy walked into a bar. My story took a sharp turn when I met my husband, John Morgridge. Suddenly I didn’t have to worry about my work keeping a roof over my head and food on the table. I was given the resources to dream big. I became the Chief Disruptor of the Morgridge Family Foundation (MFF), and now lead a team dedicated to creating transformational impact. 

But I wonder what my life would look like if John hadn’t walked into that bar. What opportunities were out there for a girl without a bachelor’s degree or a traditional resume? How could I pay my fortune forward to the hard-working Americans who want something better for themselves and their families? Those thoughts turned into research and investment in workforce development programs. 

With Covid-19 and the protests happening in every US state, there has never been a better time to re-evaluate how we are lifting people up and helping others reach their full human potential. Recent events prove that the status quo is not good enough anymore, and that means addressing the economic and employment crisis our country faces. 

Even before the pandemic, there were 44 million Americans struggling in the job market—either jobless or earning less than the cost of living. According to a 2019 Gallup poll, 40 percent of Americans say they are either in debt or barely making ends meet. A recent study by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows similar results, with workers reporting insufficient income from their primary jobs, so their families consistently feel financially unstable.  

The pandemic has only exacerbated the issue, with over 40 million Americans filing for unemployment at its peak. There is a lot of talk right now about how to get Americans back to the jobs they held, but are we asking the right question? Should we instead be reimagining pathways into higher-paying, upwardly mobile careers? It’s a tall order.

How do you tackle such a massive issue? What barriers are preventing access to steady careers? And, how do we solve for those? There is pride and dignity in meaningful work, and a bachelor’s degree is not the only route to achieving a successful and fulfilling career. Like me, 67 percent of Americans do not hold a bachelor’s degree. We need to reach that majority with programs to help everyone reach their full human potential. And, we need to make that possible now. 

At MFF, we tackle problems by first understanding the scope of the issue and then looking for innovators. We seek disruptive leaders who are approaching challenges in big, creative ways that we can help elevate and grow. We’re proud to partner with organizations like Merit America who are revolutionizing the workforce development sector, and building job training programs that work. But there is more we can do.

Enter, MIT Solve. MIT Solve is a marketplace for social impact innovation with the mission to solve the world’s toughest challenges. Its leadership understands the power of bringing people together and funding big ideas. Together, we saw an opportunity to find and support more workforce development programs to reskill and upskill Americans into good jobs.

That’s why the Morgridge Family Foundation is excited to announce a new partnership with MIT Solve: Reimagining Pathways to Employment in the US. This bold initiative, which is part of the Future of Work Grand Challenge, brings together a powerful coalition of funding partners including New Profit, IBM, CSU Global, and Gary Community Investments to source, solicit, and select the most promising, tech-driven innovations that will accelerate pathways to employment across the US. The Challenge will provide workers with the skills and knowledge they need to find employment in the fastest growing professions of the new economy. With more than $600,000 in prize funding available through MIT Solve, along with business and tech development support from IBM, this initiative will accelerate fair and more equitable pathways inclusive of historically underserved populations. 

As John Farnam, Chief of Staff at MFF, says, “The goal of the Challenge as it relates to the future of work is clear. Every single person is an entrepreneur; every single person has an entrepreneurial spirit inside of them. Sometimes, individuals just haven’t had a clear pathway to develop their ideas. That’s what this Challenge represents: the possibility to extract great ideas that already exist, and give them the support they need to grow and scale in a big way.”

It is an honor to join forces with New Profit, IBM, CSU Global, and Gary Community Investments to power this MIT Solve Challenge. The time to make change is now. If you’re a peer funder and would like to be involved in this work, I charge you to take action. I charge you to join us. We are stronger together.

Every initiative our foundation undertakes is personal. Supporting this Challenge to reimagine pathways to employment and successful, fulfilling lives is no exception. We have seen the immense impact job training can have on an individual’s life and family stability. This Challenge will spread that impact far and wide. I cannot wait to see the solutions come to life.

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