As the City of Philadelphia unveiled its new workforce development strategy in February, tech companies were asked to join the effort and become “Model Employers.”
Essentially, the moniker entails offering support to local youth organizations, providing career development for employees and creating opportunities for returning citizens and immigrants. Ahead of the call to action from the city, many local startups are already devoting resources to the greater good in different ways. From backing up nonprofits with cash donations to volunteering time to help nonprofits with their needs.
At our most recent Technical.ly Stakeholder Meeting, we asked how companies saw corporate citizenship and what “impact” meant to them.
For on-demand ambulance startup Roundtrip, an opportunity to give back arose when putting together a policy for paid time off (PTO) in order to encourage breaks among staffers.
“We created a floating holiday focused on giving back,” said founder and CEO Mark Switaj. “We make it clear that people have that option as part of their employment relationship with us.”
At Stitch, a similar time off policy is enacted, said Sam Glasberg, director of People Operations at the Center City company, which also rolled out donation matching program. Every employee can have their contributions to nonprofits matched for up to $500.
WebLinc People Operations Director Ryan Amaya found that employees were asking for PTO to go do volunteer work, so a special provision was put in place adding volunteer time as a separate time-off category. The Old City software company led a partnership between local tech companies and nonprofit Nationalities Service Center, pairing refugees with entry level jobs in tech.
“We encourage that, if there’s something you feel is important, email the whole company and see who wants to come,” said Amaya.
Amaya found that WebLinc’s proclivity to do good (as evidenced recently after an Old City fire) caused both internal end external impact.
“A ton of people want to work with us because they saw we work with refugees,” he said. “Internally, one of the most common things people like about working here is the amount of community outreach we do.”
Being a good corporate citizen is a plus for any business, said J2 Design founder Alan Jacobson.
“It’s a great recruiting tool,” Jacobson said. “I think the perception is, ‘This is a conscious organization, I’ll grow personally and will help others.’ Your organization starts to get branded with that behavior.”
But isolated initiatives at tech companies, according to Tern Water founder Mohamed Zerban, are in need of a common thread.
“Philly needs a more unified front,” Zerban said. “I think it lacks that on many levels.”
That was also the rallying call of Coded by Kids founder Sylvester Mobley. His pitch for corporate citizenship and acts of impact from tech companies was simple: help build the talent pipeline you’re going to need in the future.
“Every company here in my opinion should be contributing to the city of Philly in a sustainable way,” Mobley said. “Everyone here should know Philly’s that the poorest big city in the country. Investing in that problem addresses some of the issues around talent retention.”
Mobley’s nonprofit, which deploys weekly coding classes at schools and rec centers in underserved communities, has gotten support from local tech companies like RevZilla, Houwzer, DuckDuckGo and Guru. The founder also offered some advice on how to openly and meaningfully engage with nonprofits.
“Often when companies decide they want to have a social impact, they come and say ‘I want to do this,” Mobley said. “Nonprofits, usually, will not say no, but sometimes that will not be the best thing. It might even hurt them. You should first ask: ‘What would be of most value to you?;”
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