In 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson instituted America’s War on Poverty. Since then, American taxpayers have spent trillions on anti-poverty programs.1 Despite vast resources dedicated to fighting poverty, the U.S. appears to be losing the battle. Today, some 43 million Americans fall under the poverty line; an estimated 30 million Americans are underemployed or unemployed.2 Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans receiving government assistance has almost doubled over the last 50 years, growing from 11% to 21%.3
Since my mid-twenties, I have been troubled by the plight of the poor. I’ve supported children in developing countries, inner-city shelters in the U.S., and activities ranging from disaster relief to education to missions. However, I have been troubled by one point: the poor often stay poor. Time and again, I have wondered whether something is lacking in the fight against poverty. I believe that the missing link is work.
I founded Activate Workforce Solutions to heed Scripture’s call to care for the needy. I also founded Activate based on my conviction that there is no economic freedom without jobs, and there is no job-creation machine like free enterprise.
Activate’s social mission is to activate individuals into their fullest God-given potential through the dignity of work. Our nonprofit partners are proven, time-tested work readiness programs that get people with barriers to employment ready for work. Some of these individuals are refugees or cancer survivors; others have experienced homelessness, incarceration, or addiction. All are low-income.
After deeply transformative experiences, these individuals emerge displaying grit, determination, and the courage to envision a better future. Not victims, more than survivors, they are overcomers. But finding work is still elusive. I created Activate to link these men and women with career paths and to coach them along the way.
“Dee” is one of our placements at Activate. Dee is an engaging, alert young woman. She exudes competence. Born into a criminalized family, she was taught the ways of the street from an early age. Using her wits, Dee became quite successful at dealing drugs, until she was caught. While in prison, she experienced an epiphany when her counsellor challenged her to make a choice about the future she wanted to live. She pivoted from her old lifestyle and made the most of her time behind bars, rapidly completing her GED and halving her sentence. Today, she is thriving in a manufacturing job, performing to the highest standards. Dee got her second chance.
When we first met Dee, she radiated optimism and determination. We saw her enormous potential—an intelligent, gifted, and motivated woman ready to prove her value. We helped her connect with her dream employer and have provided her with supportive coaching in her first critical months on the job. She is taking advantage of this opportunity, setting goals and achieving them systematically. We expect her to be a supervisor someday.
As the former manager of the Janus Worldwide and Overseas Funds, I was trained to spot potential. Although I invested behemoth portfolios totaling $50 billion, I made my name as a bottom-up stock picker. I analyzed approximately 2,000 companies over the 20 years I invested, and I viewed each as a unique, dynamic organism, possessing a singular history, strengths and weakness, and market potential. I scored big when I could spot potential before anyone else. The potential of workers like Dee is an asset too big to ignore.
In Denver, there are thousands of individuals like Dee who not only need jobs, but want jobs, and who are able to perform and contribute. I’m not a social worker by training or by personality. An unapologetic capitalist, I believe that business can tackle an intractable social problem like poverty. As a Christian, I know that we are called to engage deeply and creatively with the poor. We at Activate serve as a bridge out of poverty, connecting individuals with life-giving careers and mission-aligned employers.
Our employer partners share our values, where no one is a commodity, where corporate social responsibility means not simply looking good but effecting good in the community, and where all stakeholders–investors, suppliers, and employees–are treated with respect. Our employers invest in the career paths and professional development of all their employees. Values are part of their DNA, guided by leadership, embraced and implemented throughout.
Our flagship employer is CoorsTek, a $1.25 billion global advanced manufacturing ceramics company headquartered in Golden, Colorado. Michael Coors, Co-CEO, has been a fervent advocate of breaking down barriers through jobs and employment. As CoorsTek management toured our nonprofit partners, they were inspired by the grit and determination of the program participants, as well as their personal journeys. “We see this, not as a hand out, not as a hand up, but as a handshake,” Coors said, highlighting the two-way commitment that embodies mutual accountability and commitment.
CoorsTek is in the vanguard of businesses who realize that mission is critical. They and Activate are on a journey together to re-envision manufacturing labor. The result is not just good business and a talent pipeline solution; the result is building people by valuing the success of all contributors and building a culture that embodies dignity and excellence.
We want to activate a movement among Christian business leaders to reimagine work as ennobling and empowering. We envision businesses that value each employee’s contributions and that care about individual and collective success. We urge business managers to look at non-traditional sources of labor and to think about labor in untraditional ways.
We believe that business can be used as a powerful tool for the redemptive work of the Kingdom, not just by what it produces, but through how it produces.
In the fight against poverty, there is good work to be done.
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This post was published June 13, 2017
Helen Young Hayes
Helen Young Hayes is a 20-year veteran of the financial industry. As the portfolio manager of the Janus Worldwide and Overseas funds, she invested over $40 billion in global and international equities. Conducting detailed country, industry, and company analyses, Helen is regarded as a pioneer in bottom-up international investing. While at Janus, she was the Chief Investment Officer, heading up the 100-person asset management team. Helen has extensive nonprofit experience working with low-income individuals, serving on the boards of Mile High Ministries in Denver, Harlem Educational Activities Fund in New York, and Children of Hope in Kenya. She founded Activate Workforce Solutions to alleviate poverty through creating pathways to employment. Helen graduated with a degree in Economics from Yale University.