Nonprofit Spotlight: Emergent Works

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In January, PennyLoafer donors collectively gave to Emergent Works!

The Rundown

  • Years founded: 2018

  • Leadership: Founded by Alex Qin (a software engineer), Emergent Works is run by Army Armstead, who was one of the first students to complete the program and served as project manager before becoming CEO.

  • Issue they address: Lack of access to jobs for people reentering society; the digital divide; and diversity in tech.

  • What they do: Provide free technology education to formerly incarcerated people.

  • How they do it:

    • Mentorship: returning citizens are paired with software engineers for 1:1 mentorship and training over 4 months.

    • Further leadership and technical development for students that become associate engineers and work on their agency team.

    • Run an in-house software development agency that delivers projects for external clients.

Why they were chosen

Emergent Works is bridging the gap between the tech industry and historically underserved communities impacted by mass incarceration. They are creating access to high paying tech jobs for people reentering society, while increasing diversity in the field.

  • Their in-house agency, made up of senior software developers and formerly incarcerated coders, builds impactful software such as the Not911 app, which helps people in NYC connect with human services instead of police officers during a behavioral health crisis.
  • It’s led by individuals who understand first hand the challenges of reentering society. The founder, Alex Qin, was always planning to step aside so that people with lived experience in the justice system could shape its programs and future.
  • Its growing team is expanding programs, including a recent partnership with NYC Dept. of Probation to launch a technology and music program, T.RAP (Technology rhythm and passion), which includes training in therapeutic writing practices, music/video production, and audio engineering
  • For more, check out this video.

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📈 The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. While only ~5% of the world’s population, the U.S. holds 20% of the world’s prison population. Each year, ~600K people return to society from prison.

📂 ~70M people in the U.S. have a criminal record, including those that were arrested but not convicted. That’s about 1 in 3 adults in the country. These records have long-lasting impacts on access to employment, housing and more.

👷 Despite wanting to work and to find stability for themselves and their loved ones, formerly incarcerated people are largely shut out of the labor market, facing discrimination among other structural barriers. Even before the pandemic, the unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated people was 27% – nearly 5x higher than the unemployment rate of the general population.

💡 Programs like Emergent Works that provide access to education and training in useful skills for people reentering society are important to breaking the prison cycle. Some other interesting approaches include entrepreneurship training to help people start their own businesses and the second chance business coalition, which encourages the nation’s biggest employers to hire people with criminal records.

📘 If you’re interested in learning more about mass incarceration, I’d recommend reading The New Jim Crow.

If you enjoyed this and want to get involved, you can support the Quality Education cause on PennyLoafer, starting with as little as $5/month. Each month, you’ll support and learn about a different nonprofit working to improve the education system.