It’s About Taking Action, Not Just Cutting a Check

When Kate James joined Pearson in 2014 as its chief of corporate affairs and global marketing, the international education publisher was going through some changes. One such move included a shift from what James calls “arm’s-length philanthropy,” whereby a corporation simply cuts a check to an outside nonprofit, to taking a more active role in developing change-driven solutions.

In the second installment of our series “10 Leaders on Business for Good,” NationSwell founder and CEO Greg Behrman talked with James about how Pearson is altering the landscape of public-private partnerships for the better and what other companies can learn from those efforts.

You’ve worked at both philanthropic foundations and big corporations. What can a socially focused company do to enact change that might be harder for a nonprofit to do?

The journey that Pearson has been on, and continues to be on, is figuring out how to move from most of our social-impact work being done by a foundation at arm’s length to really embracing the opportunity for social innovation. To more bluntly answer your question: the private-sector dollar is super-important, especially given the scale of the challenges that the world is facing. Also, a large company can more easily convene other powerful players behind a cause while harnessing its campaign capabilities. Corporations can put their brand into play and leverage their commercial influence to reach more people in need. Pearson isn’t just coming at a problem with a check; instead we’re saying, ‘Hey, we can bring a lot more to it with our R&D capabilities.’

As the chief communications executive, Kate James helps lead Pearson’s social-impact initiatives.

What projects is Pearson working on currently that you’re particularly excited about?

Right now we’re focused on three big initiatives. One that we are certainly most proud of is Project Literacy, which is no big surprise for an education company. When we conducted our initial research into the issue, we were struck by the fact that there are 757 million people around the world that lack basic literacy skills. And so Pearson seized the opportunity to create a coalition that’s working to close the literacy gap. We’ve attracted more than 100 diverse partners, from Microsoft to USAID, who all realize education is a fundamental part of any solution, from reducing child mortality rates to enabling someone suffering from AIDS to wholly understand their disease.

Pearson has also launched an internal incubator for employees to develop their entrepreneurial skills. They’re given the time to really think about ideas that can reach communities that otherwise Pearson’s products and services wouldn’t be reaching. For example, we’ve seen proposals for really smart ways to utilize the power of virtual reality and another that examines the refugee challenges in Germany and how to meet them.

And then there’s our work in Jordan with Save the Children on a program called Every Child Learning. Our partnership plays to our R&D strengths; we’re piloting a digital learning solution to deliver education to Syrian refugees and host community children in Jordan, with an eye toward adapting and scaling these in other emergency situations. Because these kids are often moving from place to place, we believe a mobile education platform is part of the solution.

How has Pearson’s focus on researching and developing solutions for social good changed the working environment for employees?

By constantly innovating and trying new things, we’re working to align our social-impact work with our own business goals and objectives. When you get that alignment, it’s amazing how much more resolve employees have and how much more engaged they are. When you’re focused on the double bottom line, then the work is sustainable and that means companies will be much more involved in philanthropic efforts and for a longer period of time. That’s what we have at Pearson that was missing before: a deeper level of connection between a foundation’s work and a corporation’s commercial strategy.

What’s the best career advice you’ve been given?

I started my career at GlaxoSmithKline, and the head of corporate affairs then was a wonderful lady. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but she made a lot of effort to talk to the young women graduates who were coming into GSK, and she became a phenomenal role model. She showed us how you could navigate a career path right to the very top. What really stuck with me is the importance of and the responsibility to really spend time with young women often. Some of our sparkiest young employees are women and, from the get-go, they can see that there are no limits to what they can accomplish. As the former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said, there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other. I think that’s a pretty important mantra for all women in senior positions to take pretty seriously.

When Jobs Are Tight, Immigrants Turn to Microbusiness Incubators

For many workers, the recent economic downturn either forced or inspired them to finally strike out and start the business that they’ve always dreamed of. And that is especially true for many immigrants who may lack education, English skills, or the dependable transportation they need to succeed in the traditional — and still tough — job market.
Paula Asuncion of Portland, Oregon is one such newly-minted entrepreneur. Asuncion immigrated from Mexico decades ago, and since then, held a variety of low-wage, fast-food and farm jobs to support her six children — a burden that grew more difficult after her husband’s death.
But two years ago, she started participating in a program sponsored by Hacienda CDC (Community Development Corporation), a Portland nonprofit that provides housing, education, and economic advancement help for Latinos. Hacienda CDC sponsored a microbusiness incubator that trained Asuncion and others on the ins-and-outs of entrepreneurship.
Now, Asuncion runs her own catering business and was able to buy a home rather than sharing a crowded apartment with other families as she used to.
Janet Hamada, the executive director of Next Door Inc., another Portland-area nonprofit that offers business training told Gosia Wozniacka of the Associated Press, “The biggest concern among immigrants is having stable work. They come to us and say, ‘I want to start a taco stand. How do I do that?'”
People like Asuncion and those who want to open taco stands, for instance, form a major part of the American economy. According to the Association for Enterprise Opportunity, microbusinesses with five or fewer workers employ 26 million Americans.
The nonprofit Adelante Mujeres in Forest Grove, Oregon, which offers a ten-week microbusiness class for Latinos, has seen a surge in interest from those who want to start their own businesses. Program director Eduardo Corona told Wozniacka,”Anti-immigration laws have led to people having a really hard time finding jobs, even on farms. Since they have to put food on the table, they’re starting to explore their abilities and thinking of opening a business.”
Interestingly, numerous studies have shown that immigrants are more likely than native-born Americans to start their own businesses. One report found that more than half of Silicon Valley tech start-ups were founded by immigrants.
And now with the help of these increasingly popular nonprofit business incubators for low-income people, we’re likely to see even more successful immigrant entrepreneurs in every sector, from tacos to technology.
MORE: This Novel Concept Works to Cook Up Successful Eateries

This Novel Concept Works to Cook Up Successful Eateries

Many gifted cooks, encouraged by the praise of enthusiastic and well-fed family members, dream of starting their own restaurants. But between purchasing food, renting a commercial space, paying fees for licensing, decorating the interior, paying the waitstaff, and the countless other expenses associated with opening an eatery, it’s an understatement to say that being a restauranteur is expensive.
And for low-income people, the costs associated with getting into the food business can be prohibitive. That’s why there are now about 150 kitchen incubators across the country,” according to Melissa Pandika of Ozy Magazine.
These kitchen incubators help low-income people share their culinary gifts and navigate the complex laws and paperwork required to sell food to the public. They work much like business incubators for entrepreneurs — providing workspace, support, and mentorship to participants.
One successful kitchen incubator is La Cocina, located in the Mission District of San Francisco. La Cocina’s executive director Caleb Zigas noticed that many immigrant and low-income women were running food businesses illegally, whipping up batches of burritos or empanadas at home and selling them on street corners. Why not help them form a legitimate business, he thought, “transitioning from informal to formal,” as the motto on La Cocina’s homepage states.
La Cocina screens prospective low-income restaurateurs to help those most likely to succeed on the basis of solid business plans, enthusiasm, and delicious food. Each year, La Cocina admits 12 new businesses  to begin a six-month training period, followed by a two-to-five-year period of support as the chefs get their businesses up and running. Since La Cocina started in 2005, 15 businesses have successfully launched, including Veronica Salazar’s El Hurache Loco, which employs 19 people and earned $1.2 million its first year.
Zigas told Pandika, “A program like ours really recalibrates the opportunity index. You can say to the people who live in your city, ‘It’s hard but anybody can do it.’ That’s often not true because so many opportunities require wealth and capital. We try to eliminate that.” So the next time you enjoy authentic street tacos, Ethiopian delicacies, or Vietnamese spring rolls, you might have a kitchen incubator to thank.
MORE: This Innovative Idea Brings Produce Directly to Low-Income Communities