One-line solution summary:
Connecting college to work by bridging the social capital gap for first-generation college students
Pitch your solution.
Every year, thousands of first-generation college students of color earn degrees, while remaining underemployed relative to similarly credentialed peers. While a college degree is a necessary ingredient in securing a great first job, research indicates college completion alone is insufficient to close wage gaps. Basta exists to close those gaps, straddling between first-generation college students on one hand, and blue-chip employers on the other. Our model relies on building social capital, which has lifelong effects on wealth and opportunity. In the past four years, we’ve served 500 young people in a “direct service model,” resulting in career placement rates exceeding 80%. Our proposed solution is to expand “Powered by Basta,” our partnership model, allowing us to work with other direct service providers to serve the students in their programs. If we scale this solution, we could help close generational wealth and wage gaps for thousands more young people every year.
Film your elevator pitch.
What specific problem are you solving?
Research from the Center for Economic and Policy Research indicates that over 60% of Black and Latinx recent college graduates are un- or under-employed, while wage analyses from Brookings show that low-income college graduates experience a smaller “wage bump” than peers from privileged upbringings. Longitudinal data from the National Center of Education Statistics demonstrates that wage gaps exist for at least ten years after graduation, while controlling for other demographic features still shows a lifetime wage depression. This problem affects close to 1.5 million first-generation college students every year, half of whom come from low-income backgrounds. While many organizations treat the problem as a “skills” gap, the data tell a different story: first-generation college students of color are indistinguishable from their privileged peers when it comes to skill. The major difference is social capital. Analyzing public data about recruitment demonstrates that top firms hire from a small number of selective universities where first-generation students of color are systematically underrepresented. Employers also have hiring practices that specifically select for “elite attributes” that have nothing to do with skill and potential, and everything to do with hirees’ parents’ socioeconomic status. These trends are exacerbated by network effects out of students’ control.
What is your solution?
Basta’s solution is designed to codify social capital for first-generation college students with the ultimate goal of driving social mobility. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, over two-thirds of students whose parents attended college relied on family connections to find their first jobs. Parents who graduated from college also help students build resumes, while reinforcing other elite markers from early childhood onward, meaning that more privileged students essentially get this benefit just from being born into their own families. We replicate this effect through isolating and codifying the most significant social capital factors leading to greater employment opportunities. In addition, after years of working with hundreds of students, we have thousands of data points about employer hiring behavior, allowing us to predict student-job matches with unprecedented precision. From that real data on student and employer behavior, we have created a nationally unique “Career Readiness Diagnostic” tool, which assesses a young person’s progress towards finding a great first job. Our solution couples that Diagnostic data with training and support for not just students, but also for the professionals who work at our partner organizations, creating a suite of supports that simulates the effect of acquiring social capital through unearned privilege.
Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?
Our solution serves first-generation college students of color, whose professional lives are often dictated by circumstances beyond their control. These students often come from low-income backgrounds, with limited access to the social capital and networks that can drive early career employment. While the needs of this population are complex and varied, our solution solves for one major problem - finding a great first job - which has myriad downstream effects. A great first job doesn’t just create short-term economic gains, but also offers lifelong wealth growth, improvements in health outcomes through the provision of medical insurance, and measurable gains on other indicators of civic participation. The young people we serve end up participating in the refinement and design of our model, through serving as volunteers and resume coaches for future cohorts of young people. Moreover, the young people we serve are enjoying success in their jobs and careers, meaning that they are not just informing the Basta model, but they are also changing the culture of the institutions which hire our students. We are touching on multiple aspects of the “Reimagining Pathways” challenge, including increasing access to opportunities for people entering the workforce, and matching industry needs with diverse job seekers.
Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?Match current and future employer and industry needs with education providers, workforce development programs, and diverse job seekers
Explain how the problem, your solution, and your solution’s target population relate to the Reimagining Pathways to Employment in the US Challenge and your selected dimension.
Basta’s solution addresses at least two dimensions of the Challenge. First, we address “Increasing access to high-quality, affordable learning, skill-building, and training opportunities for those entering the workforce, transitioning between jobs, or facing unemployment.” The “Powered by Basta” program allows us to scale our services beyond direct service to serve thousands of new entrants to the workforce, using a high-quality, research-validated model. Because our revenue model relies on partnerships with employers and direct service organizations, we offer our programs free of charge to the young people who participate. Employer partners see the benefits of having access to a diverse pool of entry-level talent, while our nonprofit partners see us as indispensable in achieving their career placement and readiness objectives.
We also address the “Match current and future employer and industry needs with education providers, workforce development programs, and diverse job seekers” dimension. Basta is attentive to both the “supply” and “demand” sides of finding great employment for first-generation college students. Through our relationships with employers, we maintain data on trends in entry level employment in our relevant markets. The pool of talent we represent - first-generation college students of color - is definitionally diverse
In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?New York, NY, USA
What is your solution’s stage of development?Growth: An organization with an established product, service, or business model rolled out in one or, ideally, several communities, which is poised for further growth
Who is the team lead for your solution?
Sheila Sarem (CEO)
How many people work on your solution team?
Full time staff: 12
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: What is your approach to building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization?
As an organization whose mission is breaking down barriers erected by biased hiring practices, we believe in practicing what we preach. We've infused recommendations to our employers partners into our own hiring practices and approach to culture-building. Our staff is majority non-white and over half the staff either identify as first-generation college students or first-generation American. Basta does not place a premium on top tier colleges or prestige of previous employer. Instead we prioritize gaining a deep understanding of the potential staff person's connection to the mission and skills for the job. We also maintain a living 'culture guide' to ensure we continue to evolve and remain inclusive as we grow the team. We recognize that DEI happens along a continuum and we must consistently examine and refine recruitment, selection, retention and promotion practices while keeping a pulse on the culture to ensure we continually strive for a more equitable work environment.
Which of the following categories best describes your solution?A new technology
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
Two primary factors make our solution innovative: 1) our focus on career placement as our primary measure of success, and 2) our emphasis on building social capital as the primary mechanism for achieving longitudinal career and life outcomes. We focus on career placement, because that outcome is both clear-cut and easy to understand, even though it is inherently harder to accomplish than other interim metrics. Many of our competitors use more intermediary metrics to assess the success of their solutions, like user satisfaction with their programs and skill acquisition among participants. Braven, for example, uses the successful completion of their career readiness coursework as a core measure of success. Our focus on social capital also is unique. We do not train young people in industry-specific skills, nor do we try to supplement “educational gaps” perpetuated by K-12 and higher education. Our presumption, rooted in data, is that the social capital gaps are far more potent in creating obstacles to opportunity. The most effective way to ensure that first-generation students of color have any chance at closing wealth gaps during their lifetimes is through finding first jobs with obvious career ladder opportunities; we augment their abilities and networks to accelerate this process. Organizations that focus on upskilling (like Co-op) or preparation for specific industries (like Year Up) are solving short term labor market asynchronies, while we are positioning young people for lifelong career success.
Describe the core technology, if applicable, that powers your solution.
The core technology that powers our solution is Basta’s comprehensive, data-driven mastery of both the supply side (first-generation college students) and the demand side (employers with entry-level jobs) of the problem we seek to solve. In our first four years of existence, we helped hundreds of young people find blue-chip jobs, and we collected thousands of data points on the trials, tribulations, successes, and failures of their job searches. We simultaneously collect data on both young people from our partner organizations and students who apply to our programs but don’t participate. As a result, our database and accompanying career placement algorithms - built on an augmented version of the AirTable platform - contain the most comprehensive source of information about entry-level employment in the markets where we work. We can predict which students are likely to get jobs fastest, and where, based on comparing their readiness to historical data. Last year, we engaged data scientists to build a validated tool - the “Basta Career Readiness Diagnostic” - that compresses years of data collection into a 20-minute assessment, which is optimized for mobile platforms. We have plans to administer the assessment to 25,000 young people in the next few years; the more data we have, the smarter the tool becomes. The data and algorithms underlying our job placement work, coupled with this streamlined mobile-friendly diagnostic, are the core technologies undergirding our ability to successfully drive employment for historically marginalized young people.
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
Select the key characteristics of your target population.
What percent of the people you served in 2019 were between the age of 15 and 30?
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
Powered By Basta is our engine for growth and scale. We are going against the grain of typical nonprofits by focusing on technology and collaboration. While many nonprofits use brick and mortar expansion as their vehicle for growth, Basta will leverage a ever-deepening expertise in career readiness to partner with nonprofits, higher-ed and employers in different geographies and reach exponentially more students while promoting innovative hiring practices nationwide We piloted this effort in FY 21 and within 5 months, we’ve already earned over $300k in revenue - specifically from Powered By Basta. By FY 26, expect to serve more than 25,000 students across the country through our unique Career Readiness Assessment. That level of data will surface robust insights on career readiness, allowing us to identify bright spots across the country related to how states, cities, and higher-ed institutions are equipping various demographics to successfully secure career pathway employment. At the organizational level, our partners will have the granularity of data to make smarter decisions on how to invest their time and money to support their students and at the individual user level, we will provide students with a tailored assessment and recommendations so career readiness is no longer a blackbox. This field is nascent - no other organization has mapped the career readiness journey, created a framework and accompanying technology that has the potential to ensure we are all speaking the same language as we aim to build workforce solutions that will transform the lives of first-generation students.
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?
The primary limiting factor to our growth and success is our ability to attract financial resources. We have built a diversified resource generation model that relies on multiple sources of revenue, including earned income from performance-based contracts with partners. Those revenue streams supplement our more traditional sources of nonprofit fundraising, like foundation grants and donations from individuals, but we could still reach many more young people if we had more resources. Part of the challenge related to growth is that we’re not selling a “quick fix” solution, but rather we are talking about changing longitudinal life outcomes for historically marginalized young people. Through many years of working in this and adjacent fields, we have observed a significant cultural aversion to embracing the complexity of work related to socioeconomic inequality, and an affinity for overly simplistic approaches. A final barrier that exists is the looming uncertainty in the domestic and global economies, related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our model depends on consistent hiring for entry-level positions in the markets where we work. We collected labor market data throughout 2020, and while entry-level hiring nearly stopped for several months in the spring and early summer, the pace of hiring quickened dramatically in Q3. We can be successful in a weak economy, but our job placement efforts cannot overcome complete economic collapse.
How do you plan to overcome these barriers?
We outlined three limiting factors - a diversified revenue strategy, the complexity of the problem we are solving and an uncertain labor market. Over the next five years, our goal is to increase revenue as part of overall budget. One lever we haven't pulled is strong brand development. To-date, our customer acquisition has been driven by word-of-mouth and referrals. Across the next five years, we aim to position ourselves as a trusted brand with name recognition that goes far beyond our second-degree connections. We want Basta to by synonymous with career readiness across potential employers, higher-ed, and youth-serving nonprofits. The problem of college-to-work is complex with no silver bullet solution. It requires multiple systems to change how they currently operate. We would actively partner with experts in this space who are looked at as leaders in workforce (New Profit, MFF and Solve) with the hope of educating the broader ‘workforce solutions’ ecosystem on the complexity of this challenge and showing how our solution fits into the overall framework of high-quality/proven organizations in our space. Finally, Basta’s model is designed on being a trusted talent pipeline to the employers we serve. To-date, nearly all of our employers have renewed their partnerships with Basta and over 90% of our alumni are retained after one year on the job. We will maintain a laser focus on matching employers with the right talent so that despite economic ups and downs, Basta will be a trusted and consistent talent pipeline for our network of employers.