There’s a popular saying that investors have to kiss a lot of frogs before choosing the right company to take a bet on. We thought that the past year at Insight Impact, our company-wide volunteer program, would involve a lot of frog-smooching as we tried out a variety of new volunteer opportunities.
However, after a year of working with various organizations, there haven’t been too many frogs. Instead, there were a lot of princely non-profits engaging in constructive community impact across New York City. Each program offered Insight volunteers the opportunity to give back in a meaningful way and in a different context from our daily New Yorker lives.
Below we highlight three of the six programs we worked with this year.
Behind Bars with Defy Ventures
At Insight, we believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to be successful. In the spirit of this mission, we partnered with Defy Ventures, an entrepreneurship, employment and character development training program for incarcerated men, women and youth. After hosting a “Lunch & Learn” with Jason Wang, one of Defy’s executives and a former inmate himself, we planned a prison visit for Insight volunteers to spend the day at Rikers Island Prison Complex or Wallkill Prison to mentor a group of participants (aka Entrepreneurs-in-Training) in the Defy program.
Once we were through security at the prison, minus our cell phones and devices, we conducted one-on-one business coaching sessions with each EIT: we reviewed resumes, discussed how to present a personal statement and led brainstorming sessions to find business ideas.
The setting was jarring, but as we got to know the EITs better, we found ourselves connecting with them on a personal level. We helped them strategize for their future, and as part of the program, accept responsibility for their actions and their choices upon release. By the end of the day, we knew not only about their business ambitions, but also about their kids, their favorite music, and what they were most looking forward to upon release.
At the end of Defy’s two-year program, each EIT has the opportunity to win $15,000 to start their business. With a recidivism rate of less than 5% for graduating EITs, versus a nationwide average of 76%, Defy Ventures enables EITs to defy the odds and “transforms hustle” into legal businesses.
In the Kitchen with City Harvest
The number of food insecure individuals in NYC is staggering: 2.7 million men, women and children lack the income needed to cover basic necessities like food, housing, transportation and childcare. City Harvest is a nonprofit dedicated to ending hunger in communities in NYC through food rescue, distribution and education.
During Thanksgiving week, Insight volunteers went to City Harvest’s food rescue facility in Long Island City to help box and distribute packages of healthy food for struggling New Yorkers.
As investors of businesses that have well-organized processes (particularly our food delivery apps like DeliveryHero, HelloFresh and Freshly), we were impressed with the efficiency of City Harvest’s assembly line. Some of us sorted cans, others assembled boxes, placing them on conveyor belts, and a few lucky people got to put acorn squashes into bags (also code for “the easiest job on the assembly line).
By the end of the day, we had packaged over 600 boxes for hundreds of local families’ Thanksgiving meal. We were reminded that we have a lot to be thankful for.
Teaching Teenagers with SuitUp
SuitUp works with schools and businesses in NYC to develop and implement mock business competitions for middle/high school students from low-income communities. Through early exposure to entrepreneurship, SuitUp shows teenagers what they can aspire to, providing them with new opportunities and equipping them with business skills as a foundation for career success.
Insight hosted a SuitUp event with 30 volunteers and 20 students aged 10-14. The objective of the day was to partner with and coach teams in a competition to develop the best business plan for a new Nike product line. We spent the day brainstorming product ideas, formulating business plans, sketching prototypes and creating marketing materials. We were awed by the creativity and business acumen of the students and the quality of the proposals emerging from a day’s work.
After our new Nike product proposals were complete, all the teams watched the students pitch their businesses to a panel of Insight sharks (Insight’s Chief of Compliance, Eric, was Mr. Wonderful). The panel provided feedback and voted on the top business pitch – a sneaker that turns into a heeled work shoe for women. As the winners were announced, there were shrieks of excitement and tears of joy – not just from the student participants; the Insight mentors were equally excited that their coaching produced a winning concept.
Insight Impact is a way to engage Insight in activities beyond our four walls. We invest in companies that create jobs and produce opportunity across the globe. With Insight Impact we are doing something for the community on our doorstep.