Scott Donahue talks about business models of social work organizations Year Up and Year Up Professional Resources.

On Thursday, Oct. 8, Scott Donohue ’86, the National Site Director for the organization Year Up as well as the Board Director and Co-founder of Year Up Professional Resources (YUPRO), presented on the business models of the two organizations. The talk, called “Year Up’s Model: From Poverty to Professional Careers,” was presented by the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship (PCSE) and co-sponsored by the Wesleyan Alumni Network.

It focused not only on the business models of the two organizations and the challenges of adequately funding their operations, but also on the social impact the organizations have had in reducing the “opportunity divide.” Year Up is registered as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, while YUPRO is registered as a Public Benefit Corporation; the two work as complementary organizations.

Makaela Kingsley, Director of the PCSE, spoke about her motivation for bringing Donohue to the University to deliver his talk.

“This is part of the Patricelli Center Workshop Series, which brings primarily Wesleyan alumni to campus to talk about their work in the social sector as a way of showing students the many options of paths that we can all take to have social change in the world, and specifically to introduce concepts that students may not be getting from their classes here or their extracurriculars here about social enterprise, and how that works, about the difference between a for-profit business model, a non-profit business model, a hybrid model, or other variations,” Kingsley said. “It’s something that’s becoming increasingly important if you want to go into the social sector professionally.”

Year Up aims to match low-income and low-opportunity young people with companies looking for specific jobs, through training them in the necessary skills before they intern for that company. The training and internship portions last for six months each. In that time, students are given the tools and opportunities to substantially increase their job prospects and income levels.

“The reason that Year Up has been able to grow is that 85 percent of the people who graduate from the program get a job [that] makes $34,000 a year on average,” Donohue said. “When they come to our program and start, the average household income for a Year Up student is $9,500. That’s poverty to a professional career in a year.”

All potential students must be from 18 to 24 years old, and must have either a high school degree or their G.E.D. Year Up Professional Resources, a for-profit entity, then provides resources such as interview training, resume help, and job searching services to alumni of the Year Up program.

Donohue began his entrepreneurial career in the tech industry. His first role in Year Up was as a board chair, as he worked to build the program on the West Coast.

“I became the board chair of Year Up when we started it in San Francisco,” Donohue said. “I met a person, [and we were] having a conversation over dinner, and it turned to what he would most like to do in his life, and this guy described Year Up without even knowing it existed. And I called my friend…and said, this is who’s going to build Year Up on the West [Coast]. And he said, ‘If we’re going to do that, then you need to be the board chair.’”

Year Up is rated by Charity Navigators, an independent American nonprofit corporation that evaluates charities in the United States, as a four-star charity in terms of financial accountability and health, and alumni stories. Kingsley attested to the success of Year Up, stating that she would be greatly interested in hearing more about the social impact of the organization.

“These are…innovative social enterprises that are leveraging resources all in favor of social change, all with the hope of social impact,” Kingsley said. “In Year Up’s case, they’ve had tremendous documented social impact, so hearing from Scott about how they fund that and how they make that work, their newer model, is kind of the premise of the talk, but I know we’ll have a chance to hear about Year Up and YUPRO’s mission and their success to date, and I think those pieces will be of great interest to a lot of Wesleyan students.”

Kingsley further expressed interest in meeting Donohue, whom she said has worked with many alumni from the University.

“He’s a great Wes alum who has connected with and worked with many other Wesleyan alums,” Kingsley said. “If you Google ‘Year Up Wesleyan,’ you’ll see a number of bios of alumni who have been real leaders with that great organization or partnered with that organization, supported that organization. This is the first time I’ll be meeting Scott in person, because he’s based on the West Coast, but he’s definitely an active alum.”

Following Donohue’s description of Year Up, he began a discussion surrounding both Year Up and social enterprise in general.

Katya Sapozhnina ’16, founder and president of the Wesleyan Entrepreneurship Society, inquired about the support services offered by Year Up.

“What kind of counseling do you have in the program?” Sapozhnina asked. “[Because] feeling overwhelmed, having no control, not knowing what’s next, that’s not being irresponsible. It’s because you need help.”

Donohue replied, stating that Sapozhnina’s question is valid and explaining the support systems built into the program.

“In all of our sites, we have MSWs, a student services group, who are very present, involved, and expert in supporting students,” he said. “We try to resolve challenges that we believe would prevent someone from being successful in Year Up before they enter the program—not fully resolve them, but have a plan for every person who walks through our door.”

Donohue re-emphasized the importance of the work that he does and that social enterprise can accomplish, stating one of his main goals.

“The work that I do is not about the day-to-day placing people in jobs,” he said. “The work that I do is absolutely about social and economic justice, and it’s about [how] five years from now, the person who’s sitting here is not going to look or sound like me. It’s going to be a young person who went through our program a decade ago, and is now in a decision-making position to come into Wesleyan and talk to the Career Center and say, ‘I want to hire people from this school.’ And it will be one of our graduates.”

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