A Stone of Hope: the American Dream Reimagined

Jim St. Germain, author of A Stone of Hope (Harper Collins, July 2017), reveals his childhood journey from impoverished Haiti to impoverished Crown Heights, Brooklyn and his quest to find the American Dream for Black America. A powerful story told in the first person, the author details how a small group of social workers invested in his education and changed the course of his life for the better.

A New Way: Rewriting the Story for Former Offenders

Women are the fastest growing incarcerated population in the U.S. While African-American women represent 14% of the general population, they are incarcerated at a rate of 3 times that amount. The two standards of law in America are well-documented in an amazing book by Susan Burton, Becoming Ms. Burton. The author documents her path out of poverty into prison by way of drug abuse and finally to recovery.  She is the founder of the reentry program, A New Way of Life and beacon of hope for millions of justice-involved women of color.

Jimmy Chen: From Stanford To SNAP

It is not every day that a Silicon Valley technopreneur with an ivy league pedigree and a cool job at Facebook chucks it all to study tech solutions for the urban poor. But that would be the true story of the remarkable Jimmy Chen, founder of Propel, a mobile software company that focuses on creating products that serve Americans earning under $24,000 year.  Before Facebook, Jimmy worked for two years at LinkedIn as a product manager and before that at Yahoo. His classic tech background, dynamism, and boyish good looks would have guaranteed him a lucrative career trajectory in the Bay Area. Yet in the Spring of 2014, he left the West Coast to join Significance Labs in Brooklyn, a venture-backed accelerator designed to help civic-minded entrepreneurs innovate tech solutions for challenging social problems.

His original partner, not unsurprisingly, dropped out fairly quickly along the way. Jimmy and Propel faced huge obstacles over these past two years. We admire Jimmy for sticking with it and figuring out how to make it work. Jimmy has amassed a team of entrepreneurs who work with him in product design. Propel is funded in part by Robin Hood, JP Morgan Chase, and Good Company Ventures and is rolling out product number two, FreshEBT, an app that allows the user to access his/her SNAP balance in real-time.

Editor’s Note: I first met Jimmy as a guest on my web show “ThatMattersLive” back in October, 2014.  Check it out. xo Monika



Venture Capital

Robin Hood To the Rescue!

Chances are if you live or work in New York City, you are familiar with the Robin Hood Foundation. The organization is truly one of a kind. Founded by hedge fund gazillionaire, Paul Tudor Jones II, long before it was fashionable to give back in a big way, Robin Hood lives up to its mission of alleviating poverty in New York’s five boroughs. But unlike the man in tights from Nottinghood, the foundation doesn’t steal from “the rich to give to the poor.” It solicits the wealthiest New Yorkers from broadcasting, entertainment, the arts, and finance. 100% of donations are invested in the programs. The board picks up the tab for the operating expenses. Beyond that, Jones was one of the originators behind the current trend of applying business principles to nonprofit initiatives – a model picked up and expanded into social entrepreneurship. How do you make a difference, a real difference, to the root causes of poverty and not just toss good money after bad? That is the challenge for Robin Hood programs.

The foundation uses a “metrics-based approach, called relentless monetization, to ensure that the money [it] receives and grants is used most effectively,” according to a book co-authored by Chief Program Officer, Michael M. Weinstein. Its unique approach has influenced a large swath of entrepreneurial philanthropic giving.

At talkIMPACT, we think that Robin Hood Foundation is amazingly cool and effective. We love their mission especially since it echoes our own. We do it through public awareness and media support. RH does it through big bucks investments in working models. Wish we could clone it. In the meantime, here are a few ways that you can support this awesome platform.


If you would like to get a firsthand look at what Robin Hood does in the flesh, check out their monthly meetups.


Creating Sustainable Jobs by Bicycle


Creating eco-friendly jobs for vulnerable residents in Philadelphia.

Why can’t we do this in New York?

The Wash Cycle Laundry Story

“Wash Cycle Laundry is a triple-bottom-line company serving the mission critical needs of the individuals, businesses, and institutions in our cities. We’re creating a launching pad back into the workforce for vulnerable adults and proving that bikes are commercially-scalable alternatives to trucks for intra-metropolitan freight. Gabriel Mandujano, Founder and President, created Wash Cycle Laundry to merge his experience and passions with job creation, economic development, and sustainable transport. The company began in a single West Philly laundromat with one bike and trailer in Fall, 2010.”

Impact Summary

        • Over 4 million lbs of cargo hauled by bicycle across Philadelphia and Washington DC since we started pedaling.
        • ~50 jobs created, with over half filled by driven adults re-entering the workforce after overcoming a period of incarceration, drug addiction, homelessness, or welfare dependence.
        • Over 1 million gallons of water saved with our high-efficiency machines, not to mention all the chemicals diverted based on our use of EPA-certified, all-natural detergents.

Banking Solutions for the Unbanked

Bee was founded in June of 2015 by Vinay Patel and Max and Alex Grasner.  In pioneering an innovative capital-light model using pop-up kiosks and street teams to sign up customers in-person, Bee is able to offer top quality financial services at a significantly lower cost than traditional brick-and-mortar bank branches. Bee is specifically targeting the lack of quality services for low-and moderate-income underserved people. The product is intended to function as an alternative to checking accounts, structured as a prepaid card paired with a mobile app. Bee partners with Community Federal Savings Bank to offer alternatives to checking and savings accounts to its customers in New York and California.” From Barefoot Innovation

States Bee: “Everyone needs to bank (and they hate overdraft fees, check cashers, and payday lenders). If you can build cheap, then you can serve a lot of people. So we’re going after the least profitable, hardest to serve customer segments. And our product looks “worse” at a distance — especially when you have customers who still expect to bring their checks to a teller every week. But new entrants get to build their service from scratch. And if you build cost discipline at the bottom of the market, then when it comes time to add features that appeal upmarket, you can win share fast. (Like the Japanese car manufacturers did in the US).”

#fintech #finhealth #innovation