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Leveraging Social Enterprise to Achieve Transformational Change

By John Kern

One million students drop out of school every year. High school dropouts are eight times more likely to be incarcerated, and will earn one million dollars less over the course of their lifetime compared to those with a high school degree. In the coming decade, more than 12 million students are expected to drop out of school, costing the country three trillion dollars.

While these statistics are troubling, policy makers, academics, and organizations like City Year agree that the problem is solvable.

Over its first two decades, City Year helped catapult community service to the national stage, deploying its corps to a variety of service projects in multiple fields—including education—and inspiring the founding of AmeriCorps. In the mid-2000s, after recognizing that its core asset (corps members) was exactly what schools needed to implement proven education reforms and that there was an increasing demand for this resource from school districts, City Year began to shift toward a focus on serving in schools.

As City Year’s leadership charted its strategy in the education space, they identified a specific problem to target: the nation’s dropout crisis.  Incorporating academic research and internal metrics, City Year mapped out a Long-Term Impact strategy pointed towards a bold goal: “By 2023, at least 80% of students in schools where City Year serves will reach the 10th grade on time and on track each year. City Year will reach 50% of off-track students in the cities that account for 2/3 of the nation’s urban dropouts.”

Following the introduction of this bold goal, City Year engaged Community Wealth Partners to develop a refined strategy for Care Force, a longstanding social enterprise within City Year that designs and manages service events for corporate partners. Under City Year’s general community service umbrella, Care Force became a market leader in corporate volunteer programs, generating revenue and helping to build critical corporate partnerships.

As City Year shifted towards a focus on tackling the nation’s dropout crisis, the organization found that its Care Force programming did not always align with City Year’s new orientation. Community Wealth Partners convened a diverse, cross-functional team comprised of City Year’s leadership to identify opportunities for Care Force to more strongly contribute to City Year’s Long-Term Impact goal without impeding its ability to bring in new revenue and partnerships.

We began by conducting in-depth interviews across departments and levels within City Year, developing a deep understanding of Care Force’s current operating environment, organizational strengths and constraints, and barriers and opportunities related to aligning Care Force with City Year’s new organizational goals.

Based on our synthesis of these interviews, we facilitated tough conversations with the City Year team to elevate and explore areas both where City Year’s leaders aligned on a future vision for Care Force and where they held divergent opinions.  And we continued to examine these areas through secondary research on market trends in corporate volunteerism and mission-focused corporate partnerships, investigation of specific competitors, and over a dozen interviews with individuals representing the target market for Care Force’s services.

Through our internal and external research, we identified a number of opportunities to shift the Care Force strategy into stronger alignment with City Year’s Long-Term Impact goal while also matching the needs and interests of potential customers.  We evaluated each opportunity by asking critical questions aimed at finding the intersection of the organization’s strengths and market conditions:

  • Fit with Goal: How closely does the opportunity align with the Long-Term Impact goal?
  • Fit with Existing Assets/Resources: What are the existing assets and resources that can be utilized?
  • Fit with Skills/Expertise: How closely does the opportunity leverage existing capabilities and expertise?
  • Market Outlook: How favorable are the trends that are affecting the marketplace?
  • Competitive Advantage: How well is Care Force/City Year positioned to take advantage of the market opportunity?

As a result of our analysis and guidance around these questions, City Year developed a new strategy for Care Force that focused on cultivating holistic corporate partnerships to leverage the private sector’s human and financial resources to improve outcomes within the country’s most vulnerable schools. The Community Wealth Partners team also assisted City Year in developing a detailed Action Plan – including clear priorities and milestones – and Decision Matrix to help the City Year team consistently assess new partnership opportunities and guide implementation of the new Care Force strategy.

By setting a bold goal and refreshing its strategies to align with that goal, City Year continues to make strides towards achieving transformational change for thousands of students nationwide. Check back for updates as City Year implements its new strategy and makes progress on solving the dropout crisis in America.

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John Kern

About John Kern

As Vice President, John Kern engages in strategic partnerships with leadership teams, provides client engagement oversight and supports the overall growth and development of the firm. John has worked extensively in education, health and poverty-related issues across multiple sectors. He is a skilled facilitator with over 10 years of experience advising senior nonprofit, foundation, and government executives on organizational strategy, program design and evaluation, governance, and organizational capacity. See John's full bio.

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