“Solving problems is one thing we have in common. That’s why you became an entrepreneur. United Way works to create conditions to help people live measurably better lives. While you work to secure financial capital to address an issue, we target our region’s human capital, our children and adults who have the potential to be productive, contributing members of society.”
These were more or less my words at a recent joint event with United Way leaders, GenNexters, and business leaders who occupy space in T-REX. T-REX is a co-working space and technology incubator in downtown St. Louis that offers a clean slate where ideas are conceived and brought to fruition. I love being in the T-REX environment full of no-limit leaders. This space brims with the sense of possibility, a blank canvas on which to paint the future we seek.
In 2006, I was sitting in my then North St. Louis City home. It was December 16, just four days before my 31st birthday and only a handful of days before I would start a new job at United Way. I was in a season of transition and reflection. One of my favorite things is to watch or read the news, and 60 Minutes is a favorite. This particular Sunday 60 Minutes had a segment about foster care called, “Lost and Found.” Of course, I tuned in even more.
Sitting back in my beige, faux-leather recliner, I heard the most amazing thing from anchor Lesley Stahl. A nonprofit organization was using technology to help foster kids find family members. It is not uncommon for children to be removed from birth families never to know their lineage. It had been a decade since I aged out of the foster care system, but you never lose the urge to know from whom and where you come. I barely knew my mother, who died at the age of 28, nor my father. Could this technology help me, or was I dreaming? As a kid in foster care, it was not uncommon to meditate on fantasies, imagining things especially impossible or improbable.
Perhaps I will share what I decided to do in a future blog. But it was at that moment that I began to think differently about technology and its promise to help us solve some of our toughest issues. I believe that human service leaders don’t get the credit that they deserve for adapting newer technology and processes to solve old issues, but I know we can do more by partnering with innovators and entrepreneurs like at T-REX. In order for us to change the trajectory of a generation, we have to think about how technology will help us meet needs and solve problems within the social service sector.