New Door Ventures

How Donated Technology Helps At-Risk Youth Gain Job and Life Skills

New Door Ventures is a San Francisco nonprofit that provides paid internships, job skills training, and supportive services to at-risk youth through several different innovative programs.

The organization operates two youth-employing social enterprises: a t-shirt printing and embroidery business called Ashbury Images, and Pedal Revolution, a bicycle sales and repair shop. In addition to offering meaningful paid employment opportunities for New Door interns, these two social enterprises generated over half of New Door's revenue in 2013.

The organization also works with local businesses to provide jobs for youth through their Ally Job Partners program, where New Door pays the interns' wages, and the partner company provides the job opportunity.

New Door's innovative approach to youth employment was recognized in May 2014 when it received a $100,000 Bay Area Impact Challenge award from Google.

New Door Ventures relies on technology from TechSoup's Cisco donation program to do its good work.

Developing More Than Just Job Skills

Roughly half of the youth who come to New Door Ventures have dropped out of high school or have a history of homelessness or run-ins with the criminal justice system. That's why New Door Ventures offers a host of other services in addition to paid internships.

While working at one of New Door's social enterprises or at an Ally partner's business, youth also meet with New Door Ventures case managers who help them with challenges such as overcoming addiction or completing a GED. Participants also attend job and life skills workshops, where they learn about personal finance, nutrition, resume-building, interview techniques, and more.

The impact of this work is clear: In 2013, New Door Ventures provided 142 jobs for local youth, and 90 percent of New Door Ventures program graduates moved on to new jobs or higher education. Of those with criminal backgrounds, 100 percent did not re-offend.

Tim Knapp, the assistant general manager at Ashbury Images, employs 8 to 10 New Door Ventures interns at any given time, and he sees how their lives are changing every day. Ashbury Images is the first job experience for many New Door interns, and many of them initially struggle with basic responsibilities, such as showing up for work (on time or at all).

Over time, the interns develop increased discipline, accountability, and personal responsibility. Knapp says that part of that improvement comes from experiencing a real sense of accomplishment for the first time. That sense of accomplishment comes from completing a task well, getting positive feedback, and receiving compensation for their work. In fact, several former Ashbury Images interns acquired so many skills that they've since been hired on full-time.

Building a Secure Infrastructure

In 2013, Ashbury Images printed and shipped over 400,000 t-shirts, serving everyone from individuals who needed a few shirts for their neighborhood softball league to big clients like Safeway and Habitat for Humanity.

A successful social enterprise like Ashbury Images can't run without the right hardware and software. Knapp says Ashbury Images' business operations rely on donated TechSoup software and hardware, including networking and security appliances from Cisco.

Knapp particularly praised Cisco's reputation for security. Using Cisco hardware, the organization was able to set up a secure VPN connection. The VPN connection allows Ashbury Images staff to connect to internal systems, such as their order tracking system, while they're on the road making sales, visiting clients, or working remotely. As Knapp says, "It's just huge, being able to jump on and handle something when you're away, especially being able to do it seamlessly."

Transitioning to the Cloud

Jonathan Wang, the director of finance and administration at New Door Ventures, said the organization's external IT support firm had recommended that New Door replace its patchwork of on-premises office productivity tools with Office 365. However, New Door's network infrastructure wasn't originally robust enough to support using a cloud-based solution. The nonprofit needed better technology.

Rebuilding its infrastructure using Cisco products meant New Door Ventures was able to transition to using Office 365.

In addition to reducing support and maintenance needs, using Office 365 means that, for the first time, everyone at New Door is using the same systems for email, calendars, and other communications. In an organization with such varied programs, it was easy for staff members in different program areas to feel disconnected from other parts of the organization. Now that they're using the same internal systems, staff members are more connected and engaged because they all feel like part of the same organization, Wang reports.

A Level Playing Field

Wang, who has worked at a number of startups and other organizations, is thrilled that New Door Ventures has access to donated Cisco technology. Wang said New Door's IT support firm usually works with bigger, for-profit companies. The IT support person said he would normally recommend Cisco products to his clients but assumed that "a nonprofit couldn't afford that." But thanks to the Cisco donation program through TechSoup, New Door was able to acquire secure, top-of-the-line products from Cisco that would otherwise have been out of reach.

As Wang said of New Door's Cisco products: "It's great to be at a nonprofit that has the same IT infrastructure and technology that any venture capital firm in San Francisco would have. I don't think our users even understand the impact that it's had. Everything just works well!"

This story originally appeared on the TechSoupBlog. It was written by Ariel Gilbert-Knight, senior content manager, TechSoup.