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The Texas University That Charges Low-Income Students Precisely Zero

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 06/05/2022 - 6:00pm in

This story was originally published by Washington Monthly. It is part of the SoJo Exchange from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous reporting about responses to social problems.

In a world of skyrocketing college tuition and spiraling student debt, the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) is resolutely affordable.

Located in Edinburg, Texas, an hour from the U.S.-Mexico border, UTRGV is a new school formed in 2013 from a merger of new campuses and legacy institutions. It enrolls a student body that is more than 90 percent Hispanic and heavily first-generation. The school’s mascot is the workingman Vaquero, Spanish for “cowboy” or “cattle driver,” who dons full ranching attire, including gloves, scarf and boots. Designed by students, the mascot’s costume is full of subtle messaging, like blue-stitching on the vaquero’s boots to symbolize the Rio Grande river joining Mexico and the U.S.

More than 60 percent of students at UTRGV have incomes low enough to qualify for Pell grants. Yet, says President Guy Bailey, “Over half of our students who are undergraduates don’t pay any tuition or fees. Most of our students who qualify for Pell grants pay nothing.”

In addition to Pell, the state-funded TEXAS grant provides up to $5,195 per semester to in-state students attending Texas public universities. UTRGV closes the gap with its own Tuition Advantage program, which covers remaining tuition and fees for families with incomes up to $100,000 (a cap set to rise this year and one met by few families in this poor region). The school guarantees tuition levels for four years, so there’s no “surprise billing.” In 2019-20, the average net cost to attend was $917 — less than 12 percent of the $7,907 price tag for flagship UT-Austin.

“With first-generation low-income students, you have to start with finance,” says Bailey, who was himself a first-generation student. “A lot of kids don’t graduate because they just run out of money.”


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The press tends to focus on the failures of higher education, including especially the low graduation rates, poor outcomes and massive debts at schools with large numbers of low-income enrollees. Yet hundreds of post-secondary schools — like UTRGV — are doing right by their students, providing a quality education at a reasonable price. Institutions like these, the majority of which are regional public colleges and minority-serving institutions, are also addressing income inequality by creating economic opportunity, as a new report from the think tank Third Way concludes.

According to the Washington, D.C.-based think tank, UTRGV ranks among the nation’s top five schools for promoting economic mobility. The four others are all in California and Texas, with sizable Hispanic enrollments:  California State University-Los AngelesCalifornia State University-Dominguez HillsTexas A&M and California State University-Bakersfield. (All of these schools also rank highly in Washington Monthly’s College Guide, which eschews prestige-based metrics in favor of economic mobility and national service.)

Third Way’s report, authored by Senior Fellow Michael Itzkowitz, ranked the nation’s four-year colleges based on the proportion of students receiving Pell grants, the cost of attendance and students’ expected earnings after graduation. What emerged was a list of institutions that both enrolled high numbers of low- and moderate-income students and provided them a good return on their investment. What might be surprising, says Itkowitz, is how poorly some of the nation’s best-known colleges perform on this measure. Harvard, for instance, ranks 847, while Stanford ranks 548. Many state flagships also rank poorly; the University of Wisconsin-Madison, for example, is 701st for economic mobility, while the University of Michigan is at 535. (UT-Austin ranks 347.)

“While the fortunate few who get into these institutions are very, very likely to receive a strong economic return, there’s just such a limited number of low- and moderate-income students who attend these institutions in the first place,” says Itzkowitz. At Harvard, for instance, just 11.6 percent of undergraduate students are Pell recipients, as are only 16.7 percent of students at Stanford.

The Cal State schools atop Third Way’s rankings, on the other hand, serve majorities and super-majorities of Pell students. In fact, says Itzkowitz, the top ten schools in his analysis enrolled more than 95,000 Pell students in 2019-20 — more than six times the total enrolled by the nation’s most rejective (i.e., “selective”) institutions. “While it’s common to see your private elite Ivy-League schools mentioned in news stories, it’s other schools that are actually delivering on the promise [of economic mobility] for exponentially more students,” says Itzkowitz.

Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-serving institutions also dominate Third Way’s rankings, which Itzkowitz attributes to these schools enrolling large numbers of low-income students and, in some states, benefiting from generous state funding.

North Carolina’s Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) — the top-ranked HBCU in Itzkowitz’s analysis — is one of three schools designated under the state’s tuition subsidy program, NC Promise. In-state students attending NC Promise colleges pay just $500 in tuition per semester, while out-of-state students pay $2,500. In contrast, in-state tuition at the flagship UNC-Chapel Hill runs $7,019 and $34,882 for out-of-state tuition.

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Affordability is, however, only part of the equation. The top-ranked schools in the Third Way report also excel in helping their graduates land well-paying jobs, which university leaders attribute to their schools’ strong ties to their communities and a deep understanding of their students’ needs. UTRGV President Guy Bailey, for instance, says his students receive extensive academic advising services (often from former first-generation students) and access to work opportunities on campus. (“If you can work on campus rather than going to McDonald’s or Walmart or something like that, we can work with you better to ensure that you can get your classes and work done,” Bailey says.) As one result, more than 80 percent of first-year students return for their second year, putting UTRGV near the top in the University of Texas system for student retention.

ECSU, meanwhile, works with local, regional and national employers, so students have a pipeline into jobs the minute they graduate. For example, the school’s aviation science program, which is unique in the state, entered a partnership with United Airlines in 2020 that has already placed multiple graduates. “They’re not just looking for my flight students,” Chancellor Karrie Dixon told New America Foundation’s Kevin Carey at an event last October. “They’re looking for students in accounting and finance and business. … They’re looking at the entire operation at United Airlines and having our students have opportunities for employment.”

The presence of schools like UTRGV and ECSU is great news for higher education and lower-income students. “There are a lot of institutions that aren’t featured in mainstream media that are serving students extremely well,” says Third Way’s Itzkowitz.

On the other hand, the continued dominance of a handful of exclusionary schools in popular college rankings and in Washington policymaking is worrisome. Affordable, high-quality schools might not continue to get the resources they need to sustain their work. Students enamored of brand-name schools might overlook the excellent but unsung institutions in their own backyards, and other institutions might miss valuable lessons about how to improve their practices. Ideologically driven battles over the admissions criteria and campus culture of elite schools obscure the bigger issues the majority of America’s students need to get ahead. Far too many schools that serve low-income and first-generation students aren’t like UTRGV or ECSU. At nearly a third of the nation’s colleges, more than half of students end up earning less than a high school graduate, according to a new report from the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce.

But the tide could be turning. In addition to alternative rankings like the ones produced by Washington Monthly and Third Way, newly announced Carnegie Classifications for higher education institutions will also reflect schools’ performance on social and economic mobility. Measuring what matters could ultimately improve everyone’s game and bring about badly needed reform.

“American higher education needs to restructure itself, understanding that its past is not going to be its future,” says UTRGV President Guy Bailey. “We have to rethink what we do, and I think you start with students and what they need.”

The post The Texas University That Charges Low-Income Students Precisely Zero appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

‘Internships’ for Adults Are Helping Women Rejoin the Workforce

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 25/04/2022 - 6:00pm in


Economy, Women, work

After a 10-year career break to take care of her two young daughters, Rachael Grieve recalls jumping back into the job market in 2019 and finding nothing but despair. The yawning gap in her resumé left her with few opportunities that suited her ideal schedule and experience. After a failed interview for an office manager position, she was left despondent. “I went home and burst into tears, thinking, that’s it, I’m done,” says Grieve, who is based in London. “It just felt like all these doors were closed.”

“I still remember that desperation and fear, especially after interviews that destroy your confidence like that, which was humiliating at the same time. You find yourself stuck as to where to go.”

Soon after that, a chance conversation with a friend who still worked at her previous employer, financial services group Nomura, led to Grieve returning, and ultimately, setting up the company’s Returners Program in 2019. Open to people who’ve taken a career break of 18 months or more, the program offers 12 weeks of induction, training and coaching, after which time candidates can apply for positions at the company. Nine out of the ten returners who have gone through the program are now working there full-time.

The initiative forms part of Nomura’s plans to increase female representation in a sector that is notorious for being male dominated. A statement on its website says it has reached 31 percent female employees against a target of 33 percent, with 14 percent of those working at a senior level, compared with a goal of 19 percent. 

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Return programs like Nomura’s could also help counteract the disproportionate withdrawal of women from the workforce during the pandemic, as women generally became the default parent during school and daycare closures. As of February 2021, women leaving their jobs accounted for the majority of the decrease in U.S. labor force participation. Fewer women in work also worsens the gender pay gap, which stands at around 15 percent in the U.S. The Harvard Business Review has described return programs, which it dubs “returnships,” as one of the best ways to get women back into the workforce.

Tackling the gender equality issue isn’t easy, admits Grieve, who’s now Nomura’s global head of learning and development for technology. That’s why she feels strongly about leading this program so it becomes a standard part of Nomura’s diversity, equality and inclusion strategy.

“Our chief information officer from day one was 100 percent supportive,” Grieve says. “This made a massive difference, to be given the platform and sponsorship to do it. I also made sure all senior managers understood the caliber of the candidates we were getting through it.” 

Shereen Peeroo Finney

One of those candidates was Shereen Peeroo Finney, a London-based cybersecurity architect who joined Nomura in 2019 after taking two years away from work to rethink her career. While she had already gained new skills through training, she’d lost some confidence. But the support provided in such a structured program, including resumé advice, practice interviews, external mentoring and a 90-day plan, plus a cohort to bond with, makes the difference between a returner thriving and struggling, Peeroo Finney says. “The extra support does get you up to speed a lot quicker.” 

Tailoring both the recruitment and onboarding program to accommodate and even embrace career breaks — which employers have traditionally viewed as a flaw, rather than a sign of healthy work-life balance — gave Zandra Otubamowo the boost she needed. The four-year gap on her resume to take care of her two young children led to a string of rejections, and led her to believe, when she began job hunting in 2020, that she may have to move backwards in her career to get started again.

Like Grieve, a friend told Otubamowo about the Return to Work program at Meta, formerly known as Facebook. The program launched in 2018 to offer six months of training and mentorship to people who have been away from work for at least two years. If they’re a fit, the program can lead to a full-time job. Like Nomura, Meta hopes its initiative will contribute to its goal of doubling its number of female employees globally by 2026. (Currently 36.7 percent of Meta’s 118,000 employees are women).

Washington-based Otubamowo got a spot in Meta’s program, and in September 2020 took on a role as a technical program manager.

“The support in the program was like being put into a bubble to protect us, which you don’t get when you just come in normally,” she says. “From my manager, to my mentor and my buddy, there were so many people that were put in place for me to make sure I succeed. You’re coming into a space where things are moving so quickly, but in the program people help you move at your pace.” 

“I don’t think I could have survived otherwise,” Otubamowo continues. “For me, it made a lot of difference in terms of transitioning slowly back into the workplace. We need more women to feel comfortable coming back into the workforce and not feel like they have to take a paycut or fall behind — that you are going to be given what you deserve.”

The post ‘Internships’ for Adults Are Helping Women Rejoin the Workforce appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Why We Need Unions: A Conversation with Eve Livingston

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 01/04/2022 - 11:10pm in


unions, work

In this episode I talk to Eve Livingston, author of Make Bosses Pay: Why We Need Unions. We discuss the...

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The Unlikely Allies Who Saved Costa Rica’s Forests

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/03/2022 - 3:56am in


farms, Food, work

Growing together

These days, Costa Rica is renowned for its lush landscapes and stunning biodiversity. But the country’s future looked very different in the 1970s, when industrial agriculture saddled Costa Rica with one of the world’s highest rates of deforestation. By the end of that decade, forest cover had plummeted to 25 percent of the country’s land.

A forest restoration project in northern Costa Rica. Credit: WRI

How did Costa Rica turn things around? Much of the credit goes to a landmark 1996 law that banned deforestation and introduced an innovative payment system for farmers. The payment system encourages “agroforestry,” the integration of trees and shrubs into productive crop and livestock farming systems. Now, farmers grow crops like cacao and vanilla among towering trees, which provide healthy shade to the crops and attract the bugs that pollinate the plants. The farmers get better crop yields, the increase in tree cover benefits the ecosystem, and the abundant tropical vegetation helps Costa Rica maintain its perch as a destination for eco-tourism. 

Today, the country’s forest cover has rebounded to 52 percent as Costa Rica regenerates seven trees for every one it cuts down. Meanwhile, farmers are earning more than they did when they clear-cut the land. “We need the interaction of the species,” said one of the farmers of the agroforestry model. “It’s magic.”

Read more at the Financial Times


We’ve all seen empty urban lots that sit unused while the local government works through the often drawn-out process to figure out what (or whether) someone can build there. Britain has a dandy little solution for this problem — it allows small businesses to build temporary structures on these empty lots, which they call “meanwhile spaces,” until permanent construction can get started.

The foldable, packable, moving building. Credit: Mike Massaro / IF_DO

Now, a London architecture firm has come up with a clever construction prototype for this type of space: a building you can disassemble, flat-pack and relocate when it needs to be moved. It has already erected one such building on a meanwhile space — a 3,000 square foot workplace with 12 individual units encircling a central common area. Tenants include small businesses like a skincare company and a sewing school. It’s made of timber and steel connectors, and when it’s time to move, the whole building can be taken apart, folded up and reassembled elsewhere. In a city like London, where real estate is among the world’s most expensive, the design gives groups and businesses without a lot of cash on hand a place to operate.

It’s also much lighter on the environment. Building construction is responsible for 11 percent of carbon emissions, so anything that can prevent starting from scratch is a win for the environment. “It’s about touching lightly on the ground,” said the director of the design firm. “To send that [building] to landfill after 11 years would’ve been horrific.”

Read more at Fast Company

Making it work

A massive new survey appears to make one thing clear: the pandemic-propelled shift in attitudes about work isn’t going away.

Microsoft surveyed 31,000 workers in 31 countries. The results show that “employee expectations are higher than ever,” and that people are “making career changes that prioritize personal goals and well-being.” Some 52 percent of respondents said they now prioritized health and well-being over work, and that flexibility, respect and appreciation was more important than crushing it in their careers. There were also red flags. For instance, while remote employees are glad they can now work off site, only about half felt they had maintained a thriving relationship with their coworkers. 

“There’s no going back to the way it once was,” concluded the study. “The people who went home to work in 2020 are not the same people returning to the office in 2022.”

Read more at Forbes

The post The Unlikely Allies Who Saved Costa Rica’s Forests appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Think Of Your Life In Chunks

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 03/02/2022 - 6:56am in


Reflections, work

Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.

There are many versions of this quote and it is attributed to multiple individuals. In most circles, this version of the quote is attributed to Bill Gates.

The basic thinking idea is that we’re woefully inadequate planners and need to re-calibrate our thinking as we plan. I often have this challenge as I think through my own goals and objectives. I need to consider the assumptions I make as I plan and make new goals.

What we need is balance between today and tomorrow. A balance between living today to our fullest…and considering the cool stuff we could do in the future.

Thinking about today

In planning and goal setting, we often approach this from a question about “what do I need to do today?”

The challenge in this perspective is that we often allow our tasks to dictate our days. Instead of following what excites us, we keep slogging away at a to do list.

At the beginning of the day we may be excited to jump up out of bed and get going. By the end of the day, you’re probably exhausted from getting things done, or you’re confronted by another 400 things added to your to do list.

One of the things that has become increasingly obvious in my life and those around me is that these behaviors are ultimately not good for our mental and physical health.

To seek balance, identify times to work on projects for a small amount of time to bring you joy. Take time for the short walk. Phone a friend. Play a short video game. Read. Listen to that podcast. Wash the dishes.

Most importantly….stop overscheduling.

Thinking about tomorrow

The awesome thing is that we have a lot of tomorrows in front of us. These are all opportunities for new paths and to reinvent yourself.

At first, engaging in a big project of area of change may seem impossibly big. You feel a bit crazy or even delusional to even think about this endeavor. I believe you should not only contemplate them, but you should take time in the day to plan and envision your new future.

Sooner than you may think, these challenges and achievements are within your grasp. You need to be mentally ready for them.

Before you know it, you’ll look back and what you initially thought we gigantic changes in reality seem very small and quaint.

One of the best things that you can do with your time and your future is change. You can reinvent yourself. I’ve done it multiple times. It’s not that bad.

Chunking your life

To make this a reality, think of your life in chunks. These chunks may be years, months, or a shorter timeframe.

Consider a project or experiment that you would like to focus on for a couple of months or a year. I don’t include longer-term goals or “things I’m supposed to do.”

Think of something you want to do with an achievable, observable outcome. This could include learning how to refinish furniture, run a marathon, cook thai food.

Alternatively, I really like short, 30-day challenges. These a smaller opportunities to change behaviors and establish new practices. This could include drinking 8 glasses of water a day or journaling every day.

This could also include shorter terms goals or challenges that last a couple of days. This could involve an opportunity to bring a small win from one day to the next.

These goals and objectives may change daily, but by engaging in different challenges, and thinking about your life in chunks, you have the opportunity to pay attention to the things that matter.

I really value this comic from SMBC.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

The post Think Of Your Life In Chunks first appeared on Dr. Ian O'Byrne.

The Need for a Shorter Working Week, with Kyle Lewis and Will Stronge

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 29/01/2022 - 4:01am in



In this episode, Pete interviews Will Strong and Kyle Lewis about their book Overtime: Why We Need a Shorter Working...

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Where Immigrant Women, Usually Exploited by Fashion, Run the Show

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 27/01/2022 - 7:00pm in

Pull a thread long enough and you can unravel an entire sweater. That’s the theory that drives Blue Tin Productions, a worker-owned clothing manufacturing collaborative in Chicago. Launched in 2019, Blue Tin’s goal goes beyond just employee ownership — it is working to dismantle the very exploitation that propels the bulk of the fashion business. 

Even as fashion has worked hard to burnish its socially conscious bonafides, using more sustainable materials and aligning its marketing with social justice movements, the basic operating premise of the industry has remained the same: clothes are manufactured in far-away factories using cheap, unseen, exploitable labor. The problem is bigger than mere outsourcing. By keeping its global network of disempowered workers invisible, the industry has avoided tough conversations about its practices.

“Sustainability has become a more mainstream part of the conversation in the fashion industry,” says Hoda Katebi, the founder of Blue Tin. “But labor is still this terrifying monster people don’t want to discuss. Everyone still relies on colonialism to produce their goods.” 

blue tinA Blue Tin cooperative member. Credit: Blue Tin Production

Katebi launched Blue Tin as a response to this reality. An Iranian-American activist and author who was acclaimed for her political fashion publication JooJoo Azad, Katebi’s vision from the beginning has been to take the very people who are normally exploited by the fashion industry – immigrant and refugee women — and put them at the helm of it instead. 

“Everything relies on immigrant labor, primarily undocumented and exploited, who often come here based on American bullshit and economic imperialism,” she says. “The U.S. often needs a reality check when they talk about immigration and labor.”

Now, the collective is launching a major expansion. This year and next, Blue Tin will crowdsource funding to build out a new $2 million home, 63rd House, an adaptive reuse of a 11,250-square-foot post office on the city’s working-class southwest side. The space will become both an economic anchor for the neighborhood and a model for truly sustainable manufacturing and labor practices. To Katebi, it is much more than a local concern.

“Ultimately our long-term goal is to have the new space be a model that can be replicated by garment workers globally at scale,” she says. 

Revealing the invisible

Blue Tin, named after the Danish cookie tins where many home sewers store their needles and threads, does runs of up to 30,000 pieces, making everything from lingerie and underwear to hoodies and high fashion dresses. It operates out of a spare college classroom, and is focused on reducing waste and running the business via collective decision making. 

When Katebi started to reach out to potential owner-members in 2018, tapping a network of local community groups, more than 100 women showed up to express interest. Initially supported by a series of fundraisers, the work has been gratifying and empowering for members — including a Syrian refugee and a Nigerian immigrant escaping an abusive relationship — who have found the co-op model engages the community and gives immigrant and refugee women, who typically lack economic opportunities and a road to management positions, control over their working lives. 


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Katebi describes the operation as “a level of chaos that’s exciting and energizing,” with workers choosing the garments they want to work on — on some days you want brainless straight lines, she says, and on others, striking, fashionable dresses. 

“Our approach to our work is very holistic,” says Katebi. “We try to think about how we can de-silo our work and the supply chain, and build the world we want to see.”

For Katebi, the new facility, powered in large part by rooftop solar panels, will explore and reflect many of the same values regarding power, community and equity that the collective does. But it will scale those values up to the level of a whole neighborhood. The current blueprint calls for half the headquarters to be dedicated to Blue Tin’s manufacturing. The other half will be set aside for the community. It will include a coworking space, a library, a gallery and room for local groups to meet and organize. It will also dramatically expand the size of the group, the kinds of collaborations they take on, their volume of work and their impact on the surrounding neighborhoods. 

blue tinBlue Tin’s new space was designed with the belief that a small manufacturing space was a proper vessel for community change. Credit: Studio Gang

By literally letting the world in, 63rd House will be the antithesis of the typical black box sweatshop where the vast majority of the world’s clothing gets made. It will include a room to showcase the work of designers seeking to work with Blue Tin, and airy, accessible, light-filled manufacturing spaces. Jeanne Gang, an acclaimed Chicago architect and head of Studio Gang, which designed the space, envisioned the facility with two key ideas in mind: micro urbanism, focusing on the power of small interventions and community spaces to impact a nearby neighborhood; and the belief that a small manufacturing space, typically outside the concern of big architectural firms, was a proper vessel for community change. 

“A small organization like this, which believes in good design, is someone we can help,” says Gang. “It’s a project worthy of attention. We’re using our platform to say, ‘What can architecture do?’”

A neighborhood focal point

Blue Tin picked the neighborhood known as Chicago Lawn because of its proximity to the city’s south and west sides. It’s a working-class part of the city where most of the collective’s members live. Katebi and others also have strong relationships with the neighborhood. The main drag, 63rd Street, contains partners such as Magnolia Screen Printing Studios, a collaborator, and the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, a community organization.

“What they’re doing is fashion,” said Hitoko Okada, a designer and curator who included Blue Tin in “Fashion Forward,” an exhibit about the apparel industry’s supply chain. “It’s switching the mindset from fashion being just about clothing to production, changing our minds and relationship to clothing and the way it’s been fed to us. It’s creating community and healing and an anti-capitalist model of fashion.” 

Blue Tin also takes many larger fashion industry trends to another level, says Kim van der Weerd, a sustainable fashion advocate and former garment factory manager who co-hosts the Manufactured podcast. There’s increasing demand for reshoring, or what some are calling newshoring, bringing manufacturing back to the country of consumption and creating more visibility around labor rights and the supply chain. 

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The collective also threads together social and environmental sustainability, and rebalances the industry’s financial risk in  interesting ways. For instance, overseas, many manufacturing concerns need to provide all the materials, a huge capital outlay that can lead to sweatshop working conditions to cover overhead. Blue Tin, on the other hand, asks its production partners to include raw materials when soliciting work. This empowers Blue Tin to be more choosy and avoid the kind of deep financial risk that often leads to poor conditions and lower wages overseas.  

“The big brands outsource the financial risk of hiring workers directly,” said van der Weerd. “I’ve had many conversations with people at big brands who didn’t know how their goods were made. They simply didn’t know how to manufacture clothes.”

Katebi sees the new home for Blue Tin coming together in two phases. The facade and exterior will ideally be finished by the end of the year so they can host events and fundraisers inside. In 2023, the full buildout will be complete and operations can commence in the new home. The jobs the site will create are important, but for Katebi, it’s about much more than that. 

“We want to plant roots in a working class, disinvested, constantly overlooked neighborhood,” she says. “We want to build on our terms, for us.”

The post Where Immigrant Women, Usually Exploited by Fashion, Run the Show appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Putting Diversity in the Pilot’s Seat

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 26/01/2022 - 7:00pm in

Upward mobility

Global aviation is booming, but who will fly all the planes? The world is already facing a pilot shortage, and analysts predict it will only get worse. One recent estimate found that 760,000 new pilots will be needed over the next two decades, far more people than today’s flight schools are preparing to put into cockpits.

California’s Next Generation Aviation Academy is doing its part to fill this gap and give disadvantaged kids a better chance at a good career in the process. The nonprofit has partnered with Boeing to set up flight simulators at Chandler Airport in Fresno, where girls and kids of color can attend week-long aviation camps. A $90,000 grant from the city’s transportation agency funds additional real-life glider training. Observers say it’s the first flight school to focus not just on growing the ranks of pilots, but making sure those ranks reflect the diversity of the flying public.

Joseph Oldham, who runs the academy, believes the initiative could get underserved young people on a glide path to in-demand jobs. “If they get to fly, they see that it’s not an unattainable goal. This could be a pathway for some of these families to change the course of decades of economic distress.”

Read more at the Fresno Bee

Road warriors

The federal government has rescinded a key approval from a highway widening project in Portland and a group of young protesters is getting some of the credit. 

Made up of teens and twentysomethings, “Youth vs ODOT” (Oregon Department of Transportation) is an ongoing campaign to link the state’s highway expansions to the climate crisis. The campaign couldn’t be better timed: the infrastructure bill recently passed by congress is about to send states hundreds of billions of dollars for various transportation projects.


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A post shared by Youth Vs. ODOT (@youthvsodot)

The success that Youth vs ODOT had in forcing a rethink of the project could be a bellwether. The $1.2 billion plan will widen a highway in one of the city’s historically Black neighborhoods. In response, the campaign barnstormed planning hearings with data about the pollution and congestion the project would cause. Now the Federal Highway Administration is asking the state to redo its environmental study. At the very least, it appears that if the project moves forward it will do so with alterations designed to mitigate pollution and reconnect parts of the surrounding neighborhood. “We won’t solve this crisis by doing things the same way we always have,” said a Youth vs ODOT member. “And we need older generations to join in too.”

Read more at Bloomberg CityLab

Give me four

Who would have thought that something like this would catch on? Just four months after Spain announced a major push for four-day work weeks, 30 companies in the U.K. will trial shorter weeks as part of the nation’s Four Day Week Campaign. Under the six-month pilot, which begins in June, employees at the companies will be paid the same amount for putting in 80 percent as many hours. If productivity doesn’t fall, the change could be made permanent.

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Research shows that employees are happier and less stressed when they work four days a week. As such, companies around the world have successfully implemented shorter work weeks. But large groups of companies making an orchestrated shift is a newer phenomenon, and seems to signal a mainstreaming of the idea. “2022 will be the year that heralds in this bold new future of work,” said the program manager at 4 Day Week Global.

Read more at the Evening Standard

The post Putting Diversity in the Pilot’s Seat appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

With This Company’s Support, Women Are Escaping Their Abusers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 13/01/2022 - 7:00pm in

After nearly 10 years of harassment, threats and beatings from her husband — including a blow to the head while she was holding their then one-year-old daughter — Adriana (not her real name) finally mustered up the courage to take action.

But when she did, it wasn’t friends or family she turned to for help. It was her employer, Brazil’s largest retailer, Magazine Luiza, better known locally as Magalu. 

Adriana, now a company secretary with Magalu, was the first employee to contact the company’s Canal Mulher (Women’s Channel) hotline. The hotline was set up in 2017 after the murder of 37-year-old Denise Neves dos Anjos, a Magalu store manager who was stabbed to death by her husband.

Few companies have such a hotline, and at those that do, an employee might expect a referral to social services. But Magalu’s model goes far deeper. Upon learning about her case, the company immediately got to work helping Adriana find a new apartment in Sao Paulo so she could get away from her husband. Magalu also took care of Adriana’s rental payments — no reimbursement was expected — and acted as the guarantor for her rental contract. It provided additional mental health therapy and legal support.

“For the first time I felt I wasn’t by myself –– that I would get some help with the whole process of freeing myself from my abusive husband,” the 42-year-old employee told Reasons to Be Cheerful via a translator. 

Adriana was the first of nearly 700 female employees that Magalu has helped to extract from abusive relationships over the past four years. During this time, the company has paid to relocate over 100 of these women and supported almost all of them legally, financially and emotionally. It’s an extraordinary level of involvement from a corporate entity in a matter most companies view as too complex and legally dicey to intervene in. 

Coordinating these efforts is a dedicated team of specialists led by a senior company officer in Magalu’s compliance division. This rapid-response squad is staffed with psychologists, social workers and other professionals equipped to quickly intervene and support women and their children suffering from domestic violence. As in Adriana’s case, this often means getting involved directly, with relocation assistance, legal guidance, financial help and mental health services. Magalu currently has 100 cases open, 60 of which are considered high risk in that the women are still in close contact with their abusers. 

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For Adriana, this intervention has meant the difference between life and death.

“Once he knew Magalu was intervening, he knew he was no match for a big company like that, and that played a big role in him stepping back,” she says. “All the support and information I got has stopped me from becoming a femicide statistic.”

Those statistics are indeed grim. In Brazil, a country of 213 million, a woman dies of domestic terror every two hours. The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a two percent rise in women’s suicide rates.

Yet there is no legislation in Brazil compelling employers to provide any form of domestic violence support. In other countries, governments and companies are just beginning to assume a level of responsibility in such situations. 

The government of New Zealand mandated paid domestic violence leave in 2018. In neighboring Australia, paid government support is available, and activists are calling for employer mandates as well. In the U.S., at a minimum, most states require employers to provide a period of unpaid leave for employees experiencing domestic violence.

Internal estimates indicate that around two percent of all women working at Magalu suffer from some form of domestic violence, a rate the company feels reflects the wider problem in Brazilian society. Magalu’s chairwoman, Luiza Trajano, has made supporting affected employees a priority,  and was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2021 for her work in advancing women’s issues.

Trajano and Magalu’s success at creating a public platform for the issue of domestic violence is one of the reasons behind the company’s high intervention rate. Magalu uses its internal television station, TV Luiza, to regularly encourage affected employees and concerned colleagues to come forward. (The company has 50,000 workers, half of whom are women.). After a broadcast, there is usually an uptick in calls to the Women’s Channel as affected employees are reminded they have somewhere to turn, despite Brazil’s highly religious culture where suffering in silence is the norm.

Even with all the resources Magalu has poured into helping domestic violence victims, the company can only do so much, notes its corporate reputation and sustainability manager Ana Luiza Herzog.

“We can do everything and still not be successful,” says Herzog. “We help financially, even moving a victim from one state to another, and when we check in, we might find things are going just fine, or we might find they are moving back in with their abusive partner.” 

“And then there’s nothing we can do,” she says. “It’s no easy issue. Let’s not pretend that.”

Adriana’s case illustrates this — and also shows how the persistence of a corporate ally can lead to a positive outcome. She was eventually able to divorce her husband in late 2017, but he continued to follow and harass her for six months afterwards. That was when Magalu’s domestic violence support team threatened to escalate the case to the high-profile Brazilian prosecutor, Gabriela Manssur, known for championing women’s rights. He retreated.

Today, Adriana’s only connection to him is through their two school-aged daughters, who he sees locally on weekends. Adriana doesn’t allow him to take them on long-distance trips and the children must keep their cell phones on at all times.

At Magalu, the death of Denise Neves dos Anjos continues to cast a shadow. An investigation revealed she had been badly beaten by her husband just six months prior to her murder. 

“We could have prevented Denise’s death, but at the time, we knew nothing about this issue,” laments Herzog.

Yet there is some solace to be found in Adriana’s success story.

“I might not be here if I hadn’t gotten help from Magalu,” she says. “That could have been me. I’m very grateful.”

The post With This Company’s Support, Women Are Escaping Their Abusers appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Domestic Workers in Lebanon Are Making a Dramatic Escape

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 07/01/2022 - 7:00pm in

“I am alive today because Egna Legna Besidet exists,” says Degche Dametw, flashing a smile while she wipes her tears away. A 23-year-old domestic worker in Lebanon, Dametw is referring to the organization led by Ethiopian women that is helping her flee the country, just as it has helped hundreds of others before her do the same. Egna Legna Besidet provides Dametw with accommodation, food and clothing, and is in the process of returning her to her mother in Ethiopia.

Dametw is one of thousands of domestic workers who have been tricked into migrating to Lebanon. Often, they are lured there by private agencies with false promises of continuing on to work in Europe or Dubai. They make the leap because of unemployment in their home countries — before coming to Lebanon, 60 percent of migrant domestic workers were unemployed, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO). But once there, they are immediately marginalized by a sponsorship system known as kafala, which allows them to stay in Lebanese territory only on the condition that they have an employer to sponsor their visa. 

domestic workersDegche Dametw, who requested her face not be shown, gets psychological support from an Egna Legna Besidet leader. Credit: Laure Delacloche

This system renders domestic workers vulnerable to repeated abuses. Dametw, for instance, who was 21 when she arrived in Lebanon, discovered that she would receive $150 per month as a live-in maid, not the $250 she was promised. Her employer then accused her of breaking something in the house and threatened her with legal action if she did not pay compensation. Unable to pay, Dametw fled the house only two weeks into her contract. In doing so, she lost her legal right to remain in Lebanon.

For Dametw, running away from her first employer’s house marked the start of a precarious life. For more than a year, she moved between underpaid, sometimes abusive jobs, and unemployment, going hungry and spending nights on the streets.

Migrant workers are excluded from the Lebanese labor law. They can’t find a new job without their current employer’s consent, and “face highly exploitative working conditions, akin to modern-day slavery,” according to the ILO. In Lebanon, it is believed that 250,000 people are living and working under kafala, with women accounting for 76 percent of them. Ethiopian women make up nearly half of these women.

False accusations of theft are common within the Lebanese kafala system, as is withholding of wages and physical abuse. News of Ethiopian women found dead or disappeared are regular in Lebanon. 

Dametw could have been one of those victims if not for Egna Legna Besidet’s support. “I found out about it through Facebook and reached out to the founder, Banchee Yimer,” she says. “We chatted from time to time, until one day, I was homeless after having worked for 600,000LL (USD$27) a month and I couldn’t afford food anymore. I told her I cannot live anymore.”

Egna Legna Besidet provided Dametw with immediate support. From Canada, where she currently lives, Yimer sent someone to connect with Dametw in Beirut. The organization has since provided her with food, shelter and training.

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In four years, this organization, led by women who have been domestic workers themselves, has helped 15,000 women like Dametw survive in Lebanon or escape the country altogether. Covid-19 threw the group’s relevance into relief. Some Lebanese families fired their maids, sometimes owing them back pay or refusing to finance their return ticket. As a result, many Ethiopian workers were stranded in Lebanon, homeless, for months on end.  

Relying on a pre-existing network

Yimer refers to herself as “a victim of the kafala system,” having worked in Lebanon without payment for six months and sleeping on balconies. She made the most of her seven-year stay there, building an organization that would give Ethiopian women “a voice.” 

“The church and the embassy here are all headed by men,” she says, “and I wanted to create a feminist organization to fight for our community.”

Yimer and her fellow founding members built Egna Legna Besidet by leveraging a pre-existing community that is larger than just the Ethiopian domestic workers. The Alliance of Domestic Workers in Lebanon, a group of women that advocates for migrant workers’ rights, and the Migrant Community Center (MCC), a safe space where migrants can meet and organize, trained her in English language and fundraising. 

While these two organizations “deliver good information,” they encompass all nationalities and thus don’t address the specific challenges that the Ethiopian community faces, according to Yimer.

“The moment I arrived at the MCC, I realized that most of us can’t even talk about our body parts as we are raised in a very strict religious culture,” she says. Four years later, Egna Legna Besidet tackles this issue with workshops about family planning and sexual harassment.

“Rape is rape,” reads a poster on the wall of the organization’s headquarters. In the adjacent room, deputy director Tsigereda Brihanu, who has “Hopeless Romantic” tattooed on her forearm, coordinates with lawyers and the Lebanese government to secure exit visas for the women who wish to be repatriated to Ethiopia. She also corresponds with maids detained in Lebanese jails to help get them out. 

Yimer scrolls through a WhatsApp conversation. Dametw’s name appears on the screen. Egna Legna Besidet has settled the $454 fine that she got for illegally staying in Lebanon.

“We are now awaiting the permission from the general security, the administration in charge of migrant workers, to grant her permission to exit the country,” she says. “It could happen tomorrow or in a month.”  

domestic workersTsigereda Brihanu uses WhatsApp to secure exit visas for Ethiopian women trying to return home. Credit: Laure Delacloche

Brihanu battles on a daily basis with a dysfunctional state and an opaque administration, which makes the repatriation process lengthy and tedious. An informal contact inside the administration helps her secure exit visas. In four years, 600 women have been flown back to Addis Ababa, where a team helps the most vulnerable settle back in, offering shelter and psychological support.

These days, between five and ten women are going back each month, a figure that has been shrinking since the peak of the first wave of Covid-19, when up to 55 women were sent back monthly.

Growing against the odds

Sanitary pads, rice and lentils are stacked against the walls where Aya, who asks that only her first name be used, comes to English classes on Saturday afternoons. The unemployed domestic worker, who wishes to be able to help her child with her English homework, is also benefiting from food distribution. “I can’t even buy milk or eggs for my child,” she says. Food prices have tripled over roughly the past year

The economic crisis has battered Egna Legna Besidet itself. The organization ran out of funding last July, and increasingly turns to foreign NGOs to fund its activities. “Now we are just doing our best given the circumstances, but before all this mess, we used to demonstrate and lobby to abolish kafala,” Brihanu reminisces.

Signs of progress appeared in September 2020, when legislation granted new rights to migrant workers, “a crucial first step in dismantling the kafala system in Lebanon” according to the ILO. But like so many other laws and reforms in Lebanon, it has yet to be implemented.

Nevertheless, Egna Legna Besidet is currently expanding to support other migrant domestic worker communities, from the basement floor of a hotel located on the outskirts of Beirut. On a Sunday morning, 20 women from the Philippines, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Cameroon attend a workshop to learn how to write donor proposals, a highly sought-after skill in Lebanon’s increasingly NGO-supported society.

“We have organized an online fundraising, but it is not enough as we need to cover unpaid rents,” explains Sophie Ndongo, secretary general of Together Forever, an association for Cameroonian domestic workers. “I admire Egna Legna’s work — they respond to the needs of their community.” Ndongo, who was told when she migrated that she would work in a bank in Greece, says she almost lost her life to kafala-enabled abuse.

Now her dream is “to turn Together Forever into a real NGO.” She wishes her organization “could be as strong as Egna Legna is.”

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