We've seen microloans transform lives and communities in developing nations, and now an American social enterprise, Beyond the Cardboard, hopes it can apply the same concept to helping homeless people.
Beyond the Cardboard is dedicated to raising awareness for issues surrounding homelessness beyond stereotypes (did you know 40% of the 3.5 million homeless people in America are children?), and supplying resources through local partnerships to offer access to services that can greatly improve their chances of getting off the streets. They are also developing a program to give homeless people a voice, to allow them to share their stories.
Solving social issues often begins with awareness. A recent story about a homeless woman in Chicago who became a Twitter celebrity illustrates how arming someone with tools that allow them to be heard can make a significant impact. 41-year-old AnneMarie Walsh was homeless for six years before she started sharing her story on Twitter, and eventually a Tweetup led to temporary housing. She's been off the streets since April and now has over 5,800 followers and a blog where she shares her story.
That's just one story though. Beyond the Cardboard, which was founded by Jessica Choi, Thomas Ma and Brian Ma, hopes to create a platform on which the homeless can share their stories through articles and video interviews.
"With the homeless visiting libraries frequently for shelter during the day, Internet is accessible," Jessica explains. "As our organization grows, we hope to establish our own micro-loan program that will benefit the homeless participants as a crucial first-step in escaping homelessness."
Jessica was one of the winners of the 2011 College Social Innovator Contest, which was co-hosted by the Harvard College Social Innovation Collaborative and the Forbes.com column Common Good.
The Beyond the Cardboard website will launch in February, and will include content created with the support of a Board of Advisers that includes previously homeless people as well as shelter volunteers.
Beyond the Cardboard website
(Photos by Deadly Sirius)
Beyond the Cardboard Shares Stories, Interviews and Resources
1. Homeless Microloan Program - There is an opportunity for social enterprises and financial institutions to develop microloan programs that can assist homeless persons in overcoming obstables on their path out of homelessness.
2. Homelessness Awareness Campaigns - There is an opportunity to establish specialized awareness campaigns that center on conversation about the root causes of homelessness and to develop solutions for ending the problem for good.
3. Tech for Homelessness Empowerment - There is an opportunity to leverage existing and emerging technology to give homeless individuals a voice and an empowered means to access basic human needs like shelter, food, clothing, and emotional support.
1. Social Enterprises - With the rise of impact investing and the greater social awareness of business purposes beyond profit, social enterprises are well positioned to effect change in areas of disadvantage and disenfranchisement like homelessness.
2. Non-profits - Due to their missions and institutional structures, non-profit and charity organizations are equipped to fully address long-standing societal problems like homelessness which other private sector actors may not have the capacity to manage.
3. Financial Services - Institutions providing financial services can participate in the emerging trend of microloans for social causes such as homelessness, and by doing so, establish corporate social responsibility programs and enhance stakeholder advocacy.