Tuesday, December 15, 2009

New Gang in Town

I began my career in rural Appalachia struggling to help the working poor earn a living wage. Employers exploited workers, keeping them in line by using fear and intimidation. Community organizing was an obvious response. By coming together in an organization that approximated a gang, workers had a better chance to appeal for fairness.

The widely circulated AP story "Jobless professionals vie for holiday sales work" By CHRISTOPHER LEONARD and MAE ANDERSON, AP Business Writers put a face on the current unemployment crisis.
AP – In this photo taken Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009, Mara Proctor arranges merchandise at Sticks boutique in Kansas

Mara, and the 6 million former professionals like her, are terribly alone. Having done everything the society asked of her, she finds herself discarded. Despite having ample cause for fury, her survival strategy is to get to work, any work will do.

I have a suggestion for Mara, form a gang. Not one of those groups who grope around trying to create a better resume or network, hoping against hope to find a way back into the system that just failed them. No, a real gang that pools their resources and begins with the premise that they do not want to get back to business as usual.

The first principle of the gang they should form is that society has failed them. They signed the social contract, but they got no security. They will take it as a truth that if you locate a problem that one person has, ten thousand others have the same problem. In some basic way, society has failed the majority of its citizens. The gang's job will be to identify and rectify those failures. This is Mara's opportunity. Mara should assess a set of needs that are common in her locale, and begin to solve those needs.

Let's get the ball rolling with a short list based on areas of opportunity that are fairly common, one of which Mara might want to exploit.
Programs are beginning to assist seniors in their transport needs.
Mara starts a car service, contracting with seniors, parents, and commuters.

Persons are struggling to eat right. Home chefs are but one new start-up.
Mara could do that or assist persons in their homes to rid their lives of junk food and teach the basics of healthy food prep to the entire family.

Schools are failing to provide the skill sets that Mara and her peers need to survive. Mara could tailor teaching sessions to the job skills required by specific corporations. Different then job training that is rarely specific, this concept begins with the employer and moves the training off site. States are starting to experiment with funded models that she might want to explore.

Mara might find a commercial building suffering a lack of tenants. This problem is only going to get worse. At the same time her state, and others, are going to suffer drastic budget cuts and education will not be immune. Mara proposes to the building owners and the existing tenants that what she wants to develop is a charter school, the organizing basis of which is that it is geared to provide real world office experience to its students.

This list is just suggestive. To develop any project Mara is going to need help. Enter the gang. For any of these suggestions to become a reality will require enormous amounts of energy. But it has to start with Mara and her gang, getting off their knees.

Who knows what she and her pals will come up with. The important thing is for her to form an alliance with a small group who share her motivation.
Maybe after a successful launch, her most ambitious project will be to replicate this process. "New Starts" might be their logo.

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