At the 2014 ESSENCE Festival, we hosted our first-ever #YESWECODE Tech Village, an all-day event featuring community leaders, thinkers and technical training and mentoring organizations working to fill the minority gap in Silicon Valley and beyond. In our ‘It Takes a Tech Village’ series, we profile the organizations that made the Tech Village a success.
Organizations like Hack the Hood and Qeyno Labs are working to disrupt the current makeup of the technology and innovation workforce (which is overwhelmingly white and male) by giving students hands-on training in coding, design and other essential tech skills. Then there are other organizations in the Bay Area, like the Kapor Center, who help to fund and support these organizations’ missions.
“As a funder,” said Cedrick Brown, a managing partner at the Kapor Center, “we play a different role. We convene organizations and bring them together to talk about best practices for building a movement.”
We spoke to Brown about the unique position of his organization and how it provides broad support to a number of tech preparatory organizations in the area.
ESSENCE: What goals are central to the Kapor Center’s mission?
Cedrick Brown: The Kapor Center was initially the Kapor Foundation- – we’ve done grant making for the past number of years, mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area. Recently, we’ve pivoted and started to focus on technology. We want to look at how technology has an impact on communities across the board. Specifically, we want to have people of color from low-income communities participate in the technology economy.
What’s most unique about the Kapor Center’s work?
CB: Where other organizations work with students, we get to work directly with the organizations. We come to this work as a funder and a convener, so we actually support a number of the organizations in the area. In fact, we sent four organizations to the Hackathon at ESSENCE Festival, and we’ve also been advising YESWECODE.
We get to be cheerleaders and evangelizers for everyone’s work. We also define the tech pipeline very broadly. In addition to supporting youth coding programs, we have a fellowship program that works to place undergrads in the workforce. We have a program for pre-MBA students to place them in our venture capital arm. We help companies like Google with their diversification strategy. We participate in multiple parts of the tech pipeline.
ESSENCE: In regard to diverse representation in Silicon Valley, are we making any real progress?
CB: I think we’ve hit a crucial turning point. Earlier this year, Google released diversity data related to the makeup of their workforce. The fact that Google, an industry leader, did that, allowed for a domino effect. So now we see other companies releasing their data as well. What that says is “We are not proud of this. We are going to make some inroads about changing the makeup of our workforce. We are accepting strategy suggestions on what we can do to be more inclusive.” We’re starting to move forward with some real intention. This is proof of a shift.
There’s more work to be done, but that they’ve come out with the data is really exciting. The other component about this is that YESWECODE has really lifted this conversation to a national level. That both of these things are happening means we’re moving in a positive direction.
ESSENCE: Is there a student or someone who has come through the Kapor Center whose story is memorable?
CB: Whenever we have sponsored or worked with an organization like Qeyno, that puts on these Hackathons, we’ve seen tremendous, wonderful and compelling ideas come out of them. These youth say “We have ideas that aren’t about food and finding a cab, but that are about helping us have broader life trajectories that will have an impact on the quality of life for us and our families.” They’ve come up with online mentoring apps, safe ride home apps and others. I think about the collective energy these students have when given the opportunity and the guidance they need, and it’s inspiring.
ESSENCE: What’s in the pipeline for the Kapor Center?
CB: Well, it is indeed about the pipeline. We’re putting together a framework from A-Z about how do you get a young person of color through the education pipeline to become a tech manager, a entrepreneur, or a tech venture capitalist. How do we make sure we don’t lose students of color to some of the gaps in the pipeline where we seen folks fall out or off of it. We’re also working on a big tent event with Google around addressing diversity in the workforce.