Challenge #1 – Unemployment

Posted on Jan 28, 2011

Fighting Unemployment

in partnership with Streetwise, Inc.

Challenge Overview

Every day a growing number of individuals are affected by a shrinking economy.Without access to earned income, these individuals risk falling into homelessness. Many of these people need to find jobs right now but lack the skills to do so. These individuals are at risk; having to make tradeoffs every day, choosing between food, rent, and medicine. There are many organizations that exist to provide job training, but many of these individuals do not qualify or do not have the time to spare because they need to start earning now. While their need for work is imminent, they often lack the necessary skills. Current systems only work for some people; many continue to fall through the cracks. Individuals need access to training while still being able to earn a viable income. The system overall needs to be addressed, finding solutions that work on a larger scale while scaling to the needs of the individual.


StreetWise, Inc. serves the greater Chicago area as a social enterprise designed to help the homeless and those at risk of homelessness out of poverty. The organization accomplishes its mission in two ways: first, StreetWise provides its clients an array of social services, with a particular focus on employment training and housing support; second, by publishing a weekly magazine that is bought wholesale by the agency’s vendors and then resold by them for a profit. The StreetWise model combines this opportunity for gainful self-employment with supportive social services to assist vendors on the road to financial self-sufficiency.

StreetWise currently faces an increase in unemployment and a decrease in donations. Their product is losing relevance and becoming scarce. They need a new product or an alternative to the existing selling model. StreetWise also faces a problem of public perception; the public is poorly educated about their efforts, the breadth of the programs they run and the types of people who participate in them.

Your Challenge Is…

Rethink a system that helps the unemployed/underemployed to gainful self-employment through the use of supportive social services.

Think empowering people to take care of themselves, they need money now and job skills they can build on.

How do we leverage existing social service models with new thinking to create a solution that takes into account the immediate needs of the individual while re-educating the public to create support for programs like StreetWise?

Design Conditions

  • Empower Vendors: Remember, these folks are not equipped/prepared for office jobs
  • They don’t know how to talk to folks
  • They don’t have bank accounts
  • No financial literacy and budgeting skills
  • Need to have a product with more relevance or find an alternative to selling
  • Should leverage social media either to assist vendors or for public outreach
  • Increase social awareness and interest – Educate the public about the benefits of giving to the organization over individual panhandlers
  • Support staff and deploy cheaply and easily

Additional Resources