I recently read a short story (see below for link) by Andy Andrews, who was once homeless at the age of 23 and lived underneath a pier on Alabama’s Gulf Coast.
In the story, Andy shares some lessons that helped him get out of homelessness. Those lessons were instilled in Andy by a man who simply just goes by Jones. Jones tells Andy:
“Remember, young man, experience is not the best teacher. Other people’s experience is the best teacher. By reading about the lives of great people, you can unlock the secrets to what made them great.”
This really resonated with me, as I find learning from others and their experiences to be very valuable. From reading the OpenIDEO ideas by Delilah and Trevor (see the very bottom for inspiration links), I really started to think about Jones’ quote and how it can have incremental but impactful benefits to those who are homeless. There are plenty of community programs that match professional mentors with youths in impoverished areas, so what about a program that matches mentors with people who are homeless?
On a more general note, I also posted a short video clip of Andy Andrews on Good Morning America that gives some “perspective” and potential insights on design thinking.
Who does this idea benefit, who are the main players and what's in it for them?
In Trevor’s post, he brings up two groups: Those who cannot work, and those who can work. The Financial Buddy System would be best suited for the group who can work, as the mentor can share financially empowering tips, such as budgeting and job opportunities, and other practical life experiences. The mentor program could be opened up to anyone to volunteer, but it could be more impactful for the homeless if the mentor is someone who was previously homeless. In this scenario, the relationship between the mentor and mentee would be much stronger. The mentor would have empathy to his or her mentee, and the mentee would be able to relate more to his or her mentor. In an ideal world, mentors would participate in this program due to intrinsic factors (ie. The mentor simply feels great about helping others), and mentees would participate due to the inherent value of learning from someone who was in their position and was able to become financially stable; however, not everyone is intrinsically motivated. For those who are extrinsically motivated, perhaps mentors could benefit from some sort of tax credit/deduction, and mentees from extra meals at soup kitchens or additional food stamps.
How is your idea specifically using the power of communities to improve financial opportunities and resources?
Without easy access to the internet, prospective mentees would register and build a profile for the buddy program at their local homeless shelters, soup kitchens, or associated churches. Similarly, prospective mentors could register in the same community establishments mentioned above, but would also be able to browse prospective mentee profiles online through the web or an app. The mentor would also be able to select a prospective mentees through the online portal (basically online dating these days, but applied towards a buddy system).
What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?
The first assumption is if the people in need and volunteers would want to participate in such a program. For people who are homeless, a quick survey at local shelters and soup kitchens would provide an idea whether there is sufficient interest. A similar approach (surveys) can be taken with the general public is determine the amount of interest, but to take it one step further, it would great to be able to survey people who were previously homeless or other specific volunteer groups. Another important assumption that needs to be tested is whether such a program is effective. Again, surveys filled out by people who have participated on either side of a similar buddy system will provide the easiest lightweight experiment. From a quick Google search, I was only able to find one article, from 1995, about a program in the Los Angeles area (http://articles.latimes.com/1995-08-05/local/me-31744_1_skid-row). Alternatively, interviewing people from other mentorship programs, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, could provide some helpful information.
What skills, input or guidance might you be seeking from the OpenIDEO community to help you build out or refine your idea further?
The mentorship program will need to be carefully designed. People who have experience from either side of with a mentorship program or people with experience working or volunteering at homeless shelters, soup kitchens, etc, will be very helpful. Since we will be teaching people practical knowledge, any educators that can provide additional insights will be beneficial. People with knowledge about government benefits can help solidify extrinsic motivators for both mentors and mentees.