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From Dropouts to Innovators: RLabs

RLabs, founded by Marlon Parker, is an innovation movement that transforms youth in troubled communities, gangsters, dropouts and ex-convicts, into change makers. "The most innovative aspect to RLabs is its approach to engaging with people." says Marlon, "It works because RLabs is a movement by people for people. The same people we serve live in the community and have a good understanding of the context making them 'problem experts'." At RLabs these young "problem experts" are given the tools and resources to create innovative, demand-driven enterprises and solutions based on an understanding that their personal experiences with the problems gripping their communities, make them the people best positioned to drive lasting change.

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RLabs focuses on creating the right spaces for innovation by investing in people to help them feel respected and valued as agents of change. RLabs Academy offers free courses in software design, programming, operating systems, entrepreneurship, social media and leadership. Each course has an underlying focus on problem solving through critical thinking and design thinking. 70 percent of participants are women, 90 percent are black, colored or Indian.

Through the incubator, youth-led enterprises gain support, a collaborative space, mentorship, workshops and up to $20,000 in funding. Here, young people design their innovations for maximum social impact, sustainability and scalability incorporating the best community knowledge; turning to veteran entrepreneurs and computer programmers for mentorship and support, and even to ex-gang members for their know-how about marketing and branding.


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