I’ve been with Televerde since 1999. I love the company, and I can’t say enough about the people. Some might say I bleed Televerde orange. Together, we’ve done a ton of great work that has delivered incredible results for our clients and contributed to the transformation of almost 3,000 incarcerated women in Arizona and Indiana. I’ve spent almost 20 years here and it would be crazy to think that I’ve never explored opportunities outside of Televerde. I have, but every time–no matter how exciting the role or how cool the company–my commitment to and belief in Televerde’s CSR purpose kept me here. Simply put, there’s more I need to do. And that work starts with expanding our business model to different geographies and other disempowered, underserved and marginalized communities that can benefit from the opportunities that Televerde can provide. I’m delighted to announce that I’ll do this and more in my new role as Chief Social Responsibility Officer. It’s a dream job for me and I’ll tell you why.
What we do at Televerde goes beyond traditional CSR (corporate social responsibility) activities like environmental stewardship, philanthropy, cause marketing, etc. We create shared value, which is a concept first introduced by Michael Porter in Harvard Business Review. In the simplest terms, it’s the practice of creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society by addressing its needs and challenges. For Televerde, it’s something we’ve always done–even before there was a name for it. For more than 20 years, we’ve provided women in prison with jobs, training, education and opportunities that enable them and their families to have better lives. This model reduces recidivism–which transforms communities and strengthens the economy—and also provides our clients with more talented and committed partners who, in turn, create greater return on their investment. The whole approach creates wins all around. So, in this new role, I’ll be able to combine my passion for helping women improve their lives, while optimizing the success of our clients. What could be better!?
The criminal justice system has changed considerably over the past 25 years. This is the result of more expansive law enforcement efforts, tougher drug sentencing laws and poor reentry programs that uniquely affect women following release. Think about this: the female prison population today is close to eight times higher than in 1980. What’s worse, more than 60% of women in state prison have minor children under the age of 18-years-old. How can this possibly lead to good outcomes for families and communities? And not just in the short-term. I’m talking long-term, as in a generational effect. After all, cycles are almost always repeated. Stats show that 1 in 10 children with a parent in prison will end up incarcerated by the age of eighteen. And when this happens, the strain is felt outside the home with the burden placed squarely on the shoulders of taxpayers.
Female incarceration has a destabilizing effect on society. It’s a problem that needs to be solved for all of us, and doing so begins with solutions built on empathy, education and empowerment. What’s needed are preventative measures that help women before they end up in prison, as well as shorter sentences, rehabilitation, and educational programs for those that have been incarcerated. We need to enable women to find and fulfill their potential by building up their dignity, not stripping them of it.
“Discarding people for the rest of their lives, based on a decision they made on the worst day of their life, is such a waste of human potential.” – James Hooker, Televerde CEO
I’ve personally seen what happens when opportunities are presented to women that challenge their minds and champion their spirits. They shine! This video, featuring Erin Ford is one of 1,000’s of examples I can show you.
Here’s my vision for Televerde CSR: working with key influencers, legislators and businesses to create a stronger, more expansive approach to putting second chances to work strategies. When done right, these will lead to the realization of human potential. And when we do this, lives will be transformed, families will be restored, cycles will break and start anew, and society will thrive.
Managing diversity and inclusion in the global workplace is a priority for every company. And there are companies doing it really well, bringing more opportunities for women, people of color, the disabled, veterans, the LGBTQ community, etc. One group we don’t hear much about, though, is women and men with criminal backgrounds. A 2010 study estimates that there are 19 million people in the U.S. who have a felony record. We need to start seeing these individuals not as former convicts but as part of the broader talent pool. “Discarding people for the rest of their lives, based on a decision they made on the worst day of their life, is such a waste of human potential,” said Televerde CEO James Hooker.
The Ban the Box initiative is making strides with 33 states and 150 cities in America agreeing to remove the conviction history question from job applications and delaying background checks until later in the hiring process. But we have to move beyond the box.
We need to elevate the conversation and companies must bring women and men with criminal backgrounds into their diversity and inclusion strategies. This is how we ensure that a criminal record is no longer a lifelong barrier to economic growth and security. Perhaps most important, we need to stop stigmatizing former felons. Stigmas form unconscious biases, so even without “the box” on applications, our hiring decisions are being influenced once we find out. (There’s a terrific blog and TEDx talk by my colleague Dominique Goodmond, challenging all of us to remove the labels associated with incarceration. I highly recommend both.)
When we learn to view people through their lens instead of our own, judgement is replaced with empathy. And that’s when real problems are solved. I’m looking forward to advancing progress in this space and sharing Televerde’s CSR model and experience with corporations, governments and other entities that want to change the norm.
Our Televerde business model couldn’t work without the support of the Departments of Corrections (DOC) in Arizona and Indiana. Together, we show how business and government can work effectively to deliver better outcomes and solve some of the most pressing issues facing our world today.
Our way has never been to go at anything alone. It takes a village! Our plan is to replicate what we’ve accomplished in Arizona and Indiana and bring our proven methodology to other areas in the U.S. and abroad. As I mentioned, we’ve empowered almost 3,000 incarcerated women with opportunities to rebuild their lives. Over the next decade, we plan to grow that number to 10,000, working with government agencies, legislators, correctional systems, social enterprises and big business. And we’re keen to help disempowered populations beyond the walls of prison. This is the most aggressive and inspirational goal we’ve set, and we’ve got a brilliant team in place to deliver it.
In the past, we’ve been hesitant to highlight our Televerde CSR business model. Instead, we’ve chosen to focus exclusively on what we do: combine leading-edge technology with a human touch to help companies generate demand and accelerate sales. Well, now we are getting loud on the HOW. I think it’s time. Don’t you?
Learn more about our business model. Watch the talks from TEDxPerryvilleCorrectional , which look behind the curtain of incarceration to show the potential that exists in giving second chances. And, stay tuned, because my dream job, will likely intersect with my passion project: to ignite the next TEDx event.
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Author: Michelle Cirocco
Joining Televerde in 1999, Michelle Cirocco is now the Chief Social Responsibility Officer. She works tirelessly to advocate for social change through for-profit businesses. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn.