Opportunity Calculator is one of two Wisconsin teams which will take proposals to the finals of the Alliance for the American Dream competition.
The Alliance for the American Dream provides funding for winning projects with the goal of increasing the income of 10,000 families in their local community -- in this case, Dane County -- by 10 percent.
The project aims to create an “opportunity calculator” to inform workers of their income, work benefits, and a variety of other financial support resources to guide job searches.
By creating a digital platform to streamline communication between workers and workforce programs and increase awareness on government policies in relation to employment, the Opportunity Calculator will serve to support further career advancement, organizers said.
The team includes Baltazar De Anda-Santana, Ed Lee, Iliana Wood, and Carole Trone. Partners include the Employment and Training Association, City of Madison, Workforce Development Board South Central WI, United Way of Dane County, Latino Academy of Workforce Development, and the Urban League of Greater Madison.
“We think that what is a unique opportunity with Opportunity Calculator is to create a platform that feels safe and confidential for populations that, historically and currently, have felt marginalized by government systems,” Trone said. “What we think is a great opportunity is having a third party platform providing job opportunities without having to worry who they are sharing their information with.”
Before the pandemic, project organizers were able to run several focus groups of targeted users, and detailed their appreciation of the candid and thoughtful sharing of experience from participants which helped to inform the development of the app. Remaining purposeful in their development of resources and tools for low-income communities is a priority for project leaders.
Though the pandemic posed a variety of technical challenges in regards to in-person project development, it broadened the project leaders’ understanding of resource accessibility and support.
Wood said the variety of challenges families might face when trying to achieve financial mobility are expansive and relate directly to not having a clear understanding of resources such as health insurance, public benefits, and housing eligibility, which can be entirely altered by something as small as a pay raise of 25 cents per hour.
“For many people who may be using public benefits there is a lot of guesswork and oftentimes leaping into the dark and finding out later that health insurance works differently than they thought it did,” said Wood. “We want to really empower people to have that information up front so that they can make wise decisions that put them on a path of upward mobility.”
Trone shared that her understanding of what it is like to be poor in America grew significantly while developing this project. She said the project which they are proposing to build becomes more urgent than ever in this current moment, and, for her, the urgency creates motivation and inspiration to try to “get it right and only grow through the crisis today.”
The Alliance is sponsored by Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic initiative founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt. DreamUp WI, a partnership between the UW-Madison and the community, aims to meet the Alliance’s challenge to increase shared prosperity and stabilize and expand the middle class.
“Leaders from across Madison have stepped up again, responding to and prevailing in the DreamUp challenge to reduce racial disparity and increase income in this community,” Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said in a press release. “I see so much promise in these two projects, which will increase health and opportunity in our community, and in the partnerships and commitment that built them. An investment from Schmidt Futures' Alliance will serve as a catalyst for creative solutions that can bring lasting change to Madison.”
The other project moving on to the finals is Connect RX, which will partner with Black families to design a culturally responsive, closed-loop referral system that coordinates, tracks and responds to their self-identified medical needs. Connect RX organizers did not respond to requests for comment.