If you had the next $150,000 idea, would your job get in the way of making that idea a reality?
The Workers Lab is a funding outlet and think tank dedicated to finding real-world solutions for the problems workers face around the world. As the backbone of companies, countries, and economies, workers are the drivers of transformation in society, but they’re often the first to be cast aside during events like the COVID-19 pandemic.
In light of displacements and delays caused by COVID-19, The Workers Lab recently extended the application deadline for its Spring 2020 Innovation Fund award cycle to April 22. COVID impact has also led to the decision to cancel the Innovation Fund Finalist Showcase, typically held in San Francisco after each application cycle. This year, The Workers Lab is looking into virtual presentation options instead.
“The COVID-19 national emergency is exposing major gaps in the existing social safety net,” wrote the team in their update. “During this time of crisis, new ideas to support workers are more important than ever. For this reason, we are committed to proceeding with the current cycle of the Innovation Fund.”
The Innovation Fund is one of the ways The Workers Lab fights to increase worker power through innovative ideas. Through its initiatives, The Workers Lab supports campaigns and projects that directly empower workers, their families, and the communities that rely on them.
“Power matters, too,” reads the team’s mission statement. “And workers need it, not only to drive the major changes our society needs, but also to achieve the outcomes that they envision for themselves and their families. Power can increase the ability of workers to ensure their jobs sustain their safety, security, and wellbeing. It can also increase the ability of workers to play a more active, transformative role at work, at home, and in society at large. We must increase power for workers, for the betterment of their lives and that of our collective future.”
The Workers Lab furthers its goals through two main offerings: Design Sprints and the Innovation Fund.
Design Sprints for Social Change act as collaboration opportunities between thought leaders in a wide range of financial, educational, and professional sectors. Supported by the Rockefeller Foundation and Google.org, these Design Sprints design, develop, test, and roll out new products that deliver up to $1,000 to low-income workers to be used for unexpected expenses, without any promise of payback.
The Innovation Fund, on the other hand, is The Workers Lab’s more robust offering. In answer to the funding deficit many working people face while developing new ideas, the Innovation Fund encourages applications from community organizations, social entrepreneurs, and leaders who would otherwise face financial difficulty in developing new ideas. Applications come in the form of big ideas that need help for execution: projects that improve the lives of workers in direct, measurable (and often financial) ways. Innovators of color, women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community are “especially welcome” to apply.
After a rigorous application process, Innovation Fund award winners receive $150,000 and support over 12 months to further develop, test, and grow their idea. These ideas fall into one or more of the following categories:
- Transportation or transit access to work
- Physical or mental health and well being
- Communication between workers on a single worksite or across sites
- Protection against wage theft and exploitative conditions
- Streamlined access to safety net supports and protections in the case of hardship or retirement
- Access to training, education, and transition services
- Work stability and quality
Past winners include Working Washington’s #PayUp program, which works to improve pay and protections for gig workers, and Migrant Justice (Justicia Migrante)’s Milk with Dignity, a program designed to fight against harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and unfair or unsafe working conditions for dairy workers, many of whom come from immigrant families.
In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, The Workers Lab has also rolled out a new initiative called The Workers Fund, which disperses donation dollars to gig-economy and low-contract workers (particularly those without employee benefits) most affected by the crisis. The Workers Fund uses partnerships with Steady and Canary to identify recipients and distribute cash payments, respectively. 100% of donated funds go directly to workers in need.
To make a donation to The Workers Fund, click here.
Opportunities like the Workers Lab’s Innovation Fund and Design Sprints offer unique opportunities for women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. While the organization’s programs are supported by foundations like the Rockefeller Foundation and Google.org, further support from the feminist philanthropy industry would offer The Workers Lab new ways to expand its offerings and reach a wider portion of marginalized worker communities.
Working mothers, people facing employment discrimination, and gig-economy workers wondering how they’re going to survive the COVID-19 crisis can all directly benefit from programs that come out of The Workers Lab think tank. The only way forward is together.