This blog post was written by our CEO, Matt Meltzer.
Since 2013, I've dedicated full days (and many nights) to send top college students abroad to work with entrepreneurs at global startups. Alongside this effort, I dove head-first into the tech space, absorbing as much as I could. One persistent and ubiquitous problem that I found across tech, and more broadly, most employers, is lack of diversity. Many companies, big and small, report a far less diverse workforce than the census-reported breakdown of U.S. college students: 58% white, 16% Hispanic, 15% black, and 8.1% Asian. The discrepancy between the number of diverse students on college campuses and diverse employees in the workforce may have multiple explanations, I'm sure. That discussion, however, is for another day. For now, I want to focus on creative solutions. And I think can help.
3 years. 5 continents. 12 countries. 180 students. It's been an incredible ride at Sage Corps. Last month I spent time with my team reflecting on our program - we had sent surveys to all of our alums, and reviewed their feedback and insights. Compared to other college abroad programs, our Fellows stand out. According to Institute for International Education’s Open Doors Report, 1.5% of enrolled college students study abroad in some form (mostly short term programs). Of those students, 75% are white. Our students ("Fellows") look much different. Only 53% are white - our program already is more diverse than the average college campus. They are citizens of 16 different countries. Over 80% speak two or more languages.
Given our early success recruiting diverse candidates, we intend to double down. In doing so, I think we can also play a part in helping full-time employers improve their diversity hiring. Here's how:
Sage Corps has partnered with the Fund for Education Abroad ("FEA"), a 501(c)(3) whose mission is to fund scholarships for underrepresented groups to study abroad in college. Donors (corporates, foundations, individuals, etc.) can make a 100% tax-deductible contribution to FEA. FEA will then select students to receive scholarship awards to cover expenses for students to live and work abroad for a startup. Each scholarship award is $6,500.
Yes, prospective employers should pay for underrepresented students to go abroad and intern for a global startup. Here's why:
This scholarship program is an opportunity to help more college students get meaningful global training for a global economy. And with our past success attracting diverse candidates, especially for tech-focused positions, we think that employers can leverage our unique talent pipeline to recruit and engage more diverse candidates a year or two earlier (as underclassmen) than they normally would.
Before our Fellows arrive to your company, they will cut their teeth at global startups with limited resources where they tackle real problems and build real solutions. Afterwards, they return home with substantive work product and clear deliverables to reflect their impact and value-add to their host startups. Ultimately, Sage Corps can become your company's entry-level training program.
The idea that an organization would pay prospective/current employees to get outside experience is not new. Many companies pay to send their own employees to business school, for example, and with good outcomes. And I know of multiple law firms that pay first-year law students the equivalent of a summer associate salary to go work in legal aid for the summer. The following summer, the student then comes to the law firm as a summer associate.
Not surprisingly, our alums go on to impress recruiters and secure incredible professional opportunities, whether at consulting firms, investment banks, big corporations, tech companies, and of course startups. Armed with extensive work product, our alums tell a more compelling professional narrative than their peers.
Our scholarship program will not solve the broader diversity problem that employers face overnight. But it's a start, and we're excited about the feedback we've received thus far. If you or your organization would like to learn more about our initiative, we would love to hear from you. You can reach out to me on LinkedIn, or you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.