Georgetown University Pivot Program
The Pivot Program is a 10-month certificate in business and entrepreneurship designed specifically for formerly incarcerated individuals. The program is delivered by Georgetown faculty, in partnership with the Washington, D.C., Department of Employment Services.
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The idea for the Pivot Program was sparked during a meeting in early 2018 between Pietra Rivoli, professor of finance and international business at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, and Marc Howard, professor of government and law at Georgetown College. Rivoli was interested in developing programs that would further engage Georgetown University with the Washington, D.C., community and build on the university’s Jesuit values.
Rivoli was familiar with Howard’s efforts in criminal justice and prison reform, particularly in D.C., which has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country and releases nearly 5,000 individuals from prison or jail every year. The study of entrepreneurship is particularly valuable for citizens rejoining society, so they can create their own future. Many returning citizens sense that they will encounter dismissive attitudes and automatic biases when they are released from prison, so the prospect of starting a business, versus getting rejected when applying to jobs, is appealing. They understand that having business ideas and creativity gives them a better chance at a meaningful career.
Pivot Program fellowships are full-time commitments. Approximately half of their time is spent in class and training at either Georgetown University’s downtown campus or the Georgetown Venture Lab at WeWork, and the other half in internships. At the end of the academic year, fellows choose between one of two transition-phase tracks: incubation or employment. Those opting to create their own business are provided with work space, business coaching, legal support, and access to resources; those seeking permanent employment are placed in off-campus internships with local employers.
For the duration of the program, Pivot Program fellows receive a weekly internship stipend from the D.C. Department of Employment Services (DOES), providing a strong incentive to complete the program. The program is designed to prepare participants for an array of post-program outcomes: obtaining sustainable employment, owning and operating their own businesses, and/or continuing their education.
The curriculum provides both training in the fundamentals of business and entrepreneurship, as well as general knowledge and liberal arts courses (literature, economics, philosophy, and civic engagement). The program also includes modules on professional and life skills, such as personal finance, career planning, business communications and business etiquette, public speaking, self-advocacy, and conflict resolution.
The Pivot Program is still in its pilot phase, but the results are encouraging. Of the 15 fellows who completed the program in 2018, all but one found employment, and three have also created side ventures they intend to grow. Two are working full-time with leading national organizations as criminal justice reform advocates, and several have testified at important policy forums. We are also proud that members of the Georgetown community have supported our program, including faculty who help deliver the curriculum, students who coach the fellows, and staff who act as facilitators and mentors.
Several other universities have expressed interest in our work. We are planning a future event where we can share our experience with others who may be interested in creating similar programs, and with employers who want to understand how they can create a more inclusive culture within their own organizations. We hope to partner with organizations like SHRM (the Society for Human Resources Management) and JPMorgan Chase, which have taken a vocal stand in favor of second-chance employment.
We have also received financial support from the Minority Business Development Agency, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Individuals with criminal records face a vast array of challenges, including business licensing restrictions, limited access to housing, difficulty gaining benefits and consumer credit, ineligibility for certain types of employment, and curtailed voting rights. Rethinking employment norms regarding individuals with criminal records is one of the most significant ways we can achieve more equal access to economic and social opportunity for all.