Georgetown University launched a program to transform the lives of a highly select group of District of Columbia residents released from the city’s correctional facilities who show strong potential to become successful leaders and role models in their communities.

Through a combination of education and partnership with local employers, the university’s Pivot Program aims to prepare participants for positions as both entrepreneurial leaders and productive employees.

The Pivot Program represents a collaboration among Georgetown’s Prisons and Justice Initiative, Georgetown College, and the McDonough School of Business, with support from the Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizen Affairs and a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA). In addition, the D.C. Department of Employment Services provides a stipend to participants.

Each year, roughly 5,000 individuals are released from D.C. correctional facilities, and less than half of them find sustainable employment. According to Georgetown’s Prisons and Justice Initiative, this perpetuates a cycle of crime and incarceration, with devastating effects on families, communities, and the broader economy.

Georgetown designed the Pivot Program to break that cycle and recapture this untapped human capital. The transition program offers a noncredit-bearing certificate in business and entrepreneurship. The first cohort of 16 returning individuals, known as Pivot Fellows, started with classes at Georgetown’s downtown campus, which also houses the School of Continuing Studies.

“Our approach is based on the premise that a combination of higher education and employment — together with the social, emotional, and intellectual development that takes place in a university environment — will succeed in preparing returning citizens for positions as both entrepreneurial leaders and productive employees,” said Pietra Rivoli, vice dean of the McDonough School of Business. 

Over the course of 10 months, Pivot Fellows engage in a mix of classes taught by faculty from the McDonough School of Business and Georgetown College. They also participate in internships at local employers and work on developing business ventures or assist others in doing so at Georgetown -Venture Lab, located at WeWork White House.

Toward the end of the program, fellows may choose to continue on an employment or entrepreneurship track. Those opting to create their own business will be provided with work space, business coaching, legal support, and access to resources. 

“The principal goal of the Pivot Program is employment readiness,” said Marc M. Howard, director of Georgetown’s -Prisons and Justice Initiative. “This program is designed to prepare participants for a range of outcomes like sustainable employment, owning and operating their own businesses, and/or continuing their education.”

The program teaches the fundamentals of business and entrepreneurship, as well as literature, economics, philosophy, and civic engagement. It also covers professional and life skills, such as personal finance, career planning, business communications, business etiquette, public speaking, self-advocacy, and conflict resolution.

“Our emphasis on entrepreneurship is intentional,” said Alyssa Lovegrove, academic director of the Pivot Program. “While fellows are not required to start a business, they are taught how to adopt and apply an entrepreneurial mindset and to feel a greater sense of empowerment. We believe this increased confidence will result in a more positive career trajectory and an enhanced ability to respond to social and regulatory barriers.”

The MBDA funding commitment demonstrates Pivot’s innovation as a project that will transform both participants’ lives and the national conversation about formerly jailed people returning to their communities, according to Joshua Miller, managing director of the Pivot Program. “-Georgetown and MBDA recognize that formerly incarcerated women and men deserve a second chance. We all benefit when these talented people find useful endeavors whereby they can serve their neighbors and enrich our city,” Miller said.

 

Published in Georgetown Business magazine, Spring 2019