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Ashoka: Innovators for the Public elects founder of "Genesys Works" program that puts low-income high school students into high-tech jobs in major corporations and jump-starts successful careers

November 14, 2006

ARLINGTON, VA - "Genesys Works" understands that many disadvantaged youth don't drop out of school but they do sell themselves short by viewing high school as their end goal. The Houston program helps teens develop critical job skills and self-confidence through professional jobs, giving them the tools they need to change the trajectory of their lives, begin on an upwardly mobile career path, and thrive in the economic mainstream.

For his vision in creating the organization, Rafael Alvarez is one of 18 social entrepreneurs from the United States, Canada and Mexico who were inducted into an international fellowship by "Ashoka: Innovators for the Public" at a special ceremony on November 14, 2006, at the Google campus in Mountain View, California. Once elected, Fellows benefit from being part of the Ashoka fellowship for life.

Alvarez was serving on the board of a charter high school when he got the idea for Genesys Works, but the seed was germinated long before when he was a high school delivery boy for a computer company. He took a class in BASIC programming and was inspired by how much the teachers enjoyed instructing the class. When he felt confident in his abilities, he boldly went to the Vice President of the company and asked to teach an introductory class. With that opportunity, he moved up in the company during high school and by the time he was a freshman in college studying mechanical engineering, he felt daring enough to write to the Big Three automakers to ask for a summer job. All were impressed that he already had professional experience. He took a job with Chrysler and later did an internship in marketing at Proctor & Gamble. After college he joined Compaq Computers as a product engineer and moved up as a project manager.

Alvarez does not think his early success was luck or smarts. "I was on the board for a charter high school, attending their graduation ceremony, and I realized I wasn't any smarter than those kids. I just had the opportunity to be in a professional environment early on, and that made a huge difference for me." He became convinced that getting "that first professional job" and experiencing success in the corporate world would vastly improve the outlook for smart but disadvantaged students who never thought past high school and menial jobs.

As it did for so many others, September 11th had a huge impact on Alvarez. "Everyone was reminded that we can be gone tomorrow," he says. "It made us think, 'What is my purpose in this world?' Within two weeks, I had quit my job and negotiated a severance package that allowed me to launch Genesys Works."

The organization provides intensive training and places high school students in technical positions with top corporations in the Houston area. Students perform real, value-added services for Fortune 500 corporations at less cost than what the company would otherwise pay. The students gain knowledge, experience, an income, and a network of support while the companies gain highly-motivated and trained entry-level employees, and boost company morale by engaging employees in the professional development of young people. Rafael encourages companies to invite students back for college internships that could lead to permanent positions.

Currently, 12 out of the 15 largest companies in Houston employ Genesys Works' students. The companies are thrilled with their enthusiastic young workers, who also help raise employee morale. Most importantly, it is making a huge difference in the lives of its students. "At the high schools we serve, a very low percentage of graduates go to college," says Alvarez. "We've turned that around - in our program, 90 percent of our graduates go to college, and stay in." Alvarez is looking to expand the organization to Dallas next year and then to 15 additional cities.

Headquartered in Arlington, Va., Ashoka elects leading social entrepreneurs to an international Fellowship of their peers, providing significant financial support and an array of pro-bono professional services, primarily through three strategic partnerships: McKinsey & Company, Hill & Knowlton, Inc. and the International Senior Lawyers Project. Additional support is available from Ashoka for Fellow-initiated collaborations and exchange visits.

"Ashoka is working to elevate and strengthen the 'citizen sector' around the world," says Ashoka founder Bill Drayton in announcing this year's Fellows. "We admire the qualities traditionally associated with leading business entrepreneurs - vision, innovation, determination and long-term commitment - and we look for those entrepreneurs who are committed to systemic social change in their fields. Ashoka Fellows are recognized for their innovative solutions to some of society's most pressing social problems."

Ashoka Fellows work in six broad fields: learning/youth development, the environment, health, human rights, economic development and civic participation. Selection criteria include the social impact of the idea, demonstrated creativity in problem solving, the newness of the idea and the entrepreneurial quality of the founder.

Ashoka: Innovators for the Public is a global community of social entrepreneurs who deliver innovative solutions to social problems. To build this citizen sector community, Ashoka identifies and supports leading social entrepreneurs, creates opportunities for collaboration, and builds systems and institutions that facilitate high impact social solutions. In the 25 years since its founding, Ashoka has provided start-up financing, professional support services, and connection to a global peer network for more than 1800 leading social entrepreneurs in over 60 countries. Ashoka's global fellowship is privately financed by individuals, venture networks, foundations, and leading business entrepreneurs.

www.ashoka.org        www.changemakers.net        www.genesysworks.org

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