The Power of Work: Why We Fund Jobs

by | Feb 5, 2016 | Behind the Scenes

The MY JOB book and community began with one premise: What we do for a living deeply impacts our experience of our self and our life.

For me, a typical middle-class American woman who grew up in the Midwest and began working at age eleven (if you count babysitting—or fifteen, when I earned my first Baskin-Robbins paycheck), my job defines me, gives me purpose, and frustrates and fulfills me daily.

Currently, my work-life has taken me on a spooky sort of metaphysical trip on both sides of jobs, in that I’m editing a book full of a variety of people talking about their jobs while also running a nonprofit organization that funds job-creation as a path out of poverty. Join me for a look at the cultural and personal impact of jobs—and the rationale behind why we fund job creation.

Suzanne interviewing Arindam India 2014

I’m in a village in Assam, in the northeast of India, interviewing eco-factory-founder Arindam Dasgupta (R) about the way his local employees, some skilled and some not, gather fallen arecanut palm leaves and bring them in to be cleaned, dried, and pressed into biodegradable, disposable dinnerware. His company employs 750 people. Arindam appears in the video below.

Despite our tiny budget, my family and I have put half our nonprofit’s investments (the other half are in equal access to education) and all proceeds from the MY JOB book, into funding job-creation at both the domestic and international level—for those trapped in poverty with little or no access to work. We believe that a job can make a profound difference on the health, wealth, self-esteem, and wellbeing of the person hired, and further impact their family, extended family, community, and country.

Here’s why we fund jobs:

1. Everyone has the right to a dignified job.

We at MY JOB believe that we all have the right to a living wage with which to support our families. We believe that if we all had access to dignified (read: fair wages and safe) jobs we may transform our world away from the inequities that result in poverty.

2. Access to jobs helps people attain their dreams.

The American Dream stands on the foundation of equal opportunity in the pursuit of happiness. That pursuit often entails working hard, earning and saving, to build family and home, recreation and retirement. You could say that there is no American Dream without a good job to finance it. However, the scarcity of jobs in recent years has blocked many of us from our dreams.

According to The Center for American Progress, despite seeing 69 consecutive months of job growth since the Great Recession eased in June 2009, adding twelve million jobs and reducing unemployment to five percent, our economy—and the jobs that underpin it—we have a long way to go. The typical measure of unemployment does not capture the millions of people who are underemployed, have given up looking, or would like full-time work but cannot find it. The number of long-term unemployed Americans (2 million) remains near pre-recession numbers. Those with jobs face the frustration of “essentially stagnant” wage growth that causes our “middle-class workers [to] continue to grapple with the challenges of rising costs and slow wage growth.”

Employment at the individual level also creates wealth for our nation:

Many people who want full-time work are still missing from the labor force or are working fewer hours than they would like. These workers are the key to raising the nation’s potential economic output and future gross domestic product, or GDP.

Every week brings a new article to my in-box about the imminent takeover by robots of all our jobs . . . which some argue would not be all bad. E.g., in 1930, economist John We said he believed that human beings want to work in some way that contributes to society. Maybe those are the jobs we want to keep while robots do the menial tasks, This is as true for philanthropists Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan as for brand-new pragmatic billionaires Lisa and John Robinson, a couple in Tennessee who just won a record-level lottery Powerball of $1.6 billion (take-home: $538 million) in January.—They say they’re keeping their jobs in a distribution center and dermatologist office. “You can’t just sit down and do nothing,” says John.

The percentage of Americans in the workforce, reports the Associated Press, fell to a record-low of 62.9 last year. This year, as we elect a new President of the United States, let’s hope we choose a leader who’ll prioritize both job-creation and fair wages.

3. Job creation drives poverty reduction.

While the American Dream is built on the social mobility good jobs afford, individuals across the globe seek better opportunities for themselves and their families through work. “Nothing drives poverty reduction as much as access to jobs and increasing wages,” as World Bank research shows.

Jobs [are] a cornerstone for development that connects living standards, productivity and social cohesion – all critical for achieving inclusive growth.Access to good, steady jobs and living wages are key to ending extreme poverty by 2030 and to promote shared prosperity . . . Keeping people in growing nations employed will be a challenge, however. The International Labor Organization estimates that more than 400 million more jobs must be created worldwide between 2012 and 2022 to keep unemployment from rising.

According to the ILO, however, unemployment is anticipated to rise in 2016, adding an additional 3.4 million jobless in the next two years. Given the dreary global economic outlook, we believe that it is presently imperative to act on job creation and in defense of a living wage.

4. People like Arindam. 

This video features one of our MY JOB narrators, social entrepreneur Arindam Dasgupta, talking at his factory in Assam, India, where Arindam and his team design simple heaters and presses that turn palm leaves into dinnerware at the Tamul Plates factory. I met Arindam through Upaya Social Ventures, a nonprofit organization that builds jobs to end poverty.


Arindam training Tamul Plates team India 2014

Arindam training his staff in the front showroom of their factory. They sell their products across India and can ship anywhere. For more details on Tamul Plates and the baseline poverty of and job-impact on their employees, see this recently published Impact Report.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of


Here at MY JOB, we know that most of the world’s 7.3 billion citizens scramble to make a living any way they can: selling goods, hauling supplies, cleaning up messes, farming someone else’s land, or building and repairing products. The Gallup Poll reports that only 25% of adults have a full-time job worldwide, and the International Labor Organization (ILO) finds that 50-75% (excluding agriculture) of workers in developing countries are in the “informal” or “grey” economy, with poor conditions, no benefits, and no stability.

For as little as $240, Upaya creates long-term, dignified, reliable jobs for ultra-poor families who’ve previously had access only to trash-picking, stone-splitting, and odd jobs with farming and construction. Currently, Upaya supports ten enterprises that employ over 2,300 people.

Arindam is just one example from Upaya’s portfolio. He’s a smart social entrepreneur with a master’s in rural agronomy who decided to bring his city smarts to the rural northeast of India to set up shop in Barpeta, Assam.

“People laughed at me, saying I was mad for taking the path to the village instead of the city,” Arindam recalls. “Today I am known for my arecanut-leaf plate initiative.”

Tamul Plates has won awards for their skill-training empowerment and environmental innovation. The company employs 750 people, supports over 100 local microenterprises, and produces over 2 million biodegradable, disposable dinner plates per year out of what used to be rotting waste. The heavy rainfalls and tropical climate cause native palms to grow like wildfire, and their falling leaves cover some 247,000 acres.

Arindam and his team project the disposable dinnerware market to be currently at $32 billion worldwide, growing at 4.8% annually. They just might be onto something new that could produce a whole lot more jobs.


The Upaya impact 2016


Here at MY JOB, We believe in the power that people have to take themselves out of poverty and fulfill their dreams. They just need a global system that allows them access to do this for themselves. Our goal is to make that happen.

Stay tuned for the release of the MY JOB book, which will include a chapter by Arindam and his wife, Debleena–the other cofounder of Tamul Plates, the love of his life, and the woman who has a slightly different version of the story of his job . . .

All photographs and video courtesy of Upaya Social Ventures.

Read more about Upaya Social Venture’s unique model for investing in small businesses with a focus on employing the ultra poor, here. You can glance through Skees Family Foundation’s other job-creation partners here. If you catch the venture-funding bug and want to create a job (or a thousand jobs!) yourself, we’ve got you set: Just click here.


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Suzanne Skees, author of the three-volume MY JOB series on real people in remarkable jobs, believes in the power of our jobs over our identity and wellbeing and, conversely, our ability to change our world with the work of our minds and hands. She lives by the Pacific Ocean and spends as much time as possible listening to the surf, and to silence.



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