Ade Adeniji 

For some, PayPal is a quick and easy way to send and receive money, but for a while now, the company has stressed the importance of trying to democratize financial services. There are nearly 2 billion unbanked people around the world. PayPal sees profit opportunities at the “bottom of the pyramid”—and also the potential to do some good.  

The company has implemented the ability to load cash into PayPal accounts via a prepaid card, and acquired TIO Networks last summer to make it easier for unbanked customers to pay their bills directly and digitally. Now, this doesn’t exactly mean PayPal wants to become a bank, either, as PayPal CEO Dan Schulman clarifies: “I think what we are trying to do is not try to compete or replace what’s going on with banks, but work with the financial system to fill in the gaps in the current system, so that everyone can afford the opportunities that the digital economy is extending.” 

Like a lot of companies these days, PayPal, which advances its philanthropic mission through PayPal GIVES, is also keen to help diverse young workers build STEM skills and advance their careers. At its San Jose headquarters last month, PayPal announced two grant donations through PayPal Gives to local organizations focused on these challenges. Year Up and Pivotal received grants of $125,000. At the event, Dan Schulman hosted a panel discussion with San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, PayPal Gives Director Julie Vennewitz-Pierce and Year Up and Pivotal representatives.  

PayPal’s Headquarters in San Jose, CA. Mariax/Shutterstock

As we’ve often reported, a who’s who of financial services giants have ramped up their giving for workforce development, STEM, and financial inclusion in recent years, with many focusing on youth. So where does PayPal fit into this funding landscape?  

I recently caught up with Julie Vennewitz-Pierce to find out more about PayPal Gives’ latest gift and its larger philanthropic ambitions. 

Vennewitz-Pierce began by talking a bit more about PayPal’s social impact work through its business. She explained that the company really focuses on three main areas: improving the financial health of individuals and small businesses, powering giving, and strengthening community. Vennewitz-Pierce, who oversees the company’s philanthropic program, aims to extend that impact while focusing on financial health and strengthening the local community. 

The PayPal GIVES Team program consists of 35 teams of employees around the world across different offices. Each team is provided with a grants budget, training on identifying needs of the community, and also how best to review grant applications and make grant decisions. Employees also gain support for volunteer activities and green initiatives.  

Vennewitz-Pierce is particularly excited about this San Jose program because it took place in their headquarters community. “We get to fill professional skills, STEM skills, and connect youth to companies and opportunities for employment directly,” she explains. She adds, “Research shows that from 15 to 25, more youth of color are missing out on educational opportunities, and outside of school, and falling through the cracks because of additional challenges.” 

PayPal Gives sent out an RFP and tried to invite most of the organizations working locally on this issue. Out of this effort, two organizations were chosen: Year Up, the national youth nonprofit that aims to close the “opportunity divide,” and has a number of local offices, including a strong Bay Area presence; and Pivotal, which deals with “impact-generating models that focus on high school and college-aged foster youth.”  

What made Year Up and Pivotal stand out for this first round of funding? For Vennewitz-Pierce, long-term and sustained youth intervention is key: “They have a pretty comprehensive approach where they support youth not just for the short term, but for a number of years. They help youth get through high school, college, connect to internships, and overall, have access to these critical surrounding services.” 

Year Up has actually placed quite a few interns at companies like PayPal, with a good chunk converting to full-time employees—more than 40 percent of the time, Vennewitz-Pierce estimates. “And for the ones that don’t convert, most are going on to finish college.” Many are youth of color, armed with STEM skills to connect with companies.  

Pivotal’s focus, meanwhile, is foster youth. According to the National Foster Youth Institute, only about half of youth raised in foster care nationwide end up finishing high school, and staggeringly, less than 3 percent graduate from a four-year college. “These are the most challenging situations to deal with. And these youth age out of the system at 18,” Vennewitz-Pierce says. Pivotal works to help youth stay connected, get scholarships and meet mentor figures so that they can build additional soft skills, STEM skills, and connect to employment.   

Vennewitz-Pierce is also excited about the ability of Pivotal and Year Up to leverage partnerships with other organizations, and even partner with each other. PayPal has been aware of Pivotal, recently renamed and still building new visibility, including one of their key staff people Melissa Johns, a nonprofit leader and education equity advocate who used to run an organization called Breakthrough Silicon Valley. 

Apart from these two grants, the PayPal Gives Team also gets employees involved in volunteering, legal pro bono work, and youth mentorship work. Through its hacakthon “Opportunity Hack,” PayPal coders build solutions for nonprofits. “In addition to all of our funding, we’re trying to bring our expertise and resources to bear,” Vennewitz-Pierce explains. 

PayPal Gives also works on a global level, including in partnership with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. Each month, employees virtually volunteer for two hours and mentor female entrepreneurs in developing countries.  

Meanwhile, when I asked Vennewitz-Pierce what her biggest hopes for the funds are, she said, “We hope to continue to have outcomes we’re driving toward, transforming opportunities for youth, and connecting them to a sustainable employment, and living wage income. Both Year Up and Pivotal have shown that the youth they work with, had they had not had this intervention, would’ve been on a path to making minimum wage and growing very little. Now, they’re actually connecting to a higher salary point and on a career path. They are now connected to professional employment they can sustain and putting themselves and their families onto a path of long-term professional health.” 

PayPal Gives recently closed its spring grant round for San Jose and will do another grant round in the fall. While the philanthropic initiative tries to build relationships with organizations working within financial health, it is also open to folks reaching out. 

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