United States
Subject Areas:
Economic Opportunity/Mobility
Donor Partner:


Status: Closed; Awarded

Economic Opportunity Challenge

On December 15, 2020, premier technology workforce development organization Per Scholas was announced as the awardee of the $10 million Economic Opportunity Challenge. The “Proven Pathways to Transformative Careers in Tech” project will improve economic opportunities for low-income individuals within the United States.

Credit: Per Scholas


The Economic Opportunity Challenge was designed to scale a game-changing solution to improve the economic health of low-income families in the U.S. More than 160 applicants submitted entries, from which five finalists were selected. Applications were evaluated during a three-month review process by more than 120 philanthropic and civic leaders, as well as subject matter experts in economic development, public policy, youth opportunity, economic justice, and regional planning, among others. Applications were evaluated based on four criteria: magnitude of impact, strength of evidence, likelihood of success, and potential for scale.

The Recipient

Per Scholas seeks to disrupt generational cycles of poverty affecting more than 13,000 individuals seeking technology careers in cities across the U.S. over the next three years. With the $10 million grant, Per Scholas plans to expand 14 existing in-person training locations, launch 10 new ones, and scale new remote offerings to help triple enrollment by 2023. “Proven Pathways to Transformative Careers in Tech” will propel low-income people into the middle class by helping them launch successful careers in technology.


On June 24, 2020, we announced five finalist teams that advanced toward the $10 million Economic Opportunity Challenge. Selected from a pool of 160 applicants, the finalists represented projects focused on workforce development, asset building, and policy reform.

The Challenge finalists were:

  • Skills for America's Future: Changing Lives Through a Jobs-First Model (video)
    Skills for Chicagoland’s Future will drive economic mobility in 17 cities by placing 10,325 low-income individuals into meaningful employment over the next five years.
  • Moving Families Out of Poverty Permanently (video)
    Family Independence Initiative (FII) will partner with the City of Chicago to move low-income families out of poverty, permanently. FII will invest directly in the existing strengths and solutions of low-income families and their communities, and remove the deficit-based criteria traditionally used to access support.
  • Making Freedom Free: Bail and Economic Mobility in the South (video)
    The Bail Project will provide free bail assistance and wraparound services to low-income individuals in 20 jurisdictions across the country and advocate for systemic changes to the pretrial system.
  • Chicago Asset-Building for Children (Chicago ABCs) (video)
    Chicago ABCs, a coalition led by the Chicago Community Trust, will braid three proven strategies: child savings accounts, cash transfers, and visiting nurses in a dual generation approach to propel 4,600 families to economic security.

“All of the finalists in this Challenge presented compelling ideas for expanding economic opportunities that warrant funding beyond the grants received as a result of the competition,” said Cecilia Conrad, CEO of Lever for Change. “The donors were particularly inspired by the vision of the Per Scholas team to strengthen untapped talent in our country.”

The sponsors of the Challenge, who wish to remain anonymous, are seeking additional donors to fund Per Scholas, as well as a number of other highly rated organizations that applied to the Challenge, to ensure that these outstanding projects secure the resources they need to carry out their vital work.

In this regard, Focusing Philanthropy, a multi-year philanthropic partner of Per Scholas, has committed at least $5 million of additional funding to implement Per Scholas’ winning vision articulated in the Economic Opportunity Challenge. Catalyzing the “Proven Pathways to Transformative Careers in Tech” project is Focusing Philanthropy’s second “Bold Initiative” – a transformative, large-scale multi-year partnership to support a proven effective model with an established implementation partner.

If you are interested in funding Per Scholas or any of the outstanding projects identified in the Challenge, please contact Dana Rice, Vice President of Philanthropy at Lever for Change.

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