257: The Role of Social Enterprise in Prevention and Intervention, with Wendi Copeland


In this episode of the podcast, Sandie Morgan and Wendi Copeland, Chief Strategic Partnership Activation Officer, discuss how the mission of Goodwill is not just as a second-hand store, but to provide opportunities to people and help them thrive. The take a deep dive into what a human-centered framework is and how it can be useful for trafficking survivor reintegration efforts.

Wendi Copeland

Wendi Copeland invests her people and business systems skills in developing strategy to sustainably respond to community needs…so everyone has the opportunity to thrive. As Goodwill Industries International’s Chief Strategic Partnership Activation Officer, she leads professionals who leverage relationships and resources to advance Goodwill’s life changing mission and social enterprises while fueling systems change. Her team’s portfolio includes partner engagement, government relations, resource development and philanthropy. Over her 30+ year workforce development career, Copeland has led rapid growth of business and mission lines in three non-profits. She serves on numerous national advisory and work groups that focus on equitable credentialing, career advancement, incumbent worker upskilling, and economic mobility.

Key Points

  • The founding of Goodwill started with providing resources and dignity to people and the community.
  • A human-centered design is one where the assets and resources are brought to the individual to help them thrive.
  • A human-centered design is a multidimensional supportive ecosystem.
  • Survivor reintegration efforts can be impactful when designed around each individual and structured to help them thrive where it is needed.


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Dave [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode number 257, The Role of Social Enterprise in Prevention and Intervention, with Wendi Copeland.

Production Credits [00:00:12] Produced by Innovate Learning, maximizing human potential.

Dave [00:00:32] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie [00:00:37] And my name is Sandie Morgan.

Dave [00:00:40] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Sandie, we have been at it for over a decade on the podcast. And one of the things that I treasure so much of this show is being able to have really insightful conversations with experts who not only have so much wisdom for us, but also share the heart for ending human trafficking. And today, I’m so pleased that we have an expert in Wendi Copeland, who I know is going to help us to illuminate more and help us to think about this from a standpoint of social enterprise. I’m so pleased to introduce Wendi Copeland to you. She invests in people and business systems and developing a strategy to sustainably respond to community needs so everyone has the opportunity to thrive. As Goodwill Industries International Chief Strategic Partnership Activation Officer, she leads professionals who leverage relationships and resources to advance Goodwill’s life changing mission and social enterprises while fueling systems change. Her team’s portfolio includes partner engagement, government relations, resource development, and philanthropy. Over her 30-year workforce development career, Wendi has led rapid growth of business admission lines at three nonprofits. She serves on numerous national advisory and work groups that focus on equitable credentialing, career advancement, incumbent worker upskilling and economic mobility. Wendy, so glad to welcome you to our show.

Wendi [00:02:13] Thank you, Dave. It’s good to be here.

Sandie [00:02:16] Wendi and I met on my last big trip before covid. I was out in Washington, D.C., and she invited me up to their international offices and I took a train. And it was a wonderful excursion because I don’t know your part of the world very well. And I was just telling Dave, we found so much to talk about that we literally they were closing the building down when we finished our conversation. Maybe we didn’t finish our conversation. And that’s why we’re starting a new one today.

Wendi [00:02:53] Thank you, Sandie. It is. And it’s an honor to be here today and have an opportunity to talk about what really matters and how we can connect people with opportunity, because, as we say, everyone deserves the opportunity to thrive.

Sandie [00:03:08] I love that. And on your web page, it describes your mission as a vision for transformation. And so often, and a lot because I do a lot of task force evaluation and things like that in assessment, I’m checking boxes and I feel very transactional. It’s about the numbers. And transformation is a little harder to wrap our minds around. But let’s start with the story of Goodwill. I think a lot of people just think it’s a great secondhand store.

Wendi [00:03:51] Well, that and more. More than a store, for sure. If you look at where we began in 1902 in Boston, a Methodist minister was welcoming people to our country. They did not have skills. They often did not have the clothing they needed or the supports they needed to become part of this country. And he went out and he collected goods and started distributing them. And what he learned was people did not want just the things they needed to survive. They wanted skills and jobs so they could thrive. And that began the good road network and the Goodwill movement. Today, there are 156 local goodwill organizations in the United States and Canada. We’re also in 13 other countries. There are more than 3,300 locations and in fact, 82% of the US population resides within 10 miles of their local Goodwill. We truly are America’s neighbor.

Sandie [00:04:52] I love that. I’m very good friends with the CEO of Orange County’s Goodwill and I have a Goodwill within a mile of my home. I think the story that really captured my attention was the story of the coat. Do you remember us talking about that?

Wendi [00:05:12] Absolutely. So the story goes in our history that Reverend Helms, Dr. Rev. Edgar Helms, collected some clothing from the better part of Boston, brought it in and was giving it away in his church. And it was basically a riot broke out and he was get out, get out, get out. And a lady came to him with the story is a blue coat. And she said, I want to buy this coat. And he said, just take it, just take it. And she said, no, I want to buy it because I want my dignity. And that really caused him to rethink how he was going to address the needs of people in his community. And that triggered what has become this, the world’s oldest social enterprise, the Goodwill Industries Store, which so many people know and thank you, because they’re donating the stuff they used to love. And it is fueling a network that employs more than 120,000 people, creating those jobs, creating those opportunities. More than a million people building skills, having an opportunity to connect with jobs and other resources that they need so that they can support their families and advance their careers. More than 20 million people connecting with Goodwill skill training online and really taking this social enterprise and fueling opportunity across North America in a way that had not been done before. And now it really stands as a pillar and the nonprofit and social enterprise community.

Sandie [00:06:54] So, let me help people begin to understand why this is so significant in the anti-human trafficking space. When I first began working here in the US with the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force, one of our biggest challenges was finding jobs for survivors who wanted to become established in the community, reintegrated. And they didn’t have the soft skills, the technical skills. And most of the job creation projects that we tried to launch were, I guess I could say well intentioned, but we didn’t really know what we were doing. And we’d create a plan. It was kind of a one size fits all plan. And then we were really disappointed when it didn’t work out. Most of our survivors have been young women and they maybe didn’t want to do a particular kind of job or it was not meaningful to them. And back to that word, dignity. And so your model, I didn’t realize somebody else had already been doing this for over a hundred years. So tell us how your employment model is different than just getting a job?

Wendi [00:08:34] That is a very important point and aspect about Goodwill. We are a true social enterprise. Everything we do, the businesses we operate, are the methods by which we achieve our mission. We employ 120,000 people. We also connect more than 100,000 people with jobs every year, and that’s growing all the time. So, as we are operating businesses, our local stores, we operate other types of businesses, staffing agencies that have support. We do business services. A number of businesses that we operate in is all with an eye at advancing our mission. We believe that their job is essential and insufficient, that it is important to have the dignity that comes with the paycheck and the opportunity to build that local recent work reference to have an opportunity to build skills and confidence. And we also believe that it is just as important that a person is building other skills. For example, we know that as our world changes, the digitization of so much work is just escalating. So making sure that everyone has the digital skills they need to not just apply for a job, often online or through Indeed, one of our partners, but also have the digital skills they need to go in and do a job to complete their timesheet, to respond to their employer via email and to have the, as you tell those power skills, often called soft skills, that people need to succeed with the secret rules in the workplace about how you behave and what you do and how you solve problems and how you create solutions and really working with people so that they can find their voice, find their way, build their confidence and advance their career. It is a social enterprise that creates opportunities within our business and then connects people to opportunities in the community.

Sandie [00:10:43] So as I began to understand, it helped me see where our programs were a little flat and maybe even one dimensional. So when the program didn’t fit that individual, we didn’t have an alternative. But what I’ve learned about the Goodwill vocational programs is that they are human-centered design as the framework and they adapt to the supportive needs of the person that they want to empower. And so, I was not in school when human-centered design became kind of a big thing. And I think you probably gave me my very first comprehensive lecture. That’s why we were there so long. Can you give us kind of a framework for that so we’re all on the same page as we move forward in this conversation?

Wendi [00:11:52] I appreciate the question. One of our chief tenets is that we meet people where they are. Every one of us has a bag of tricks and a bag of rocks. We all have something that makes us the best person to hire and something that would make us tough to work with. So, with human-centered design, it approaches every individual and every community believing that there are assets and that we can make the most of the assets that a person or a community has and that we can use that to design an ecosystem to support its test. Human centered design. My first lessons came from the group IDEO. And it really focuses on an asset based approach, believing that everyone has skills that perhaps are not recognized and that perhaps they themselves don’t recognize, and that we have an opportunity to help people discover their gifts and talents to make the most of them. And their skills are not just transferable, but they may help someone not just move up the ladder, but move across the lattice to a better job, to a different industry, and help them become who they were created to be. So with human-centered design, it begins with the person at the center of the design and brings the assets and the capabilities of the ecosystem to help them make the most of their lives and their career.

Sandie [00:13:27] So, as I started digging into this, I was one of those people who kept thinking, ‘oh, my gosh, I wish I’d understood that before I ever said that. Can I go back and erase that conversation?’ I just saw so many places where this would help us improve our outcomes. And the movement right now is survivor-informed in human trafficking. And I have conversations with my colleagues, some of us have been in this for a couple of decades, and we’re like, well, we’ve been working really, really hard. And and we thought we were doing this in a victim-centered, trauma-informed way, but we did not. And I’m just being really honest. I don’t believe that I actually understood what survivor-informed meant in practical applications. And, when I began to study some of the different models of human-centered design, I could suddenly see how to put it into practice because the aspirational goal of being survivor-informed, I’m 110% behind that. We have a library of survivors who have done interviews on the Ending Human Trafficking podcast because I want people to hear their voices. But it’s about a lot more than just being heard and being seen. It’s about actually having changes in how we do this.

Wendi [00:15:18] I absolutely agree. As we are designing a future that is equitable for all, and I think if this last 18 months had taught us nothing, it is that equity must be at the center of this global reset button that has been pushed. How do we design so that people have their best shot at opportunity? And that, I believe, begins with human-centered design, with valuing everyone’s assets, skills and capabilities, understanding that all of us bring value to the table and can benefit from a supportive ecosystem, which doesn’t mean that someone does something for me or gives me something. However, much like the lady in the founding of Goodwill, I want the dignity that comes with my paycheck, with buying my stuff, with doing for myself everything I can do for myself. And I can do a lot because I am a capable human with great value.

Sandie [00:16:24] I love that. And that term you just used the supportive ecosystem. That is very much like building around a person. And so we’re looking at that person centered and it’s supportive. And so when we’re dealing with designing a program, we should be thinking about designing for people and being people centered. And that may mean that our program can’t be just I’ve got a nine to five job for you and we’ll have a mentor, but it may include, how are you going to be sure that this survivor has housing? And as I began to get to know more people working in that supportive ecosystem, they looked at me like, where have you been? Of course, we have to make sure everybody has good housing and we have to make sure they have health insurance and that they’re getting acclimated with things like transportation. That supportive ecosystem is multidimensional. It’s not a one dimensional here’s a job and and it’s over. The whole program is over at five o’clock.

Wendi [00:17:53] And absolutely, this is holistic, whole person, and frankly, whole household. One of the things that we learned early on and frankly, Reverend Helms did it in the very beginning when he was knocking on doors around the South Boston and he would say, what do you need? And really listening. And people needed child care, and people needed skills, and people needed jobs, and people needed clothing because what they brought from another country when they came here was not fit for the Boston winter. So how do we meet people where they are, truly understand their perception of their needs, not our assessment only, their perception, and understand the individual’s priorities for them and for their household. And when we design with that, with the person at the head of the table, not some one of us who’s been doing this work, but the person whose life it is to order at the head of the table and listen hard and lean in and really bring the plan to meet them where they are. It changes everything, because the person who is responsible then becomes the individual who is advancing their career, building their skills in caring for their family. And that is respectful. And when we respect people, it just changes the game.

Sandie [00:19:21] I love that. And you’ve just used a bunch of words that I want to spend just a few more minutes on. The dignity, the respect, the listening demonstrates dignity and respect, and people like me that just want to fix it, that’s not very respectful. And I own that and I’m working on it. But how do I make this part of my culture? What does this look like in our workplace?

Wendi [00:19:51] Oh, I’ve worked with teams who have built this type of workplace and I can see in my head right at this moment a group of women who were personal advisors. So they weren’t caseworker’s. They weren’t going to fix anyone. They were personal advisors. So it already says I’m here for you, availability 24/7, and it’s not on a list of things. It’s like your whole life is what is changing now. So let’s let’s build the plan in your words to fit your entire life so that you can move forward with a very clear goal was that this is about you having stable housing, stable nutrition, your kids are cared for, whoever is in your household. And it could be anyone, that everyone is moving forward. Because what we saw is if we don’t make sure all the adults are moving forward, there is an increased risk of domestic violence. So we really have to make sure that everyone in the household is having their needs addressed and then she can get ahead and she has a greater opportunity to have a plan to advance her career. And what we learned also highest motivation most often was I want something better for my children. Second highest motivation often, I want something safer for my entire family. And the third motivation is often transportation. If I am walking, I will be able to take the bus or from taking the bus, I want to have a used car. That’s probably not a great car. I’ve got one of those not great cars, I want a better car. But really meeting people where they are, making sure that their priorities are our priorities, and that we are here to back the person up, not here to manage their lives for them.

Sandie [00:21:41] Wendi, it’s like you have been looking over my shoulder at all my notes from the different programs I’ve been involved in and the whole trickle down thing of no child care. Well, how can I get to that interview and transportation and even to the point where young moms have had their children taken into a foster situation because it wasn’t safe where they were. And we have mom in a parenting class, she’s doing really well, but we didn’t figure out how to get her to those mandatory appointments and also be where she has to pick up her child after school. Those are things that are on us. If we’re being, I’m going to keep using that supportive ecosystem terminology, because we have to be looking. And for me, I have a car and it’s pretty reliable. So I’ve only had a couple of times where it didn’t work and I had to call somebody. But I don’t think about how someone is going to get there. And so I need to not be sitting at the head of the table.

Wendi [00:23:02] And derailment is in the details.

Sandie [00:23:04] What?!

Wendi [00:23:04]  We get derailed with all the little things. It is having a plan A, B and C for child care, transportation, frankly, in many places, nutrition, making sure that the food last till the end of the month. And really looking at how can we make sure that as we’re working with people, we are listening to their concerns. We’re curious about things that we may know could be a challenge, and in our curiosity, we are not overwhelming or overwriting people’s priorities. We are cognizant of and respectful of my individual priorities.

Sandie [00:23:45] And that is so key and it really reflects. I know that you have worked with human trafficking survivors and you understand that this element of control is always a trigger point because they’re most all trafficking victims were under some kind of control, whether by force, fraud or coercion. You all know the definition of the elements. So when I’m laying things out in my very, I’m the nurse; here’s your care plan. Nutrition is always really high on my list. And the resistance to that in the beginning, I didn’t understand it because I’m thinking I’m like a mom. I want to make sure you’re getting your veggies and your fruits and all those good things. And I want your groceries to last to the end of the month. But when I try to do like some, and I’m using air quotes people, and I know some of my friends who are identifying right now with the frustration, I’m going to take her grocery shopping. And when I see the things going in the cart, I want to scream. Oh! But, dignity and respect. How do you manage that as a transformational process?

Wendi [00:25:11] I think this really comes down to exactly where we began. But this is human-centered. It is the respect and dignity of this human that is driving everything I do, it is informing every move I make, and it is the parameter in which I am allowing myself to operate. So, as this individual is laying forth the life they have now, we can’t change everything at one time. So much change at one time is just overwhelming. So what can a person afford to change now? What is the triage? So what is definitely going to knock me off my forward motion, and then deal with that first? And then what are my priorities? Then what are the issues that are going to make me be motivated to stay in the game when the change is very uncomfortable? I have to have a win. I need to know that somethings moving forward. And then let’s triage this, let’s start with three to five things. And maybe if it’s really tough for me right now, I’ll start with one or two. And so laying this out and a path that is manageable and that I have the emotional bandwidth to manage so I can win before we add more things to my trajectory and advancing my career, caring for my family and really building my life, the life that I want, where I want, within the value system to which I subscribe.

Sandie [00:26:48] So Wendi, where can we find these resources?

Wendi [00:26:52] Sure. So, well come to Goodwill, www.goodwill.org. Goodwill.org is a great place to start. You can connect with your local goodwill. You can find a job and career services there. You can even connect with employers via our partner Indeed. We would love to hear from you. If you want to partner with Goodwill, there is a place where you can go where it says “partner with us” and you can click on that, complete a form and we’ll work at getting you connected with the right folks to achieve what you’re looking to make different on this planet.

Sandie [00:27:30] Well, and I’m excited about beginning to be able to start working on some of the things we talked about partnering with just before Covid shut down. One of the things we want to do is put decals on Goodwill dressing room mirrors that have the 888 number and Be Free text number. So, we want to be very engaged and accessible in our communities. And Goodwill’s been here doing this for over a hundred years and I feel like I just have a brand new best friend.

Wendi [00:28:06] And Goodwill is America’s neighbor. We appreciate the opportunities to be of service to this country. Millions of people donate the stuff they used to love to us that fuels the good we do in communities for millions of people every year.

Sandie [00:28:22] And you guys have been one of our main partners for our Live2Free Fall Fair Trade Fashion show as our students have learned to recycle. And that means visiting a Goodwill store to put together a fabulous new outfit from something somebody else used to love.

Wendi [00:28:42] That is great. We are here on this planet to make a difference. So thank you for the opportunity to share some about what we’re learning and we are learning from so many others. We appreciate the opportunity to partner.

Sandie [00:28:55] Thanks for being here.

Dave [00:28:57] Thank you both for this conversation as so many opportunities for us. Wendi, thanks so much for your perspective. We, as always, are going to link up to everything that’s been mentioned today on our website at endinghumantrafficking.org.

Dave [00:29:11] If you’re listening on your podcast app, you might also want to just swipe over. You’ll see the notes for everything there that you may want to follow up on. In addition, we’re inviting you to take the first step while you’re online. Go download a copy of Sandie’s guide, The Five Things You Must Know: A Quick Start Guide to Ending Human Trafficking. It’s completely free. It’ll teach you the five critical things that Sandie’s identified in her work here at the Global Center for Women and Justice that you should know before you join the fight against trafficking. You can get access to it by going over to endinghumantrafficking.org. And if today’s conversation has spurred a question for you that you’d like to hear more on either through individually or here on the show, we’d invite you to reach out to us, feedback at endinghumantrafficking.org. And of course, we’ll be happy to connect with you further. As always, we’ll be back in two weeks for our next conversation. Thanks so much, Sandie and look forward to seeing you then.

Sandie [00:30:05] Bye, Dave.

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