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President: Elliott Brown
Grade: A-
Winner's Statement

Alvaro Conde's heart used to sink every morning when he began his commute to work. The job he had landed after emigrating from Guatemala wasn't terrible—he was a training coordinator at a Home Depot store in East Palo Alto, California. But neither was it the sort of work counseling for orphans, runaways, and victims of violence that had become his passion. "I didn't feel like I fit here," he says.

Conde was a classic Springboard Forward client—an uninspired low-wage worker in need of support and redirection. Sure enough, with six months of guidance, he came to see the upside: The English he picked up on the job was actually helping him qualify for the work he really wanted. He practiced interviewing and made a career plan, taking a second part-time job with a program for disabled children while working on a human-resources degree online. And he won a promotion at Home Depot. Now he enjoys his job, even as he maps out a path to something better. "I saw that it's like a puzzle, the way it fits together," Conde says.

Springboard posits that with the right counseling, entry-level workers can move toward more fulfilling, better-paying work and, meantime, become more productive workers—at once breaking a cycle of poverty and solving a persistent employer problem. Yet it needs more than anecdotal proof if it wants companies to invest broadly in low-wage workers with hopes of a bottom-line result. To scale, it needs data.

That's where a seemingly modest partnership with a company called Kenexa comes in. Kenexa, a recruiting and retention consulting firm, gathers employee-satisfaction data. But to sell that service, it has to demonstrate that job satisfaction matters and can improve the business.

So although Springboard and Kenexa are on opposite lines of the tax code, they found themselves with the very same goal—and a belief that solving the labor- issue problem also addresses an important social issue. "We both came at the problem from different angles, but we were essentially operating with the same mission statement," says Elliott Brown, founder of Springboard Forward.

Under the terms of their three-year partnership, Kenexa will devise a series of sophisticated surveys of Springboard's clients. Springboard gets a price break in exchange for sharing data that Kenexa can use to market the service elsewhere. The intended result: More clients for both partners—the sort of mutual value that should inform any partnership.

Data Point

Number of clients Springboard Forward has offered training and counseling: 101

A version of this article appeared in the December 2006/January 2007 issue of Fast Company magazine.