Empowering undocumented young people to achieve educational and career goals
Jorge Ramos at the 2016 UWD Congress
FUSE began as a conversation between Katharine Gin, E4FC's Executive Director, and journalist/author Jorge Ramos.
As a longtime supporter of E4FC’s New American Scholars Program, Jorge wanted to deepen his commitment to E4FC and its mission. Katharine proposed FUSE as a way to expand financial support and foster meaningful opportunities for undocumented young people nationwide, particularly those who are inhibited from pursuing their chosen careers because of their immigration status.
"In this political climate nothing is more important than telling the truth about the enormous contributions of undocumented immigrants to our country. FUSE will serve as a tool for them to show their creativity and their commitment to this nation. I'm sure we will be pleasantly surprised with their projects for social change," said Jorge.
Since that initial conversation, a number of other prominent philanthropists and thought leaders have also committed to supporting FUSE and helped to design it. They includeThe Grove Foundation; James Gutierrez; Robert, Colleen, and Elise Haas; Jeff Hawkins; Unbound Philanthropy; andElisha Wiesel.
WHY WE'RE SUPPORTING FUSE
At a young age, my parents taught me the importance of having GANAS (Spanish for “desire” or “grit”) to pursue my dreams. They passed along the lessons of our family’s history immigrating to America from Mexico, struggling to make ends meet, and working long days as migrant farm workers and on construction sites so I could understand the values of hard work and overcoming adversity. I grew up believing that anything was possible as long as I had GANAS.
In 2005, I founded Progreso Financiero (now called Oportun), which provides micro-loans to Latinos in America that lack traditional credit scores and bank accounts. I believed that Latinos in the U.S. were hard working and deserving of opportunity, but the financial system was not working for them. Many lacked credit scores, and not having a credit score was like not having a face. Without a credit score, you don’t exist and no matter how hard you work, you cannot qualify for a bank loan to help buy a home or finance a small business. I founded Progreso Financiero to solve this problem so that hard working families could pursue their American dreams. I believed that despite lacking formal collateral, our borrowers had moral collateral, and if given the opportunity, they would prove to be very credit worthy.
Today, Oportun has provided over 1 millions loans in excess of over $2 billion to hard-working Latinos families across the US with low, single digit loss rates. As its founder, I learned with hard data that Latinos were not only credit worthy, but also deserving of every opportunity that our great country provides. I am supporting FUSE because the lessons we learned at Oportun—of believing in one’s moral collateral, despite lacking formal collateral—are the same for undocumented young people. My parents taught me GANAS so that I would believe in a future without limitations and my ability to overcome adversity. Children of undocumented immigrants are full of GANAS. They must deal everyday with the cold reality of their parents being deported and yet still strive to achieve their dreams. American is great because we give opportunity to people with no privilege, entitlement or formal collateral, and then we stand back to see what they will achieve. FUSE provides this opportunity to undocumented young people, and I look forward to seeing the innovation and leadership that will come from its awardees. James Gutierrez is a leading social entrepreneur and innovator in financial technology. In 2005, he founded Oportun (formerly Progreso Financiero), the leading provider of micro-loans to US Hispanics that recently surpassed $1.5 billion in loans and over 500,000 borrowers. As CEO from 2005-2012, James led Oportun from its development as a nascent start-up to a market leader and raised over $250 million of debt and equity. Under James’ leadership, the company scaled annual loan originations to over 200,000 with revenues of $65 million, 85 stores in California and Texas, and 600 employees. James has also served on the Fed’s Consumer Advisory Council and Centennial Advisory Committee, and architected three federal and state laws to increase the availability of affordable small dollar loans. He was also an early investor in Trulia, StubHub, OnDeck Capital, and Icon Aircraft. James graduated with a BA in Economics from Yale and MBA from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.
Robert, Colleen & Elise Haas
Our family is supporting FUSE because like most Americans, we are a family of immigrants. Our forebears also crossed borders and migrated to the United States: some fleeing persecution and likely death, others seeking economic opportunity and better lives. Had they not been provided refuge, we would not be here today. One of our ancestors, Levi Strauss, left Bavaria with his mother and two sisters at the age of eighteen. He migrated to the United States in 1848, joined his brothers in the family dry goods business, then struck out for California and the opportunity it presented during the burgeoning Gold Rush. With the inventiveness and work ethic that characterizes the immigrant ethos, he co-created riveted work pants for the gold miners. “Levi’s Waist-High Overalls” became known worldwide as the first blue jeans, creating an entire category of apparel and an iconic symbol of Americana. During the Cold War, consumers on the far side of the Iron Curtain would pay hundreds of dollars—many multiples of the sale price—for a pair of Levi’s. A simple pair of pants, along with the story behind the brand name, had come to represent America and its values to so many people. Levis became a shorthand for freedom, American culture, and the spirit of adventure and self-expression. If Levi hadn’t been allowed to emigrate, or if he had had to work in the shadows under the threat of deportation, barred from citizenship, he may still have invented blue jeans. Not likely, but possible. But he would never have been able to found his own business, to grow it and invest in factories and a workforce, and to have achieved enough financial success to be the dedicated philanthropist he went on to become. His ability to create all those things, and to give back, was entirely dependent on the immigration policy at the time. He had no more “right” to be an American, or to earn his citizenship, than any of the undocumented young people this fund will support. It was through the opportunity of citizenship and its resultant benefits that he was able to contribute so much to America’s industry, economy, style, and culture. Yves Saint-Laurent once said that he lived with one great regret: that he had not invented the blue jean. Saint-Laurent is a genius, but somebody got there first. And the country that got the credit was the country that gave the Strausses citizenship: not because they came with great wealth or social status or political standing, but because they asked for a chance and America said yes. Today’s undocumented youth are asking for that same chance, and currently being denied. How many Levi Strausses are among them? We see the echoes of our own history, we recognize the injustice being done to the undocumented community, and we want to do what we can to remedy the disparity in opportunity. There is a generation of brilliant minds and open hearts just waiting for the chance to make their unique contributions to the country we share: for the chance to unlock their potential. To them, our family would like to say: welcome. Thank you for choosing the United States. We can’t wait to see what you’ll create, who you’ll become, and the ways in which we can make this country better together. Let’s begin here. Robert Haas is Chairman Emeritus of Levi Strauss and Company. Colleen Haas is a retired civil rights attorney. Their daughter, Elise Haas, is a committed advocate for social justice issues. Robert, Colleen and Elise focus their personal philanthropy on issues of equity and inclusion. They are passionate supporters of efforts to reduce disparities facing immigrant communities, with a special interest in undocumented immigrants. Robert Haas also serves as a trustee of the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, a San Francisco-based family foundation established by his parents in 1953. The Haas, Jr. Fund awarded $1 million to U.C. Berkeley in 2012 to support scholarships for undocumented students. This grant still stands as the single-largest gift for scholarships of this type at a U.S university. That same year, in honor of her father, Elise Haas made the lead gift to establish a comprehensive program of support services for undocumented students at U.C. Berkeley, his alma mater.
I first became aware of the plight of undocumented students 11 years ago via my daughter's friend in high school, who was undocumented. Through her I learned the incredibly difficult challenges undocumented young people face. As I researched what could be done to help undocumented young people, I came across E4FC and have been a supporter ever since. In the past, the United States has done some terrible and embarrassing things to our own people, for example Jim Crow laws, the Chinese exclusion act, and the internment of Americans of Japanese descent during WWII. I believe we are now doing something equally bad, equally embarrassing, to young undocumented immigrants who were brought to our country by others and raised as Americans. We are forcing them into a type of banishment. I have been asked why technology people like myself support undocumented young people. As an entrepreneur, I value intellect, initiative, and hard work. I see in undocumented youth the same qualities that are valued in the entrepreneurial world. I also understand that the personal success of entrepreneurs like me is largely because we have had the freedom to work, the freedom to travel, the freedom to pursue whatever dreams we have. Undocumented young people are like us but are being denied those freedoms. I am supporting FUSE because I want to help entrepreneurial undocumented young people launch new projects, pursue their dreams and make this country a better place for all of us. Jeff Hawkins is an engineer, entrepreneur, scientist, inventor and author. He is a founder of three technology companies, Palm, Handspring, and Numenta as well as the non-profit Redwood Neuroscience Institute. One of his philanthropic interests is supporting undocumented youth.
The Grove Foundation
The Grove Foundation is supporting FUSE because we seek to protect, regain and strengthen the American Dream. Our vision is an America that welcomes immigrants; encourages them to contribute to society; and gives them the opportunity to do so.
The Grove Foundation was founded in 1986 by Andy & Eva Grove and is dedicated to issues close to the family’s heart, including immigration where the foundation focuses on a range of immigrant integration issues including legal services, citizenship assistance and refugee support.
Unbound Philanthropy is proud to support FUSE — an innovative initiative that aims to nurture the entrepreneurial spirit of immigrant youth — in its inaugural year. Our vision is a world where all people can enjoy a life free of barriers to their full economic, civic and cultural participation in society; realize their potential; and live peacefully alongside each other. We seek to build strong relationships of mutual engagement between immigrants and host communities by highlighting shared values and goals, as well as the contributions of immigrants. Unbound Philanthropy, founded in 2003, is a private grantmaking foundation that works to ensure that migrants and refugees are treated with respect and engage with their new communities. We support pragmatic, innovative, and responsive approaches to immigration and immigrant integration in the United States and United Kingdom.