WeWorks, a company that provides office space to entrepreneurs, artists, startups and nonprofits, is doling out $20 million in its global initiative called The Creator Awards.
Saeed Jabbar, a Jamaica resident and the founder of the nonprofit Inclusion, is competing in the first competition in New York in hopes of winning $1.5 million at a live pitch contest Nov. 16.
Inclusion helps to prepare underserved young adults of color for careers in technology by training them in coding, project management and entrepreneurial thinking, according to Jabbar.
To avoid trouble from gangs in middle school and bullies in high school Jabbar stayed indoors and taught himself to code.
“The first question I heard in middle school was what gang I wanted to join,” said the 25-year-old founder.
After dropping out of high school, he realized his hobby could become a career.
“It turned out I could make money with this thing called coding, so I started to freelance and that opened doors for me and transformed my life,” Jabbar said.
Jabbar still lives in Jamaica and when he traveled to and from Manhattan, he saw the disparity between who was in the technology field and what the people in his neighborhood looked like.
“Many people in my neighborhood don’t have the access or money for these skills,” Jabbar said. “Typically [coding classes] are $1,500 and I got tired of hearing the typical Silicon Valley elite talk of wanting to fix the problem, so I started to tackle the problem in a real way and we ran our program for the first year in Jamaica.”
When he first started Inclusion in the winter of 2016, he had 20 students and capped his first year off with around 300 students in different cycles. He now has 2,000 people signed up for future classes that he wants to bring online for free.
After NY1 and Forbes learned about the work he was doing in his community to close the divide between people of color and the tech industry, Microsoft did an ad campaign about his company on all of its social media platforms.
His goal is to reach more people throughout New York with an online platform with more advanced technology skills.
“We want to expand our offerings from all the way in the Rockaways, Staten Island, the Bronx and Harlem,” Jabbar said. “We will be able to launch classes in e-commerce and data analytics.”
Jabbar also prides himself on his ability to reach the communities that so many other tech companies fail to gain access to.
“We are able to speak in a respectful and meaningful way to the people we serve,” Jabbar said. “We don’t come in there like colonizers do, and because of that people open their doors to us. We are from the communities we serve ultimately.”
Winners of the regional competition will have a chance to vie for more funding for their organizations in the global finals in January.
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose
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