Q&A: SMUD & Hacker Lab partner to empower entrepreneurs from underserved communities Q&A: SMUD & Hacker Lab partner to empower entrepreneurs from underserved communities

Across the country, Sacramento ranks in the bottom-third of the 100 largest metro areas in growth and prosperity. SMUD is partnering with Hacker Lab and other organizations to change that.

SMUD partnership

SMUD is no ordinary utility. The public-serving organization has partnered to plant over 500,000 trees, funded $60,000 in scholarships annually and most recently, launched its Sustainable Communities Initiative to support equity for Sacramentans in social well-being, healthy environments, prosperous economy and mobility.

As part of Sustainable Communities, SMUD is funding Hacker Lab's Pathways scholarship program to support ambitious individuals from underserved communities to get new, better jobs; start or further new businesses and enter higher education.

SMUD partnership

Hacker Lab spoke with SMUD's Director of Sustainable Communities, Jose Bodipo-Memba in a Q&A to learn why SMUD believes, "Our region is only as strong as our weakest neighborhood," and how SMUD is working to improve them.

Today, Monday, Sept. 30 is the last day to apply for Hacker Lab's fall Pathways program. Learn more and apply here.

Hacker Lab: Can you tell us about how Sustainable Communities got started?

Bodipo-Memba: Absolutely. The impetus behind Sustainable Communities came from our CEO, Arlen Orchard, who really took to heart our mission to ensure a good quality of life for all of our community members and partners.

Arlen wanted us to make sure that customers of all types and backgrounds have access to that mission. The Brookings Institute showed that issues here have been getting worse, not better; and gave recommendations to tackle these gaps.

We want to make sure Sacramento's communities can sustain themselves and grow. We’re looking at what we can do with groups like Hacker Lab to enhance our region, leveraging our stewardship to help people be the most effective and efficient they can be. We can’t do it by ourselves — that’s why we work with groups like Hacker Lab.

Hacker Lab: When did Sustainable Communities begin?

Bodipo-Memba: The program started in November with our longstanding partners. Over the past nine months, we’ve identified key areas of concern; by mapping sensitive areas, we’ve looked at where the needs are.

SMUD partnership

We've developed multi-year partnerships. Examples include Single Mom Strong, which provides professional support to women in Citrus Heights region of our service area with childcare and getting more women into the workforce. Another program is Reach for the Stars Academy - that’s a program we brought to Sacramento from Stockton in conjunction with University of Pacific to focus on STEM education for kids in Oak Park. Those kids have access to an intense summer camp, access to professionals and create tours and site visits and every year to matriculate in the STEM process. With 40-50 kids per cohort with the goal of having 250 kids per summer, we brought it up this summer and have had kids graduate at a high rate.

Another crazy example is Mutual Housing of California, whom we're working with to upgrade HVAC for over 160 underserved household apartment units, as well as establish an EV carshare program in multiple locations.

HL: What’s next for SMUD and these initiatives over the next 6 to 12 months?

Bodipo-Memba: It's making sure there are metrics in place to determine the work translates to measurable outcomes of success like finding jobs. Similarly with Pathways, it's making sure folks who enter program can start businesses, take care of themselves and their families, and making sure we're tracking all of that.

HL: Are there other SMUD programs we can mention?

Bodipo-Memba: We have scholarships, as well as our Energy Assistance Program Rate (EAPR) and Energy Help program for folks having a hard time paying their bills to get a reduce rate. That’s a big part of what we’re trying to do; Help folks know about these programs so they can try and do them.

Smud is trying to help people be stronger. Our region is only as strong as our weakest neighborhood. We're trying to get the word out. Amy has this great micro-loan program; let’s get it in people’s inboxes so people can participate.

It’s about leveraging the resources already built for these kind of reasons to help people move forward.

City of refuge right now helps women who need shelter. First thing we asked was, are they on our program for low-income families? We were able to help them save money and upgrade their HVAC. These are programs in place and have been around for awhile to help them be more successful.

HL: Is all this support about the difference of being a public v.s. private utility?

Bodipo-Memba: All utilities have a public good requirement; SMUD's leadership takes it to the next level. Our CEO has a true commitment to communities in Sacramento and to be able to do this good work.

Without leadership nothing gets done. There’s what’s requires by law and what’s good; we’re excited to bring students to STEM opportunities and encourage investment in our communities — and even bigger than that, our scholarships are bigger than they’ve been. We want the kids, the adults and everyone to be able to participate in our success and contribute to that.

The last thing I'll say is, even though we’re making a significant investment, we’re not having a negative impact on our customers; we’re spending efficiently in the long-term as stewards of our community funds. That's our goal and why we're doing this.

Today, Sept. 30 is the last day to apply for Hacker Lab's fall Pathways program to help ambitious individuals from underserved communities to enter new fields, start or further a new business or go to college. Learn more and apply here.

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