Happy National Inventors Day: Celebrating Voqal Fellows

January 25, 2019

In this month’s entry in Voqal’s grantmaking blog series, Director of Grantmaking Brenda Sears looks forward to National Inventors Day by highlighting three past Voqal Fellows and their projects focused on advancing social change.

Storm from the X-Men was right when she said “we live in an age of darkness, a world full of fear, hate and intolerance. But in every age, there are those who fight against it.” This February 11, on National Inventors Day, join me in celebrating social entrepreneurs.

Our social problems will not be solved using the same tools, techniques, methods and thinking that have been used in the past. We need a structural transformation of our social, economic and political systems. We need creative and innovative solutions.

In addition, for social change to happen on a wide scale, we need to welcome people from all backgrounds to become social entrepreneurs. People who have a deep understanding of the social problem they seek to address are best positioned to create solutions for social change.

Voqal has supported many social entrepreneurs over the past five years through the Voqal Fellowship. Our 2019 cohort is comprised of constructive disrupters with revolutionary ideas and a steadfast drive to make the world a better place.

Here, we highlight three extraordinary social entrepreneurs and former Voqal Fellows:

Catherine Huang 
What happens when a person working at a low-wage job encounters abusive employer practices that make it difficult to succeed at work and at home? Perhaps the employer is violating existing labor, employment or safety laws. Thanks to the app Cat developed, WorkIt, employees have access to information about laws that provide protections and can better understand how to assert their rights without fear of retaliation.

WorkIt uses technology (artificial intelligence, cloud computing and messaging), peer networks, legislative information and company policy to provide real-time workplace information and support to people working low-wage jobs. Employees can also plug into an organizing strategy to address systemic issues and build support for better workplace policies.

DeShuna Spencer
What happens when you flip through hundreds of cable channels and are unable to find anything dedicated to the positive stories and issues that reflect your own community and culture? Instead, you find negative stereotypes, homogenous groups and shallow stories. If you are DeShuna, you decide to create what you want to see – a space to share and celebrate the excellence of black culture.

kweliTV is an interactive streaming platform that shares the African Diaspora experience through “dope, undiscovered documentaries, films, web shows, children’s programming, news and more.” Unofficially called the Netflix for and by black people, there are more than 200 titles on the platform, with kweliTV adding about three titles a week in the categories of documentary, shorts and full-length features.

Eric Shih
What happens when a company cares about profits to the detriment of people and the planet? Most times, nothing. As long as a company is making a profit, it has little incentive to change its behavior. But giving companies a better idea of how much revenue may be gained from changing its behavior may tip the scales. That’s why Eric decided to build Spendrise, a platform to organize consumers to take action and speak to companies.

Spendrise works by getting people to commit to spending a certain amount of money at a store if the company makes a policy change, like paid sick leave. Spendrise gets customers to buy gift cards in advance and once the total pledge amount is reached, Spendrise uses the pledge amount to push the retailer to make the policy change. If the change is enacted, the gift cards are purchased and delivered to pledgees.

Voqal is proud to support progressive changemakers like those above and is excited for this year’s new class of Voqal Fellows who will begin their Fellowship with a convening in Denver this weekend. Interested in learning more about the Voqal Fellowship? Check out our fellowships page.