Per Scholas announced as awardee in $10 million competition to improve the economic health of low-income families in the u.s.

Economic Opportunity Challenge Will Help Train Individuals to Launch Successful Careers in Technology

Chicago, IL, December 15, 2020 – Today, Lever for Change announced premier technology workforce development organization Per Scholas as the recipient of the $10 million Economic Opportunity Challenge. Per Scholas advances economic equity through rigorous, tuition-free training for careers in IT and connects skilled talent from underserved communities to leading businesses. The “Proven Pathways to Transformative Careers in Tech” project was selected from a pool of 160 applicants and five finalists.

Over the next three years, Per Scholas will use the grant to disrupt generational cycles of poverty affecting more than 13,000 individuals seeking technology careers in cities across the U.S. With this funding, Per Scholas will expand 14 of its existing in-person training locations, launch 10 new ones, and scale new remote offerings to help triple the number of people trained by 2023. 

The Economic Opportunity Challenge was designed to scale a game-changing solution to improve the economic health of low-income families in the U.S.

“All of the finalists in this Challenge presented compelling ideas for expanding economic opportunities that warrant funding beyond the grants received as a result of the competition,” said Cecilia Conrad, CEO of Lever for Change. “The donors were particularly inspired by the vision of the Per Scholas team to strengthen untapped talent in our country.”

The sponsors of the Challenge, who wish to remain anonymous, are seeking additional donors to fund Per Scholas, as well as a number of other highly rated organizations that applied to the Challenge, to ensure that these outstanding projects secure the resources they need to carry out their vital work. 

In this regard, Focusing Philanthropy, a multi-year philanthropic partner of Per Scholas, has committed at least $5 million of additional funding to implement Per Scholas’ winning vision articulated in the Economic Opportunity Challenge. Catalyzing the “Proven Pathways to Transformative Careers in Tech” project is Focusing Philanthropy’s second “Bold Initiative” – a transformative, large-scale multi-year partnership to support a proven effective model with an established implementation partner. 

“We know proper education and focused job training address two of the root causes of poverty, and workforce development programs can be an effective intervention method,” said Larry Gilson, Chairman of Focusing Philanthropy. “Per Scholas is especially attractive because it designs training courses collaboratively with partner companies, tailored to their specific recruitment needs. This is why Per Scholas graduates have such a high hiring rate and command good wages in career track jobs.”

“COVID-19 has not only changed the way we live our lives, but also transformed the way we think about work and education,” said Plinio Ayala, President and CEO of Per Scholas. “In light of pandemic-induced layoffs, business closures, and economic hardship, it’s crucial that we help people prepare for the jobs of tomorrow. This incredible award is a down payment on a more equitable economic recovery. Generous support from the Economic Opportunity Challenge donors and Focusing Philanthropy will seed a growth fund that will enable Per Scholas to scale rapidly across the U.S.”

Lever for Change is featuring Per Scholas, and all of the other Economic Opportunity Challenge finalists below, in its Bold Solutions Network. The Network seeks to match additional donors and funding with nonprofits and social enterprises whose solutions to significant social challenges were ranked highly after rigorous evaluation in Lever for Change competitions. 

  • Skills for America’s Future: Changing Lives Through a Jobs-First Model: Skills for Chicagoland’s Future will drive economic mobility in 17 cities by placing 10,325 low-income individuals into meaningful employment over the next five years.
  • Moving Families Out of Poverty Permanently: Family Independence Initiative (FII) will partner with the City of Chicago to move low-income families out of poverty, permanently. FII will invest directly in the existing strengths and solutions of low-income families and their communities, and remove the deficit-based criteria traditionally used to access support.
  • Making Freedom Free: Bail and Economic Mobility in the South: The Bail Project will provide free bail assistance and wraparound services in six additional jurisdictions in the South and advocate for systemic changes to the pre-trial system.
  • Chicago Asset-Building for Children (Chicago ABCs): Chicago ABCs, a coalition made up of the Chicago Community Trust, Heartland Alliance, Community Organizing and Family Issues, Family Independence Initiative, Chicago Department of Public Health and the Illinois State Treasurer’s Office will braid three proven strategies: child savings accounts, cash transfers, and visiting nurses in a dual generation approach to propel 4,600 families to economic security.

Applications for the Economic Opportunity Challenge were evaluated during a three-month review process by more than 120 philanthropic and civic leaders, as well as subject matter experts in economic development, public policy, youth opportunity, economic justice, and regional planning, among other issue areas. Applications were evaluated based on four criteria: magnitude of impact, strength of evidence, likelihood of success, and potential for scale.

Donors interested in funding outstanding projects identified in this Challenge or who wish to learn more about our services may contact Dana Rice, Vice President of Philanthropy at Lever for Change.

More information on the Economic Opportunity Challenge can be found at



Per Scholas 

Per Scholas is a national organization that has been advancing economic mobility for 25 years. Through rigorous training, professional development, and robust employer connections, we prepare individuals traditionally underrepresented in technology for high-growth careers in the industry. We partner with leading employers to build more diverse talent pools, directly connecting our graduates to new career opportunities at businesses ranging from Fortune 500 companies to innovative startups. With campuses in 14 cities, Per Scholas has trained more than 12,000 individuals in tech skills, building bridges to careers in technology.  


Lever for Change

Lever for Change, a nonprofit affiliate of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, helps donors to find and fund solutions to the world’s greatest challenges, ranging from racial and gender equity to economic development and climate change. Building on the success of the MacArthur Foundation’s $100 million competition, 100&Change, Lever for Change customizes and manages open and transparent competitions for donors. In addition, we match donors with nonprofits and social enterprises in our Bold Solutions Network whose solutions to significant social challenges were highly ranked after rigorous evaluation in one of our competitions. Currently, Lever for Change is managing nine competitions, ranging in size from $10-to-100 million, awarding $295 million to grant recipients and strengthening dozens of top organizations. For more information, visit


Focusing Philanthropy

Focusing Philanthropy is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that believes donations should be made with the same level of strategic intent, information, and confidence as other investments. The organization targets serious human challenges that individual donors can successfully address, chooses tactics that are demonstrably effective, identifies confidence-inspiring implementing partners, conducts ongoing monitoring, and assures substantive reporting. Over the past several years, Focusing Philanthropy has deployed more than $65 million with significant impact on the lives of over 4.5 million people. Its services are provided free to both donors and implementing partners in an effort to scale interventions that work. Donations are fully tax deductible, and Focusing Philanthropy covers all administrative costs and replenishes credit card transaction fees so that 100% of funds contributed go to implementing partners. For more information, visit

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