This was the new frontier that Rey Faustino and his family met, having just arrived from Punturin, Bulacan three years before the Internet went worldwide.
“I saw my family struggle to navigate the system and understand who to trust, and what kind of services we could use. I also watched fraudulent immigration lawyers take advantage of my parents,” Faustino recalled.
He is the savvy one in the family and he wished then that he could do something about it. The sad experience was “personal” and eventually shaped him. He would finish college in 2003 with a major in business from the University of Southern California; then he earned his master’s in public policy from Harvard University Kennedy School of Government in 2012.
“I’ve spent my entire career in the non-profit sector because I wanted to make sure that other kids and their families don’t go through what my family did. So I’ve spent my career in the youth development space to help low-income and minority youth graduate from high school and go to college.”
He moved to the Bay Area and worked in East Palo Alto for Build a non-profit community organization that motivates low-income students to go beyond school by developing their own small businesses and help pitch them to funders.
“What I was seeing was that, even though we were helping students close the achievement gap, there were still so many poverty-related issues that they were going through, from homelessness to hunger. And we were always online, searching for resources,” Faustino recalled.
“But it was really difficult to find resources because if you search for something like homeless services in Google or in some other search engine, you will call up hundreds of links that lead nowhere,” he explained. “You don’t know their eligibility requirements, the capacity of the organization and their location.”
He wanted to do something about that. “I wanted to change that, especially here in the Bay Area where we have some of the most innovative technology in the world. But we’re not using technology for our most vulnerable population. I wanted to use technology for good and for the benefit of our most vulnerable families.”
The Birth of One Degree
Rey founded his own non-profit start-up, One Degree, in 2012. The organization’s name is a play on Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, Rey explained. The idea is that anyone working in Hollywood films can be linked to a movie with Kevin Bacon. By extension, two people are no more than six or fewer acquaintance links apart. The concept was made into a movie (“Six Degrees of Separation”) in 1993, starring Will Smith and Stockard Channing. The movie, in turn, was based on a 1990 play about a con artist by Pulitzer winner John Guare. But the idea of networking was first presented by Frigyes Karinthy as far back as 1929.
Ideally, Faustino said, “We want people to be one degree away from all resources in the community.” He initially raised $3,000. It lasted almost two years.
“In the beginning, it was challenging because there weren’t that many non-profit organizations using technology as a platform for their services. So, when I approached foundations about our work, they didn’t understand what we were doing. They thought we were an app company, and most foundations gave funds for direct services, not development. It took several years to get them to understand that what we’re doing is the future of social services.”
One Degree did get major funding from Google, Northern Trust, Tipping Point Community Foundation, and other sources. Another contributor is the non-profit All Stars Helping Kids, a foundation that seeks start-up funds for low-income youth.
Only now is One Degree making connections with organizations like Filipino Advocates for Justice, Faustino said. Another anchor partner is Highland Hospital. “One of their physicians invited us to work with them. That’s what we do; we wait for the opportunity to work with anyone instead of doing outreach,” he explained.
Poor But Not Helpless
The mission of One Degree, said Faustino, “is to help families break the cycle of poverty and to improve the accessibility and efficiency of the non-profit and social service sectors across the US.”
Just like the proverbial wise man, he wants to give the hungry a fishing pole, not fish. Technology is the needy’s fishing pole. “A recent PEW Study shows that 77 percent of low-income people, ages 18 to 30, use the Internet through their smart phones. Three years ago, the number was 56 percent. We see the number of low-income people with Internet increase every year. We want to serve their families who are on-line, looking for help.”
One Degree doesn’t have a demarcation like the government’s poverty line. “We don’t have a specific (poverty level) number. We’re looking for families because we know families look for eligible services for kids and adults. Oftentimes, family members look for libraries, services for children, housing, healthcare and education.”
He added, “So many people nowadays are used to getting information (displayed on their PCs) and smart devices and getting it instantly. We think this is the best channel to reach a new breed of folks looking for services. Sometimes people call One Degree the Yelp! of social services because we enable people to find these services quickly and also rate them.”
Faustino said One Degree has over 5,000 services in San Francisco and Alameda County listed on its database. The services cover almost everything: services for communities like the LGBT, elderly, disabled, etc. He estimated that 26,000 browsers visited their website last year. One Degree tracked about 11,000 users who sought services listings on their website. He revealed that the top hits were housing and health-related services.
For a start-up that’s barely three years old with a staff of only four, those numbers are significant. This year, One Degree is in conversation with the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation, the San Francisco Department of Youth and Families and other organizations in Alameda County.
At 33, Faustino lives with a partner in the City. His nurse mom and home designer dad now live in Las Vegas. He also has a brother and a sister. For somebody who works 24/7 (“You know, having a start-up is like having a baby”) Rey still manages to do biking, hiking, yoga and explore the City and its fine restaurants.
More articles from Harvey I. Barkin:
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