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Ex-offenders, electronics, and doing well by doing good

Isidore_Office.JPGLos Angeles is a complex and nuanced city. Despite the many cliched complaints about living here, it is precisely that gritty, imperfect and constantly evolving nature which draws so many creative and entrepreneurial people to LA.

Kabira Stokes, founder of Isidore Electronics Recycling, is one of those people. “Los Angeles is a modern city with some very real problems that need to be addressed. All of the issues that the world is dealing with we have in microcosm here. For people who are interested in tackling those problems, LA is a place where we can try out solutions on a smaller scale.”

Kabira first got exposed to one of Los Angeles’ most pressing problems while working in the office of City Council President Eric Garcetti (who is currently using NationBuilder in his campaign for Los Angeles Mayor). After helping to develop one of the city’s gang intervention programs, she wanted to learn more about what was being done – and not being done – to help people re-enter society after leaving prison.

So Kabira headed to USC graduate school where she got her masters in public policy – and learned how broken the state’s prison system really is. “We have a seventy percent recidivism rate which means seven out of ten people who leave California facilities return within three years,” she said. “And one of the main reasons people go back to prison is that they can’t find work.”

While obsessively researching what good jobs might look like for ex-offenders, Kabira discovered that, though other types of waste have been decreasing, the production of electronic waste or ‘e-waste’ is increasing two or three times faster than any other waste stream. The e-waste industry had the potential to create good, green jobs.

She also learned that this ‘waste’ – which poses a danger when thrown in the landfill – actually contains valuable materials that can be reclaimed and resold. (There is more gold in one ton of electronic waste than there is in seventeen tons of gold ore.) So instead of starting an environmental nonprofit or spending years advocating for better jobs policies, Kabira decided to create the jobs herself. “I really believe in starting a triple bottom line, for-profit company that proves that you can do good and make money at the same time,” she said. “I feel like I’m a new generation of entrepreneur.”

Her Los Angeles based company – Isidore Electronics Recycling – offers a convenient and environmentally safe way for people to dispose of their old electronics while also creating good jobs for people exiting the correctional system. “We do not have a solution for this in California, so I wanted to build a model that can be replicated and built upon.” The company is addressing both social and environmental issues while also generating revenue that the company can use to help it expand.

Kabira decided to use NationBuilder for the company’s new website which just launched this week. The goal is to educate people about the hazards of throwing electronics in the trash and to actively engage them in doing so. “NationBuilder provides us with a way to get people involved by pledging to recycle their electronics with us and to spread the message by sharing it and tweeting about it,” she said. “We’re using NationBuilder to get people to hop onto our cause and gather them around this issue.”

The company is also using the site to change the dialogue around electronics recycling and the correctional system. “Ninety-eight percent of people who go into prison get out of prison. We think that we’re locking them ‘away’ in jail but the truth is, there is no ‘away.’ The same is true for the electronics we think we are throwing ‘away’ when we put them in the trash.” By bringing the two together instead of accepting that they are disposable, Kabira has found a way to restore the value to both.

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