9 February 2015

Washington street paper crowdfunds to give vendors Digital Hope

By Laura Smith

UPDATE: We're happy to report that this project has been fully funded. 

A Washington DC street paper is tapping into the creativity and sales experience of its vendors to help them start their own digital marketing businesses.

Street Sense plans to run an in-depth online marketing course for vendors who also contribute to the publication through a side project called Digital Hope.

Street Sense vendors take part in a Digital Hope class.
It was a connection between vendor and writer Ibn Hipps and digital marketing professional Adam Motiwala that inspired the course.

Adam regularly buys his copies of Street Sense from Ibn. After reading the vendor's writing, Adam worked one-on-one with Ibn to teach him how to start his own blog contract.

"That intersection where vendor and reader find common ground is a key aspect of Street Sense's mission," said the paper's editor Eric Falquero.

The new Digital Hope course will allow five homeless and formerly homeless people to develop skills in digital marketing and learn how to work as independent contractors.

DC Social Innovation Project has pledged $3000 to develop the programme and determine its sustainability for future classes. But Street Sense will only receive those funds if they raise a further $1500 by 26 February.

To get the project off the ground, the street paper put out a plea for public donations via crowdfunding programme indiegogo.com on 2 February.

If fully funded, Adam will train veteran writers from Street Sense during a 16-week intensive course held in a local library. Participants will earn $25 per class and receive a bonus for completing the class and showing good teamwork.

Each student will leave with two client projects for their portfolio, and the knowledge of how to maintain an online profile and market themselves for future blog writing contracts. The funding will help run the class and provide computers and software.

“Providing and refining digital skills is necessary for anyone to enter today's workforce,” added Eric.

“Learning how to leverage these skills independently and online goes a step further to remove other employment barriers individuals may face.
A Street Sense vendor in Washington DC.

"Vending street papers is not a career, its a stepping stone: a tool and opportunity for someone to pull themselves out of poverty. 

“We exist to empower our vendors. Digital Hope aims to extend their path of low-barrier independent employment into a whole new market."

Eric is aware that the project will only be successful if its participants are truly motivated.

Luckily ambition, determination and never shying away from hard graft are essential characteristics for street paper vendors.

"If this is gonna help me pay my rent and achieve my goals, let's do it,” said Digital Hope participant Reginald Black.

Ibn Hipps adds that this opportunity won’t just help him pull himself out of poverty: "When you talk about making money you have to talk about commitment. This isn't just for me, it's for my kids.”

The group has already completed work for a California health clinic. Work for a new client began on 29 January 2015.

You can help fund Street Sense’s Digital Hope digital marketing class for vendors here.