They just opened South LA’s first Tech and Entrepreneurship Center!
A Los Angeles nonprofit is working to end intergenerational poverty through free education programs.
Martin Muoto is the founder and managing partner of SoLa Impact, an LA based social impact real estate fund focused on “creating high-quality affordable housing in low-income communities.” Since 2014, the company has raised hundreds of millions of dollars to provide multi-family housing for low-income Black and brown residents across Southern Los Angeles by focusing on investing in opportunity zones where most of the residential projects are majority affordable housing.
“Nearly all of our residential projects in opportunity zones will be 100% affordable housing that will be available to the low-income residents we currently serve. Currently, over 98% of our tenants are racial minorities; two-thirds are low income, with nearly 1 in 3 of our placed tenants have been homeless at some point in their lives,” Muoto previously told Black Enterprise.
In 2018, the company launched their official nonprofit affiliate, the SoLa I Can Foundation, with former Emmy-nominated television producer Sherri Francois at the helm, serving as SoLa Impact’s Chief Impact Officer and Executive Director of SoLa I Can. Francois has led the organization in focusing on breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty by enhancing the lives of South LA residents through educational opportunities and economic mobility.
Francois spoke to Because Of Them We Can about the inspiration behind the work at SoLa I Can, saying, “the work we do at SoLa is personal for me. South LA is a vibrant community of people and families that want to thrive. When I learned about what SoLa Impact was doing to improve the affordable housing landscape here, I wanted to help take it a step further. We created the SoLa I Can Foundation to have a lasting impact, create access to high-paying jobs and help our underinvested community positively change the trajectory of their lives. Our motto is "If you can see it, you can be it"—so we live and breathe that ethos, to inspire young Black and brown people and show them the many possibilities their future can hold.”
The organization currently offers wrap-around services for South Los Angeles residents, led the charge during the pandemic for financial, educational and economic relief in South Los Angeles, provides annual scholarships for youth attending college and hosts a variety of free youth programs. They most recently launched The SoLa Tech and Entrepreneurship Center offering programs for ages 10 and up around technology, entertainment, entrepreneurship, esports and paid apprenticeships.
Both Muoto and Francois believe that education is the key to changing the future trajectory for residents in the city living in poverty. By focusing on providing programs completely free of charge, there is no excuse for young people not to take advantage of the opportunity. Through the new tech center, they’re hoping to bridge the digital divide, partnering with larger companies like Riot Games, who cover the daily costs to provide students with the best quality education possible at the Tech Center.
“Our business focuses on creating access to affordable housing, and we know that being housed is just one piece of breaking the gravitational, generational cycle of poverty. Access to education is so important for our young people and while Los Angeles is the epicenter of innovation, we saw a clear digital divide in South LA and are working to bridge that… We intentionally serve low-income families and know that cost is often a barrier to accessing educational programs like ours [so] we take the cost out of the equation with the help of our sponsor partners,” Francois told Because of Them We Can.
It is their hope that through these programs, they can have a hand in building the next generation of home-grown tech professionals, investors and entrepreneurs. Their programs are already in high demand, many having waitlists, and the goal is to eventually scale and replicate the programs in other communities similar to South LA. The organization has already partnered with Live Nation to provide an opportunity for 20 young people to gain invaluable skills in live entertainment production, hoping to create a pipeline for future industry leaders. At SoLa I Can, they’re focused on providing access and opportunities.
“Success for our community is not about ability but opportunity. We are fortunate to have incredible, prominent local partners from the technology and entertainment industries who have stepped up to help combat social inequities and understand the need to support communities like ours. SoLa will continue to work hard together to uplift and not uproot, and provide access to affordable housing, education, and jobs until there is no longer a need for our work,” said Francois.
To learn more about the work of the SoLa I Can Foundation, visit their website here.
Photo Courtesy of The SoLa I Can Foundation