How Genesys Works is changing inner-city high school students' lives

Rafael Alvarez shares how the ability to speak the languages of business and education has helped change the futures of thousands of inner-city students.

For Rafael Alvarez, founder and CEO of Genesys Works, speaking the languages of business and education has helped change the futures of thousands of inner-city students. Genesys Works is a US-based not-for-profit organization that enables inner-city high school students to break through barriers and discover through meaningful work experience that they can succeed as professionals in the corporate world.

What was your pivotal moment in deciding to create Genesys Works?

In 2001, I was working at Compaq and serving as a board member at a charter school. I attended a graduation ceremony, where most of the students would be headed to menial jobs with little future. I knew there was a better path for them, but they didn’t know it. If they had the opportunity to work in a meaningful internship at a corporation during their senior year, they could discover that they were far more capable than they ever imagined. That was the beginning of the core idea for Genesys Works.

The problem was that I was not about to quit my corporate job to do it. But then the events of 9/11 were a catalyst of change for me. I remember thinking: “If I die tomorrow, what will I have done with my life?” So I originally started Genesys Works as a career break from the corporate world for a few years, and I’ve been here ever since.

What’s been going on in Genesys Works lately?

I’m proud to say that Genesys Works recently marked its 12th anniversary. This year, we will have helped more than 3,000 high school students from inner-city communities change the trajectory of their lives.

How does Genesys Works improve the future of business and education?

Education is no longer simply about access to college. We need to prepare students with the skills and mindsets to find a job that not only companies need for the remainder of the century, but will also allow our youth to live in the economic mainstream. Schools and corporate executives both realize this, but they don’t know how to engage with each other.

Genesys Works connects business and education. We have redefined and broken the paradigm of the traditional high school internship by preparing students to serve within the nature of businesses today.

What has made the collaboration between Genesys Works and industries such as utilities successful?

As simple as it sounds, Genesys Works has been successful because we are “bilingual.” We speak both business and education, and they are absolutely different languages. Genesys Works is the bridge that allows both systems to engage in a value-adding way for both.

Utilities, like many other industries, are facing a workforce shortage—how do you fill it? Utilities have the opportunity to reach a whole new set of students, to show them that corporate careers are available and to help them make a conscious decision about their futures. Learning they can obtain a post-secondary credential and succeed in a technical career is an incredible outcome.

And there’s a follow-on effect. When the first child from a family becomes successful in a corporate job, suddenly the whole family sees what success in a certain company and industry looks like and how it impacts their lives. When you bring 100 students into internships, you may be changing the mindsets of 1,000 students and their families and friends.

How can utilities help develop their future workforce through these types of internships?

Every job has a progression and an entry point. Engineers don’t become engineers overnight, and the same is true for IT and digital.

I recently spoke in Washington, DC, and learned about a huge unmet demand for salaried jobs in cyber security. Businesses in the power sector need to figure out how to carve off the entry-level segment of some careers and turn them into meaningful internships that will start creating a path for future workers.

How has Accenture’s Skills to Succeed program helped Genesys Works’ mission?

Skills to Succeed helps make our model much more efficient and replicable. We want to eventually package our model so that any group of schools and businesses can get up and running. Essentially, we are creating our own competition because, at the end of the day, it’s about providing high school students with options for their futures.

The only way we’re going to get there is by allowing for the model to become replicable by others.

What has been the most rewarding part of your work?

I have the opportunity to listen to the stories of the people whose lives are being changed. Many students talk about heading into a life of poverty, and then embracing this opportunity and setting off on a new path, to a new career they never thought was possible. I see them light up at the opportunities before them and see the influence they’re having on their younger brothers and sisters. There is nothing more rewarding than that.

I hear your father was an important role model for you. A lot of what I have done in Genesys Works has been inspired by my father. He grew up extremely poor in Mexico and dropped out of high school, but after a while decided to learn all he could about Mexican history. He became a tour guide and then started a small tourism company that, through incredible hard work and dedication, became one of the most important tourism companies in Mexico.

I’m living the American dream because of decisions my father made to change the course of his life through hard work.

What does the future hold?

I plan to continue leading Genesys Works, at least for the foreseeable future. Further on, I believe that with my story, I can influence professionals to have more impact with their lives, so I see playing a significant role there.

I love inspiring audiences of college students as well as business professionals. I’m inspired by the new generation of people who don’t have to choose between doing good or doing well. If I can help organizations grow both their profit and their positive influence in the community through the use of strategy, technology and taking advantage of market forces, well, then that’s great.

When you’re passionate about what you do, it’s easy to teach it.

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