May 26, 2016
As America draws down its forces after fifteen years of military conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq, Memorial Day seems like a particularly good occasion to share lessons and stories from a coalition of foundations and corporate funders that is working to help veterans and their families.
A projected one million soldiers will return to civilian life between now and 2020. While many service members make that transition without event, others struggle to overcome the lack of dedicated pathways to affordable education, for themselves and their children, or to prepare themselves for a job in the civilian sector.
What's more, many veterans do not receive adequate support as they wrestle with these challenges. That is why the Philanthropy Joining Forces Impact Pledge has secured commitments from more than thirty-five foundations and corporations to invest nearly $285 million to support those who have served our country as they transition back to civilian life.
The PwC Charitable Foundation joined this group eight months after making a five-year, $5 million-plus commitment to support some of the best veterans service organizations in the country. Our work with veterans and the organizations that support them has been a learning experience. The challenges veterans face are complex and different for each individual. However, if we really want to make a lasting, sustainable impact, we have learned that we need to:
1. Build veterans' awareness of services. Many transitioning soldiers are unaware of the myriad services offered by veterans organizations in the U.S. Sponsoring job and service fairs can help veterans realize they are not alone as they look for a good job or scope out educational opportunities for their children.
2. Expose veterans to corporate work. Many veterans who leave the military are under the age of 25. Often, they have had little exposure to the corporate world, much less private-sector jobs. According to Eric Ahn, D.C. program director at FourBlock, a PwC Charitable Foundation grantee, giving veterans a chance to learn about corporate culture and helping them see how their passions align with corporate values can go a long way in improving their chances of finding a career that fits their interests and capabilities.
3. Translate military skills. Service members sometimes have difficulty seeing how the "soft skills" they have developed leading troops, mapping out strategies, and making decisions in a conflict situation can translate to private-sector work. As part of a $1 million investment in FourBlock, PwC hosts workshops where the firm's partners and staff work one-on-one with veterans to translate their grit and military experiences into resume-builders and interview talking points. At the same time, partners and staff also educate PwC recruiting managers about the value veterans can bring to the workplace.
4. Collaborate with other veterans groups. Americans across the country have formed dozens of nonprofits to help veterans with the challenges they face. Many of these organizations provide valuable services, even as they operate in isolation from other VSOs and nonprofits. Funders and donors need to do what they can to help these groups share best practices, eliminate duplication, and create synergies. Philanthropy Joining Forces is a prime example of how to drive impact through collaboration.
At the PwC Charitable Foundation, we are constantly learning about what works well in our work with veterans groups. One of our favorite success stories from the past year came out of our work with FourBlock. Many combat veterans find themselves limited to industries such as law enforcement or security contracting. Former Marine scout sniper Nate Hall wanted more. Through FourBlock's program, and our own PwC workshops, Hall was inspired to pursue a career in cybersecurity. FourBlock introduced Hall to PwC senior associate and military veteran Jon Stresing, who volunteers to mentor FourBlock participants. While working with Hall, Stresing also worked to educate recruiters in PwC’s cybersecurity program about the suitability of his skills. It turned out to be a natural match, and PwC hired Hall.
We want to continue to make a difference in the lives of veterans like Nate Hall, and we know many of the organizations we work with feel the same. Over the last year, we've been bouncing ideas off each other and learning from each other's work. Our current goal is to help 100,000 vets. But with the help of more corporations, organizations, and individuals, we believe we can increase that number substantially. So, this Memorial Day, take a moment to reflect on our returning veterans and what you can to do to help them succeed in the next phase of their lives.
Frank Gaudio is veterans liaison, a trustee, and member of the board of directors at the PwC Charitable Foundation, where he oversees the foundation's Veteran's Program Initiative. Gaudio also served as U.S. deputy tax leader for markets and operations at PwC.