Sick of waiting on Obama to fix the problem, Starbucks is taking America’s jobs problem into its own hands. No, Starbucks is not hiring baristas or opening any new stores. (After all, they just finished closing 700 branches.) In a matter of speaking, the 40-year-old corporation is adding another tip jar to its counter, one that collects donations for a new jobs fund they’ve set up with Opportunity Finance Network, a national network of community development financial institutions that offer loans to low income business owners. The program, Create Jobs for U.S.A., is not dissimilar to Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong campaign. Donate $5 to the fund and you get a red, white and blue wristband that reads “Indivisible”.
Yes, Starbucks is criticizing the government. “Businesses and business leaders need to do more; we can’t wait for Washington,” the company’s CEO Howard Schultz told Reuters in explaining the coffee company’s inspiration for the program. “I have no interest in politics or political office. I’m just doing this as a private citizen trying to make a difference.”
The microlending technique is the same one they’ve been using for years to support the coffee farmers in third world countries from whom they buy its beans. Starbucks has been operating microlending and microfinance services in countries like Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Ethiopia since at least 2004. These types of programs have been shown to both benefit poor entrepreneurs and provide returns for the banks that offer the loans. (Create Jobs for U.S.A. does not bill itself as a not-for-profit project.) However, Starbucks has also drawn criticism in the past for putting its own interests ahead of those of the business they support.
So far, Starbucks’ new program has won some support. In the official press release announcing the program quotes Moody’s chief economist Mark Zandi says it’s “exactly the kind of innovative and entrepreneurial solution that America needs to get its economy back on the right track.” Gary Rivlin at The Daily Beast writes, “The idea isn’t as flaky as it might seem at first glance.” However, as This American Life pointed out in their oft-cited program on how a job is actually created in May, creating a job isn’t as easy as it sounds.