Leveraging Technology to Fight Poverty

Technology can be a powerful tool in the fight against poverty. However, poor New Yorkers are often the last to benefit from new technologies, if they benefit at all. Robin Hood is working to change that dynamic.

Education + Technology Fund

In partnership with the Overdeck Family Foundation and the Siegel Family Endowment, Robin Hood launched the $25 million Education + Technology Fund in 2015 to harness the power of technology to improve the academic achievement of low-income students. Late last year, Michael B. Horn, an educational technology expert and the co-founder of Clayton Christensen Institute, a nonprofit think tank, was chosen to lead the fund and guide its investment strategy.

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Computer Science for All

Robin Hood is a partner in the de Blasio administration's launch of an $81 million public-private initiative to provide all of New York City's public school children with computer science education over the next 10 years. The initiative will train nearly 5,000 computer science teachers to instruct students. Robin Hood joined Fred Wilson and CSNYC in committing $5 million each as part of a matching investment of private donors to public funds from the New York City Department of Education and City Hall.

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Blue Ridge Labs

In 2015, Robin Hood acquired Blue Ridge Labs, making it a stand-alone division of Robin Hood that works with social entrepreneurs to develop technology-focused solutions to fight poverty. By design, Blue Ridge Labs will take on higher risk ventures than Robin Hood's core grant making portfolio. Last fall, Blue Ridge Labs @ Robin Hood launched Catalyst, a start-up incubator that supports promising early stage entrepreneurs using technology to help New Yorkers in need.

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The Prize

Robin Hood donors have created a $19 million fund to establish a series of competitions that reward entrepreneurs who create demonstrable solutions to intractable poverty-related problems. The first competition, dubbed the “College Success Prize,” identifies scary-high dropout rates from community college as a nearly universal problem that cries out for correction. Announced in March 2014, the competition aims to find a scalable, technology-based tool that will at least double the graduation rate of community-college students who start their college careers enrolled in remediation courses. Last fall, two finalists began implementing their solutions as part of a formal randomized controlled trial.

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In partnership with Cornell Technion and the Center for Family Life, Robin Hood is developing Co-opify, an online platform that connects low-income worker cooperatives to a broader client-base through the digital sharing economy. The platform offers an easy way for consumers to find and hire low-income entrepreneurs for services like home cleaning or dog walking. With nothing more than a smartphone, entrepreneurs can communicate with consumers in their own language, schedule appointments, organize their calendars, and earn a fair wage.

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Fighting Poverty Beyond NYC

When Robin Hood funds a program that is proven to be effective, we work to expand its impact to reach as many people as possible. Some programs are particularly suited for national or international expansion, so we help bring these programs to scale.


Zearn is a computer-based educational tool that provides short math lessons for teachers and students to help boost math scores. The software harnesses the effective teaching techniques of charter schools in math instruction and aligns the curriculum to meet Common Core standards. This program has over 200,000 users and has expanded beyond New York City to schools across the nation.

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Relay Graduate School of Education

The Relay Graduate School of Education is a teaching academy that draws on the best practices of successful Robin Hood-supported charter schools – Achievement First, KIPP, and Uncommon Schools – to train effective teachers. This part-time, two-year Master’s program is designed to train teachers in using proven techniques to help their students excel. Relay has expanded beyond New York City with campuses in five states and plans for more. Online, Relay teaches more than 100,000 teachers around the world.

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Immigrant Justice Corps

Incubated by Robin Hood in partnership with Federal Judge Robert Katzmann, the Immigrant Justice Corps recruits talented lawyers and college graduates to provide recent immigrants with legal representation as they seek asylum or fight deportation to keep their families from being torn apart. The innovative program has expanded beyond New York City to Connecticut, New Jersey, and Texas with 70 fellows working at more than 30 nonprofits.

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Housing Advisory Board

To confront New York City’s affordable housing crisis, Robin Hood has convened a group of leading real estate developers to help build, rehabilitate, and preserve more affordable units in partnership with the City of New York.

Current initiatives include:

Come Home NYC

2015 marked the first full year of this new initiative, which moves working families out of the shelter system and into permanent housing they can afford. So far, the program has relocated over 50 families into homes of their own.

Small Buildings Preservation Program

Still in its initial pilot phase, this initiative focuses on the renovation of small, derelict buildings with unoccupied units and ensures rents remain affordable. A portion of the units will be set aside to house homeless families currently in the shelter system.


The Housing Advisory Board continues to work closely with the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to identify ways to upgrade and repair its aging housing stock and to build new affordable units.