Many Ethisphere readers may know of EVERFI as a major player in the culture and anti-harassment training space, but the company’s services target a number of other “gaps in education,” and it was founded specifically to address societal issues. EVERFI’s Co-Founder Ray Martinez took time to chat with Ethisphere CEO Tim Erblich about the company’s purpose journey.
Tim Erblich: You founded EVERFI ten years ago now. Can you talk a little bit about what your initial vision and aspirations for the company were, and how those have informed your growth over the last decade?
Ray Martinez: Sure. When we started EVERFI ten years ago, we spent the first three years traveling across the country, in an RV, in rental cars, visiting schools and communities, gathering data points on problems and pressures that are put on students and families from diverse backgrounds, diverse communities.
We identified major gaps in education and major gaps around critical life skills that individuals need to be successful. We started tackling financial capability and financial education for young people and their families. The initial vision from the beginning was to really create a scalable technology platform that could cut across many different critical skill areas.
TE: How did that initial focus on financial literacy and the education platform expand to the current, very broad range of topics that you provide education on?
RM: From the very beginning, we thought of EVERFI as an engine for social good. We could build a really sophisticated software platform that could reach every student, every family, regardless of ZIP code, across a lot of different topic areas. In those initial communities we visited, we realized that there was a lot more work to do around preparing the next generation of learners to tackle careers in STEM subjects, around alcohol and substance abuse on college campuses, around creating safe and inclusive and respectful workplace environments.
TE: You’re oriented towards using education platforms to solve big problems: financial literacy, workplace misconduct, alcohol and drug safety. How has having such ambitious goals impacted your ability to recruit employees, partners, and advisors?
RM: I believe that our key differentiator is our people. Our folks are deeply committed to moving the needle on topic areas that can really change the trajectory of a student’s life, or helping an employee who may be facing harassment or discrimination at work. If anything, I think our scope has allowed us to continue to bring on talented, smart, diverse individuals who really bring our software to life in communities all across the United States. We’re working with 4,000 business partners, 20,000 schools and universities, and reaching over 10 million learners a year.
TE: Managing the demands of growth is a challenge for any company, but particularly one like EVERFI with a firmly embedded social purpose. How do you handle situations that you’ve encountered where perhaps profit and growth may seem to be in conflict, at least in the short term, with more mission-oriented opportunities?
RM: I think we wake up every day asking ourselves one question: “Are we making an impact in the communities that we’re serving?” We are really focused on moving the needle on not only knowledge gain across a lot of these topics, but changing learners’ attitudes and behaviors and preparedness and confidence.
That’s really what we’re focused on, and if we can continue to deliver a service that does all of those things, we firmly believe that growth will take care of itself, that you’ll have more universities, more corporations, more foundations, more school districts that are weaving these software and learning programs throughout the DNA of what they do every day. That’s what we’re focused on. I don’t think we’re ever taking a short-sighted view of, “If we make this move in the short term, it’s going to lead to more revenue and more growth.”
We’re taking a long-term view of the decisions that we’re making. It’s why we’ve made the bet that although we’re based in D.C., we have 200, soon to be 300, folks that are distributed across the US and Canada, who are ensuring that our software programs are implemented with the goal of measuring the impact that we’re having on the end user.
TE: You all are expanding your business pretty rapidly internationally. Are you focusing on the same core set of issues abroad that you have here in the United States? And what challenges have you encountered adapting your products to an international environment?
RM: One of the great honors of being part of EVERFI is that a lot of the corporations that we work with are international, and so we are having a lot of conversation around workplace culture, inclusiveness, discrimination prevention, with very large brands. We’ve been able to build really unique international courses and consider how you localize the learning experience to reflect the cultural differences across countries. We’re spending a lot of time thinking about how to get the learning experience right for a global brand that might be operating in 20 countries.
Our starting point is around workplace culture, harassment, and discrimination prevention. That’s where we’re being pulled by our existing partners. We also believe the topic of financial capability really is a global conversation, so I think you’ll see us do some international work there as well.
TE: You said one of the major tasks of your employees is measuring the efficacy of your programs. Can you give me a little more insight into how EVERFI as an organization uses data and metrics on your impact?
RM: We’ve been able to spend some time with the EEOC, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as part of the conversation around harassment prevention training, and how you provide the proper courses and training to a diverse workforce. Our research has shown that creating these inclusive work environments really starts from the top of the organization. You need to have dedicated leadership who’s committed to making change, and to put the right accountability and policies and procedures in place.
Our research is showing that there’s another layer here, and that is the role of the manager in having some of these really sensitive conversations. Whether you’re an executive, or you’re a middle manager, there’s a missing piece here around scenario-based training for managers to not only take a training course, but be able to apply that training course in their everyday job when these conversations pop up. How does that manager react in the moment?
TE: Our audience at Ethisphere is executives, many of them focused on various aspects of employee development and workplace conduct. What advice would you offer them about how to approach educating their workforces?
RM: Leading by example is really important, as is recognizing hard work at every layer of the organization and taking time to recognize people. My grandfather had an eighth-grade education, and he worked hard every day of his life as a street sweeper. I remember the example that he set around hard work. Taking time to recognize that is really important, and it’s not just the sales leader or the other executives that you see every day, but everyone that you have the pleasure of interacting with and spending time with.
About the Expert:
Ray Martinez is the Co-Founder and President of EVERFI’s Financial Education and Conduct & Culture divisions. As President, Ray leads business development strategy to bring EVERFI’s financial capability and life skills products to both K-12 students and adults through partnerships with hundreds of financial institutions across the country. Ray is also responsible for building and scaling the Conduct & Culture network, which works with thousands of global corporations to deliver online compliance training solutions. Before EVERFI, Ray spent 11 years at Kaplan, Inc. managing cutting edge supplemental education programs.