Case Study

New Solutions for Youth Employment Social Innovation Lab




Project Overview

Implementing Team

Starbucks, Rockefeller Foundation, MaRS Solution Lab (MSL), and the Waterloo Institute of Social Innovation and Resilience (WISIR) and LeadersUp

Location & Duration

New York City, 8 months


Three in person multi-stakeholder workshops, prototyping simulation game:


25-30 people per workshop from employers (e.g., suppliers of Starbucks and large US companies like Southwire, GAP), NGO’s, government, foundations. Core group of 15-20 attending all three


In 2014, 5.8 million youth people were not in school or work. Meanwhile many US companies needed new talent to improve their competitiveness and innovation potential.

The goal of this lab was to co-create scalable, employer-focused solutions to address unemployment amongst vulnerable youth in the United States.The lab conducted interviews and research to gather different stakeholder perspectives, identified key tensions in the current employment system and tackled the question “How can we reshape corporate hiring and employment systems to improve competitive positioning and support the career development of vulnerable youth?”


Methods in Action



Human centered design workshops

Workshop 1: “Seeing the System” – develop a deeper, shared understanding of the employment system with strategic leverage points for change.  

Workshop 2: “Designing Interventions” – co-create interventions with potential for high impact (scale).  

Workshop 3: “Prototyping and Action Planning” – rapid, iterative prototyping of each proposed intervention, refining both the concept and implementation of the idea, as well as planning for first round of live-testing. Then pitching ideas to expert panel and implementing with partners.


Prototypes for five strategic interventions co-created by lab participants. Each intervention was part of the overall change strategy, and detailing the theory of change, scaling potential, value proposition for user groups, costs, revenue streams, roll out and next steps for prototyping.

It also developed a change strategy, 120+ ideas and several lab tools to be used participants.

Actionable results

A large corporate participant will prototype 1 of 5 innovative solutions within the company.  94% of participants are still involved. 87% felt they have developed ideas that can make real change in the lives of vulnerable youth. 73% consider the lab a first step towards lasting change. Rockefeller, Starbucks and others continued to work together on major initiatives such as to connect talented youth to the businesses that need them.


The lab built a highly engaged network of 15+ large employers and stakeholders committed to piloting solutions to youth unemployment.  

Capacity building

Starbucks and LeadersUp plan to integrate the lab process into their work.  

Change strategy

New insights on the problem and many ideas for solutions, as well as a change strategy identifying leverage points in the employment system.