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How Shared Harvest Is Pioneering An Innovative New Model To Pay Off Your Student Debt By Volunteering

By News Creatives Authors , in Leadership , at November 9, 2021

I recently came across a terrific idea worth spreading right here in Los Angeles where I live.

Shared Harvest is the premiere skills-sharing marketplace transforming employee engagement, community impact and eliminating the burden of student debt. 

Debtfreelancers™, Employees and Entrepreneurs earn reward points every time a project is completed for their network of nonprofits. These points are converted to stipends and paid out directly to the student lender of choice. 

Companies can boost their CSR and employee retention by enrolling their employees in their perks program. To find out more, I caught up with the redoubtable Dr. NanaEfua Afoh-Manin, MD MPH (she/her/hers), Co-Founder & CEO of the Shared Harvest Fund and also the Chief Medical and Innovation Officer at the Shared Harvest Foundation. 

Afdhel Aziz: Dr. Afoh-Manin, welcome. Please tell us a bit about Shared Harvest and the model you’ve created with your partners? 

Dr. Afoh-Manin: Shared Harvest was founded with the understanding that financial health directly impacts mental health and wellbeing. Our mission is to transform the liability of student debt into an asset class for social change by leveraging technology to break the shackles of student loan debt for skills-based volunteers. We are a tech-enabled marketplace for nonprofits to source human capital while helping to reduce the burden of ballooning student loan debt. It’s TINDR meets the Peace Corps. Shared Harvest curates meaningful matches between awesome humans who want to volunteer their time and an array of organizations who have projects aimed at the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) and are incentivized by student loan relief. 

The student debt crisis and growing financial insecurities have had consequential effects on the rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide among young adults. Shared Harvest is doing something about that by building a network that promotes wellness, service and student debt relief. 

During the pandemic we realized that greater effort was needed to address health inequities and secure the public health safety net, so Shared Harvest launched the myCovidMD initiative to provide compassion through service and relief. Our volunteer emergency task force provided real Covid Care and resources to real people in real time. No bots, just heartwork. Through Shared Harvest’s recent efforts we vaccinated thousands of people with our myCovidMD initiative. 

Aziz: I love the description of you guys as ‘Where TINDR meets the Peace Corps’! What has been the reaction from the participants in the program? 

Dr. Afoh-Manin: We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response from the participants in our program. A large number of participants in the initiative are working professionals who appreciate the flexibility of the volunteer opportunities we provide and benefit from the volunteer experiences themselves. Many are in a self-discovery-period in their lives—while still paying student loans—but not very happy at their current jobs, and can’t imagine paying for graduate school. Our program serves as a nice buffer to test the waters, focus on passion work, and still get a little relief. Still, the largest percentage of our volunteers are graduate professionals, believe it or not! They are an average of 5 to 7 years out of school and still paying their student debt. They suffer the greatest risk for depression and financial insecurity and this is a costly and insidious problem for the job market and employers. 

Aziz: What have been the results so far? 

Since launching in 2018, Shared Harvest has helped relieve a little over $100K in debt and saved over $225,000 for Non-Profits. I’d like to share our cost savings for companies with a future Deloitte prediction model. 

Aziz: How do you see yourselves as different from other student debt relief platforms out there? 

Dr. Afoh-Manin: There is genuinely nothing like Shared Harvest on the marketplace right now. We reward sweat, equity and hard work—we’ve coined it ‘heartwork’. We get employees into their communities in ways that matter to them and offer a triple bottom line to companies who care about people, profit and purpose. For nonprofits who are struggling to get back on their feet post COVID and who’s volunteer pool is now unreliable, we manage that for them so they can focus on purpose-driven work. 

Aziz: Finally, what do brands get from your partnership and where can they find out more? 

Dr. Afoh-Manin: Shared Harvest provides businesses with an opportunity to retain top talent and increase their social impact by investing their corporate social responsibility dollars to help tackle the student debt crisis, while increasing their social footprint. Brands no longer have to take the heat of selecting a cause that only a few of their employees can get behind. They can lean in and empower employees to choose for themselves, leave a much more lasting impact, and foot a bill worth paying for. 

Nonprofits also benefit from Shared Harvest’s program given their exhaustive lists of programmatic needs. This program champions these organizations’ causes and helps them fulfill their missions by connecting them with a network of talented individuals.


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