In an interview with PSFK, working in collaboration with Verizon, Sixto Cancel discusses how he is using technology for good with his work for Think of Us

In a special series brought to you with the help of our partner Verizon, The Pioneers of Humanability is directing the spotlight onto the people, organizations, and companies who are using technology to do more new and do more good in the world.

Many U.S. youth who are in the foster care system will “age out” of the system at 18 or 21 and automatically be left without a family or the skills to make it on their own. Sixto Cancel, Founder and CEO of Think of Us and one of the Pioneers of Humanability, is using technology to give these youth the tools they need to successfully navigate adulthood. In this interview, Sixto describes how Think of Us created an app-based platform to connect youth with a support network of adults from non-profit and government agencies who can help coach them in their journey towards self-sufficiency.  

PSFK:  What are the ways in which you think technology has the potential to impact humanity, and make a positive social difference?

Sixto Cancel: The way that I've seen technology making a difference in human services—and for humanity—is when technology really focuses on connecting us humans more than ever before in the moments of need. It's not to automate and replace human connection with an online platform, but I think the technology can play a stronger role in actually coaching folks through situations.

We can use technology to say, “Hey, I'm going through this,” and a person will say, “Hey, I want to support, and I want to be there with you.” Technology can do the work of saying, “Hey, as you think about supporting this person, here's what you can do. You can hold space with them. You can show up.” Technology can help you actually walk through with someone in need, and help them process what their need is, and then get to the next level of healing.

I think technology can play a role in making a difference because of how it prompts, how it engages, and how it actually facilitates more in person human connection.

PSFK: Could you give us a specific example of how your platform on Think of Us is facilitating this connection?

Sixto:  Absolutely. One example that comes to mind is when a young person using our platform says that they need help creating a résumé. They could shoot it back and forth a couple of times on email or hop on the phone with someone, and be able to accomplish a goal, but there's nothing like being able to actually show up and say, “Let's do this together, and let's sit side by side, and work on it.”

We want to go to the next form of connection where the technology is actually coaching adults to be able to show up in person. We want to be able to show them how they can help and coach the young person through completing their résumé instead of just saying, “Let me give you feedback. Let me review what you've done.” The way we use technology is helping guide the support of people to build their capabilities to do things differently.

PSFK:  How does your platform help guide people through this process?

Sixto:  On our platform, young people can create their goals and then create action steps to achieve those goals. Their goal might be to go get a job, and so action step number one is that they need to create a résumé. When they say they need to create a résumé, we have video content and articles that are then shared with a supportive adult and the young person to help them do that.

PSFK: How is Think of Us working to do more new and do more good?

Sixto:  Young people age out of a foster care at 18 or 21, depending on the state. We are working with young people who are aging out and not getting adopted or returning to their biological families and have to figure out how they're going to be completely self-sufficient.

Where are you going to live? Where are you going to be able to get a job? Where is it that you might want to go to school? How do you take care of your own mental health? How do you take care of all the things that adulthood requires you to do? Our platform helps young people build their own personal advisory board to help them create that transition plan, and then to execute that plan.

PSFK:  What inspired your work to focus on supporting youth within the foster care system?

Sixto:  I myself grew up in the foster care system and aged out of it, as did some of my colleagues. My work very much comes from that experience of having to navigate those experiences on my own.

PSFK: What are some of the biggest challenges that your organization has to overcome?

Sixto:  I think the biggest challenge is, just like many nonprofits, fundraising. However, I look at it as having the capital to actually do the work. Tech companies work in a way where they are infused with a round of capital. Then they hit certain milestones and get another round of capital based on their successes. Whereas, in the non-profit field, you have a three-year work plan. You get a grant to accomplish the work, then you evaluate that work and show that you’re making a difference.

We’re at an interesting intersection with Think of Us, because we need to function like a tech company, but we have the social mission of a non-profit. It becomes complex in how we actually navigate those things.

PSFK: What would you say makes your organization different from other support networks?

Sixto:  I think it’s the fact that we put the young person at the center, giving them voice and choice. We really want young people to start surviving and really start to be able to own their destiny and have a life where they're actually living. When you come into foster care, it’s because of abuse, neglect or because your parents can't take care of you. Those are all reasons that you had nothing to do with. Our platform and our work is about making sure that every young person has the same opportunities that any of their peers would have had.

PSFK: What types of tools does your organization provide and who stands to benefit from them?

Sixto:  Our main tool is a life coaching-platform where young people are able to create goals. They're able to tag members of their personal advisory board to support them in accomplishing and executing the tasks within that goal. We also have content on the platform to help them.

PSFK: What are some of the biggest success stories that the platform has had so far?

Sixto:  I would say some of the biggest success stories that we've had so far was when we did a soft launch in Nebraska where we had 70 young people get onto the platform in the first 90 minutes. They created 67 goals. What was so enlightening and what made us really happy was that out of the 67 goals, 62% of those goals had to do with financial literacy or purchasing some type of asset, such as a car or housing. What it showed was that the group of 19- and 20‑year‑olds that we had in that room all had a strong grasp of what they needed to do in terms of managing their money to be able be self‑sufficient.

There are a lot of different opinions that people may have about adolescents and Millennials can do, but what we saw on our platform was that young people, who could have chosen any goals in the world, chose goals that were directly related to something that had to do with being a hard worker or learning a new skill around money. That really gave us an insight on what is it that top of mind for young people who have aged out of foster care.

PSFK: Was there else that you wanted to share about Think of Us that we forgot to ask?

Sixto:  What I love about our work is that we're not here trying to create a new program for young people in foster care. We're here to work with the existing programs and partner with them, bringing technology and data to the table.

We can show them how they might be able to use real‑time data that they're learning about young people's goals, young people's wants and young people's needs and then be able to utilize that data to do their work better.

I really enjoy helping organizations. Our team of 15 people really enjoys being the thing that lifts up the good work that's being done by others, so we can make sure that young people are being served in a holistic way.

Addressing the challenges facing youth who are aging out of foster care is possible with technology platforms like the one Think of Us has built. For more about how innovators like Sixto are using technology to serve progressive goals and better the community for all, see the Pioneers of Humanability, brought to you by PSFK with Verizon.

Verizon’s Pioneers of Humanability list honors the people, organizations and companies that are using technological innovations to bring about good things for the world. These are the pioneers, keeping food safe and water clean, cutting pollution, saving energy and enabling doctors to treat patients a county or a country away. They’ve stopped asking “What if?” or “Why isn’t?” and started doing and leading. These are the people, organizations and companies you need to know about now—because they’re building the future.