The Genesis Movement developed from a collaboration between the Funder Alliance and the Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center (IMEC) that began in 2013 and continues today. The Funder Alliance first awarded IMEC a planning grant to help develop an Industry Workforce Partnership for manufacturing. But what developed in 2014 was a different kind of initiative. IMEC and the Funder Alliance began to partner with The Hitachi Foundation and specifically their work on “Pioneer Employers.” This was The Hitachi Foundation’s term for employers that derive their competitive advantage in ways that require investment in their frontline workers. The concept and case studies are described on this web site, and in particular this report: Doing Well and Doing Good. With a grant from The Hitachi Foundation and substantial additional funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, IMEC and the Funder Alliance launched a new initiative which became The Genesis Movement.

Previous to Genesis, The Hitachi Foundation’s work on Pioneer Employers had been about identifying employer examples and shining a spotlight on their exemplary performance. Genesis tested a new concept: Could a third party consultant work with a manufacturer, who was not yet a Pioneer Employer, to become more like a Pioneer Employer? In many ways, IMEC is the ideal partner to develop and test this concept. IMEC is the Manufacturing Extension Partner (MEP) for Illinois, meaning they lead that federal program for the state with funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The purpose of the MEP program is to help the manufacturing sector be more competitive, and the mode through which they do their work is third party consulting to small and medium manufacturers.

But despite its deep knowledge of manufacturing and years of experience as a consultant, developing and implementing Genesis was a significant shift for IMEC. Traditionally the way MEPs (and IMEC) operated was through off-the-shelf, project specific interventions. For example, they would often help manufacturers improve their processes and work flow to minimize waste, or they would analyze a client’s product mix to maximize profitability. Genesis would build on and include those client services, but it would require IMEC to take a more holistic approach. Genesis recognized that process and product optimization did not have as much impact without improvements on the “people” side too. People-Process-Product became the mantra of Genesis, and IMEC began to build out its own ability to help manufacturers improve their HR practices. By 2016, two years into an implementation grant, Genesis had stopped being an experiment for IMEC, and instead became its preferred way to do business. People-Process-Product became embedded in IMEC’s new strategic plan, and wherever possible IMEC attempted to engage employers in the “Genesis way”: longer-term, holistic and cognizant of the interdependence of labor and capital in best-in-class companies.

The Funder Alliance’s investments in Genesis allowed for a companion evaluation by partners at The Aspen Institute. Over the implementation period of 2014-2017 IMEC engaged dozens of companies, and about 22 that were deeply engaged were included in the Aspen study. The Final Report will be released in early 2019, which provides enough time to follow the companies and the impact of Genesis. But interim reporting has been positive:

During the initial evaluation, we found that IMEC has made considerable progress in developing a new model of working with firms. Through Genesis participation, firms are making organizational changes that improve job quality for frontline workers. IMEC is giving company owners and managers the tools, insights, and structures needed to introduce and sustain these improvements. We’ve also observed that the implementation of Genesis has required substantial reorganization and reorientation within firms and within IMEC itself. IMEC leaders have adapted, including scaling back their initial Genesis firm enrollment goals, and opted to extend the timeframe (now 24 months or longer) for company engagement. Moreover, IMEC leadership has turned inward to address internal staffing shortages and knowledge in an effort to enhance implementation capacity.

The Funder Alliance’s engagement with IMEC and support for its Genesis approach continues in 2018-19. In July 2018, the Funder Alliance was awarded a grant from the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, through its Better Skills, Better Jobs Initiative funded by the Prudential Foundation. This award has enabled the Funder Alliance to support IMEC further as it continues to deliver Genesis services to Chicagoland manufacturers. Specifically the grant is enabling IMEC to form a cohort of employers, all from an industrial zone on Chicago’s northwest side, to go through Genesis implementation together.