LinkedIn kicked off a new effort last year to improve youth employment in cities where it has a presence, starting with a $115,000 grant to The View teen center, located right at the Mountain View-based company's back door.
About a third of the grant money will go towards buying and installing new computers at the city-run teen center, and the rest will be spent on programs for college prep, youth employment and volunteer opportunities in the local community. LinkedIn proposed the grant money last October in a letter to the city, and the City Council approved it on March 14.
LinkedIn's original plan to support the teen center looks modest by comparison. Around August of last year, the recreation department contacted the company to ask if there was any interest to help fund computers at The View, which was officially opened on Nov. 14. LinkedIn offered to donate 10 laptops that were no longer used by its employees, according to John Marchant, recreation manager for the city.
"It sounded like a great idea," he said.
However, the city's request was made in the same month that LinkedIn created an initiative called Engage In, where the company began pouring resources into local organizations focused on youth employment in cities where LinkedIn has a presence, according to Meg Garlinghouse, head of "LinkedIn for Good." Because the company is headquartered in Mountain View, she said, the the initiative gives LinkedIn employees an opportunity to volunteer to work with teens through career guidance and mentorships.
"By focusing on building opportunity for youth, we are able to leverage our best strengths as employees and as a company to reduce unemployment and help improve community issues," she said in an email.
While $30,000 of the money is committed to tech upgrades, Garlinghouse said, the goal is to have a "greater impact" that goes beyond hardware donations. The rest of the money will go toward workshops to help teens discover new careers, write resumes and apply for college, and hone their skills in public speaking, computer programming and coding, according to a city staff report.
Using money from the grant, city staff is also looking to create a "College Corner" in the teen center for SAT and ACT test preparation classes, parent-teen college workshops, and special events where local business employees can share their experience to prospective students.
Beyond career building, Marchant said, the funding will also go toward getting kids out in the community and volunteering their time cleaning up parks and putting in new plants in the Shoreline area.
"We want them to feel good about helping their community and learn new skills along the way," Marchant said.
According to the LinkedIn letter, the company is also interested in donating another $115,000 in 2016 and 2017, once the city sets up metrics measuring how effectively the grant money has been spent.
Before the item glided through on the consent calendar at the April 14 City Council meeting, Old Mountain View resident Jim Neal voiced concerns that the larger grant could be seen as a conflict of interest, considering future development plans by LinkedIn. The company has shown interest in building as much as 1 million square feet of new development in North Bayshore of the 3.4 million square feet available in the area.
"While I think that the teen center is very deserving of the cause, I believe that accepting their very generous donation at this time would create an appearance of a conflict of interest on their part and possibly on the part of the city," Neal said.
Neal encouraged council members to vote against accepting the grant money until business with LinkedIn has been concluded.
Mayor John McAlister replied that the donation had been in the works for over six months, and that the council encourages companies in the area to help out in the community.