David Dvorkin: “Let’s enable students to grow professional skills through civic engagement”

Traditional internships are a problem because not everyone has access to them and most only focus on administrative work. So where is there space to truly prepare students to develop professional skills and become career ready?This is the problem that Hire Cause is trying to solve, and we found a way to do it that […]

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Traditional internships are a problem because not everyone has access to them and most only focus on administrative work. So where is there space to truly prepare students to develop professional skills and become career ready?

This is the problem that Hire Cause is trying to solve, and we found a way to do it that also has a positive social impact. Our platform connects companies, non-profits, and schools around projects that enable students to grow professional skills through civic engagement. Students can lead and impact their communities as opposed to just get coffee.

The world needs students more than ever now to lead and contribute during this pandemic and the ongoing struggle for racial equality. Students are answering the call, and we’re proud to unite companies, non-profits, and schools around a Hire Cause.

As part of my series about people who stepped up to make a difference during the COVID19 Pandemic, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Dvorkin, Founder and Executive Director of Hire Cause.

In 2018, David Dvorkin founded Hire Cause, an online experiential learning platform that is helping to realize a vision of the world where companies, non-profits, and schools work together around projects that help communities thrive.

Public, private, and charter schools are utilizing the platform to provide students with more meaningful internship experience. Students have already partnered with professionals from companies like American Express, Chipotle, and Hearst Media to raise money for charities including the Bowery Mission, Room to Read, and most recently, COVID 19 recovery efforts.

Dvorkin has been a frequent guest speaker at Columbia University, NYU, and Baruch College on career design and the pursuit of a meaningful career. He previously led the sponsorship sales team in NYC for the official radio partner of the Grammys and American Music Awards. In this role, Dvorkin was also in charge of hiring recent college graduates and running the corporate internship program in New York.

After studying how different internship programs were designed, Dvorkin was concerned by the research finding that 40% of college seniors had ZERO internships. Moreover, the internships that students currently receive are almost always administrative in nature like getting coffee for supervisors or data entry. Employers also list five professional skills they want students to have, most of which are social and emotional in nature, but they are too busy to teach them in traditional internships.

Dvorkin felt that we needed to better prepare our students to thrive beyond the classroom and pursue careers that excite them. He left his management position in 2018 to pursue this mission, and Hire Cause was born.

Thank you so much for doing this with us David! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?

I’m the great-grandson of an immigrant to the United States, which influenced my values while growing up. My middle name is Harris, which is in honor of my great grandfather, Harry. A few years ago, my father gave me Harry’s immigration papers to the United States. I found out that in his early 20’s, Harry left his home in Grodno, Belarus, fleeing religious persecution and immigrating to the United States in search of a better life. He wound up in Brooklyn, where I currently live today.

This story of my great grandfather has provided me with an enormous sense of gratitude, inspiration, and responsibility. I feel grateful to be alive. As an entrepreneur, I feel inspired by his resourcefulness as an immigrant, and I feel a responsibility to make the most of my time on this earth.

Growing up, my mother was a teacher, and my father worked as an IT executive in the business world. My mother had a way of encouraging my dreams and my father had a way of teaching me to always have a healthy skepticism. All of these influences led me to question the status quo of education and focus on building a better system that more effectively prepared our youth to thrive in the working world.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Linchpin and many other books by Seth Godin have had a significant impact on me. In Linchpin particularly, Godin highlights how there used to be two teams in every workplace: management and labor. Now there’s a third team, the linchpins. These people figure out how to be indispensable to an organization and best contribute when there’s no rulebook. It’s about designing your own roadmap to love what you do, lead, and contribute within the organization, as opposed to clocking in every day to comply with corporate demands. If you ever feel like you’re “just doing your job” or “waiting for management’s direction” and you want to turn your job into something more, this book is worth the read.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

It’s not a quote, but a principle that has had a profound impact on my work. It’s called the Progress Principle, and it’s articulated in Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer’s book of the same name. It basically states that pleasure comes more from making progress towards goals than from achieving them. This contradicts the thinking trap of “I’ll be happy if or when I achieve something in the future.”

Psychologists who have looked at our brains remind us that we experience a short-lived feeling of pleasure when the left prefrontal cortex reduces its activity after a goal has been achieved. Yet we get a boost of pleasure every step along the way as we move closer towards our goals.

As someone who is focused on building an organization and a better future for students, this progress principle always reminds me to enjoy the process.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?

Traditional internships are a problem because not everyone has access to them and most only focus on administrative work. So where is there space to truly prepare students to develop professional skills and become career ready?

This is the problem that Hire Cause is trying to solve, and we found a way to do it that also has a positive social impact. Our platform connects companies, non-profits, and schools around projects that enable students to grow professional skills through civic engagement. Students can lead and impact their communities as opposed to just get coffee.

The world needs students more than ever now to lead and contribute during this pandemic and the ongoing struggle for racial equality. Students are answering the call, and we’re proud to unite companies, non-profits, and schools around a Hire Cause.

In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?

First, I don’t think of myself as a hero. I am just a guy who cares about improving education in this country and decided to do something about it. In my opinion, heroism is about overcoming one’s fears in the service of others. I also don’t think it’s all or nothing. There are times where fear has gotten the best of me in my life, and there are other times where I have seen the fear, understood it, and overcame it to bring my best self forward in serving others. I think we all have the potential to act heroically, and it has to do with managing our own fears.

In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero? Please share a story or example for each.

In my opinion, there are 5 characteristics that come to mind:

1. They show up even when they don’t feel like it

2. They still feel fear and act in spite of it

3. They come from a place of service

4. They risk criticism

5. They listen

I’d like to focus on 4 and 5. I was recently listening to a recording of Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. In what is now known as The Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King responds to eight clergymen in Alabama who posted a letter in the newspaper criticizing him for leading non-violent demonstrations.

In the opening of the letter, Dr. King writes, “Seldom, if ever, do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all of the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would be engaged in little else in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine goodwill and your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I would like to answer your statement in what I hope will be– patient and reasonable terms.”

I found this to be a beautiful reminder of how much criticism one of our society’s greatest heroes had to endure, and it also shows that Dr. King was willing to listen to well-meaning criticism.

If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?

I think people are driven to act heroically when positive feelings, tied to personal growth and contribution, outweigh the fears of taking action. Just like an athlete is willing to sacrifice blood, sweat, and tears to win with their team, I believe it’s a similar calculation — albeit subconscious — for the hero.

I also think people are driven to act heroically when the fear of future regret from NOT acting outweighs the fear of taking action. If ten years from now you’re looking back at your life and you could have done something, but you didn’t, how will that make you feel? This fear of regret is a powerful motivator.

What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?

I had been climbing the ladder in corporate America. I enjoyed my work, but I had dreams to start a business that made a difference in the education system and improved the way we prepared students for the working world. I had started Hire Cause while working at my previous job and began to see the impact it was having on students.

Students were using their Hire Cause experience to differentiate themselves on college applications, getting accepted into universities including Emory, Northwestern, Penn, Virginia, and Maryland. They had an experience and a narrative that they were proud to share in interviews with employers. Seeing this impact made me want to leave my job and pursue Hire Cause full time, but I was afraid of change.

One day, I ultimately realized that if I did not take action to build Hire Cause, I would regret it. Sure, I would be more comfortable in my salaried position, but I would look back and say, “What if I went for it? What impact could I have had?”

I want to thank Tim Ferriss. One of the principles and exercises that has had the most profound impact on my life during this time was his Fear Setting Exercise. This tool helps individuals write down their biggest fears or worst-case scenarios. Upon writing them down in detail, a few things happened. First, I realized that they were not nearly as bad as I had imagined in my mind. Second, I was able to plan for preventing most of the fears from happening, and third, I discovered that even if my fears came true, they were not permanent or irreversible. I could recover, and the lessons I learned along the way from taking calculated risks would greatly benefit me.

Ultimately, I was more afraid of having regrets than failing. I decided to make the move, and I’m so happy that I did. I’m so proud of the change that Hire Cause is making in the world today and the movement we are building.

Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?

Our Hire Cause students, including Isabella, Kat, Brooke, Alvin, Damaris, Joanna, Russell, Arsal, Matteus, Josh, and many others. It was inspiring to see them collaborate and step up in their communities during these times. They could have easily sat home and done nothing, but they were eager to make a difference.

For example, these students from one of our school partners, World Journalism Preparatory School, organized a Diner Dash to support local restaurants who were suffering because of the pandemic. They picked a different restaurant to support for every night of the week and mobilized their school to purchase gift cards or order takeout each night. In addition, through this initiative and others, they wound up raising money for the nonprofit, No Kid Hungry, an organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger in America.

Not only did this project help their community, but it helped the students. It gave them an experience that they will be proud to share with colleges and future employers. Principal Janine Werner and teacher Bob Thompson are also heroes to me for encouraging their students to look at their community as a classroom.

Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?

I am frightened to see the hardships, which are unevenly distributed and affecting people of color the most. I’m frightened that we will turn inward and connect less with others. I’m frightened of all the businesses that will not reopen. I’m frightened for essential workers who risk their lives and bear more of the burden.

Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain?

I am hopeful that this crisis causes us to want to contribute even more. Our Hire Cause students give me hope everyday. Students at one of our school partners, Rachel Carson High School, stepped up this semester to create a tribute to the essential workers in their lives. Led by Principal Steve McNally and teacher Mary Kate Mezzetti, students designed artwork, made signs, wrote poems, and recorded videos thanking the essential workers in their lives. They didn’t need to do this, but they wanted to do it. Their example is inspiring.

What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?

I found John Krasinski’s decision to start the show Some Good News (SGN) from his apartment to be very inspiring. It took guts to post a new show on Youtube during quarantine for millions of people to see. The part that is most impressive is that John picked himself. He wasn’t part of an organization or network that picked him to create this show. He wasn’t carrying out someone else’s orders. He selected himself to create and lead the show, opening himself up to all sorts of criticism, while trying to make a difference. I respect that kind of generous, brave leadership and the fact that he didn’t take himself too seriously along the way.

Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society? We would love to hear what you mean.

For me, this crisis has reminded me that anything can happen. If you asked people six months ago whether they believed that we would be home for months, the economy would be paused, and that you could no longer visit or hug your parents during this time, people would have said you’re crazy. Well, here we are now. I think we should not be surprised by anything in the future. This won’t be the last time that circumstances arise that we didn’t anticipate.

What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?

I am hopeful that schools will provide even more ways for students to grow professionally through civic engagement. We tend to think of internships or volunteering as separate from school. Yet schools have a tremendous opportunity to use the community as their classroom and mobilize students to thoughtfully get involved in issues they care about, working with local businesses and nonprofits to do so. For example, students can work on projects tied to criminal justice or police reform. Using the platform, students can also select non-profits that are supporting communities of color and work with minority-owned businesses. These real-world experiences will empower students to become college and career ready.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

It feels good to have a purpose. Research shows that purpose and meaning are connected to what researchers call eudaimonic well-being. This is a deeper, more durable state of happiness than temporary, fleeting pleasure. Having a purpose is also linked to a number of positive health outcomes, including better sleep, fewer strokes and heart attacks, and a lower risk of dementia, disability and premature death.

The benefits of having a purpose are clear. The more important question is how do you find your purpose. Purpose doesn’t come from an epiphany one day. It comes from finding ways to contribute and taking action. Purpose comes from feeling needed, seeing the impact that you’re having, and from knowing that you’re doing work that matters.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Thank you. I am flattered. This question is why I felt compelled to start Hire Cause. If we can build a world where schools, non-profits, and businesses unite around a Hire Cause in communities across this globe, we will change the world.

At scale, businesses will build a talent pipeline of future leaders, worthwhile charities will raise millions of dollars, and students will gain more meaningful internship experience that prepares them to thrive in the working world.

Not only that, but students will graduate with a sense of social responsibility. They will have identified a charity that they care about well before they go to college. The trajectory of their lives will be forever changed, and they will become our future leaders and philanthropists. This is the dream we are working to turn into a reality, and we are always looking for partners who want to amplify the impact of what we do.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

If he were alive today, I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with John Wooden. He is the winningest basketball coach in NCAA history and coached some of the greatest players of all time including Kareem Abdul Jabaar and Bill Walton. While Wooden was a legendary coach, he was one of the best teachers. The lessons in his books have had a profound impact on my life, especially the idea of having an “inner scorecard” when it comes to success instead of seeking external validation.

In addition to the people I mentioned throughout the article, other people that inspire me who are alive today include Ray Dalio, Geoffrey Canada, Carol Dweck, and Wendy Kopp. They are all leaders who have built their careers around having an impact, and I would love to meet them.

How can our readers follow you online?






This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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