Salvation Army employee among selections for new Salesforce-led initiative

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Impact Labs will utilize the Salesforce platform to find solutions for complex social issues. 

By Jared McKiernan –

To move the needle on an issue as intractable as homelessness, sometimes it takes the right medley of leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors. 

And a little bit of tech.

That’s the idea behind a new initiative spearheaded by Salesforce called Impact Labs, wherein practitioners and subject matter experts from across the San Francisco Bay Area are being called upon to help co-design tech solutions to make lasting social change.

After crowdsourcing for ideas on pressing social issues to tackle, the cloud computing giant settled on housing and homelessness as the topic for the inaugural Salesforce Impact Lab.

Over the next six months, 19 Community Fellows from nonprofits, foundations, educational institutions, government, tech partners and other socially-minded organizations from across the housing and homelessness sector will team up and brainstorm ways to leverage the Salesforce platform for good. 

Among the 19 Community Fellows chosen is Theo Ellington, Director of Homeless Initiatives and Community Development for The Salvation Army Golden State Division. Ellington was brought on by the division in August 2019 to help shape its vision for The Way Out and share the Army’s message for impacting homelessness.

“Any time one is selected among esteemed folks in the industry, it’s an honor,” he said. “One thing that we’re trying to do with the new Way Out initiative is really branch out and look at other community organizations in the space. So this will give me a real firsthand look at not only the individuals in the space but the thought leaders who help craft policy and know the best practices and have really been doing this work in the trenches for a long time.”

The initiative will focus on the San Francisco Bay Area, but the hope is to create a scalable solution that can be accessed by leaders in other regions. According to Amy Guternman, Director of Salesforce Impact Lab, tech alone won’t solve homelessness, but the hope is that it can help those who are already working in the space to amplify their impact and work more efficiently.

Impact Labs will kick off in April with a two-day design sprint for all of the Community Fellows to get acquainted and start talking about solutions. From there, Salesforce Pro Bono Fellows will test and validate solutions with users before developing them on the Salesforce platform.

“We don’t really have technologists [in the Impact Lab]. And that was kind of intentional,” Guterman said. “This program is designed to help mesh the subject matter expertise and the lived experiences of the community with the Salesforce platform and ecosystem.”

Guterman said she knew Ellington would be a valuable addition to the initiative after their first meeting, but she also liked the idea of having a representative of The Salvation Army on hand, given its track record with homelessness and affordable housing. 

“We also recognize all of the work The Salvation Army is doing more broadly around supporting people facing homelessness,” she said. “They’re such a leader in the space so it makes sense to have the perspective of The Salvation Army in the room.”

Ellington said he expects the Impact Lab experience to inform The Salvation Army’s work, especially as it relates to The Way Out initiative, which includes developing its own complete continuum of care for homelessness in the Bay Area. Yet, he also recognizes that the only way they’ll make meaningful strides toward that is through collaborating with like-minded groups.

“I want to make sure that this fellowship gives me the opportunity to not only learn from the best in the business but also walk hand in hand with them,” he said. “Because no one organization can solve this crisis alone. I think this is the crisis of our generation. We have a moral crisis to not only address it, but to make sure that all hands are on deck.”

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