33-6-3: A Holistic Model Using Social Enterprises to Up-Skill Low-Income Workers

33-6-3 each week for enterprise employees: 33 hours of paid work, 6 hours of higher education, 3 hours of personal development

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  • Yes, I fulfill all of the eligibility criteria.

Initiative's representative name

Brandon M. Dennison

Initiative's representative date of birth


Initiative’s representative gender

  • Man

Which eligible market are you based in?

  • USA

Where are you making a difference?

Southern West Virginia.

Website or social media url(s)


When was your organisation founded?

June, 2010

Focus areas

  • Reskilling and upskilling the workforce

Project Stage

  • Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan for the future)

Yearly Budget: How much capital do you need to accomplish your proposed project?

  • $250k - $500k

Organisation Type

  • Non-profit / NGO

1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed

I used to lead youth service trips. We were doing home repair volunteer work in my home-state of West Virginia. As we were working two young men approached us. They had tool belts slung over their shoulders and asked us if we had work available. I explained we were volunteers and had no money to pay. The young men went on their way. It felt like such a small, minor moment. But that moment really stayed with me and impacted me. That moment represented a primary problem we face in southern WV: we have people who want to work, and learn, and be a part of something. We have gumption, but because our communities are distressed and depressed there are no opportunities to apply that gumption. This makes me angry, and this was the seed for 33-6-3.

2. The problem: What problem surrounding employability or financial capability are you helping to solve?

Coal has dominated us and led to generational poverty within a mono-economy. Negative impacts from generational poverty have compounded, creating complex obstacles to well-being: financial, emotional, physiological. In some counties, life expectancy is actually falling. Corporations have extracted our wealth. Government programs have failed. Overcoming despondency is our greatest challenge. We solve these problems for 500 people annually.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Coalfield has pioneered an innovative, scalable model which starts new social enterprises in coal communities and then uses those enterprises to employ and empower people experiencing generational poverty. We do so through the holistic 33-6-3 model. This is how the workweek is organized for employees of the social enterprises: 33 hours of paid work, 6 hours of higher education, and 3 hours of personal development. These enterprises create new jobs and opportunity in sectors more sustainable than the fossil-fuel jobs currently dominating many rural areas (and contributing significantly to climate change). Examples include: solar installation, bio-based manufacturing, re-use and recycling, organic agriculture, technology, and the arts. Tenant’s lives are transformed as they become agents in the building of an entirely new, more just economy. Many job-training programs are unsuccessful because the jobs just are not there on the back-end to employ the newly trained people, especially people of color. So it is vital we create both the training and the job at the same time. Our model is more effective than public programs. Our participants become actual leaders, not just employees.

4. How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solving the problem?

There are dozens of job-training programs here, but that doesn't matter when there aren't jobs available to be trained for. Our model simultaneously develops the news skills AND the new jobs needed. Jason grew up on Marrowbone Creek without running water. He remembers his Dad tying a highway barrel in the trees as a makeshift shower. They filled the barrel with creek water. Jason was laid off by coal in 2013, a pattern for many; when we started in 2010 there were three active mines in the county. By 2015 there was not a single active mine left. To this day none of the Wayne County mines have re-opened. After two years with our construction enterprise, Jason now earns a living wage and is the first member of his family to complete college.

5. Employability: how is your organization or project teaching people to develop the skills that they need to survive in the future job market?

Our enterprises create new jobs in sectors more sustainable than coal. Examples include: renewable energy, bio-based manufacturing, re-use and recycling, organic agriculture, technology, and the arts. Crew member's lives are transformed as they not only gain important training but truly become agents in the building of an entirely new, more just economy. Many of the social enterprises are technology-based and climate-resilient. Our solar enterprise (the first ever in southern WV) innovated an on-bill financing structure for tenants who off-set their upfront costs through wi-fi powered hot-water-heater regulators. Our recycled t-shirt company, SustainU, invented a kiosk featured in Major League Baseball stadiums and utilizing first-of-its-kind direct-to-consumer (DTC) capabilities. And our newest training programs prepare workers to deploy broadband access and improve rural connectivity.

5a. Please describe which future-oriented skills your organization is focused on fostering and how you have measured / plan to measure progress

-solar installation There are multiple future-oriented technical skills we emphasize or plan to emphasize: -broadband deployment -solar installation -bio-based manufacturing -design -transportation/logistics (via simulators) -modern "green" construction (including building retro-fits and energy efficiency improvements) -sustainable mine-land reclamation -organic local agriculture But in our rural communities, many of the "soft" skills are just as important: -basic computer coaching -getting comfortable with tech -learning tech platforms -trouble-shoots tech barriers

7. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Efforts to diversify coal are are mostly led by public sector agencies, which take a traditional approach to development: build industrial parks and recruit manufacturers to the parks. Blue-Green Alliance is an interesting exception. States form “Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Boards” which are tasked with developing job training and placement services. These are employer driven (rather than employee), often failing to get at the roots of poverty and serve the whole person. And again, job-training without the existence of good jobs is meaningless. YouthBuild has been a learning partner.

8. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

Number: over 1,000 people trained, helped startup over 50 new companies, and created over 250 permanent new jobs. Deeper than this, though, we are pioneering what a whole new economy can be here in coal-country. 33-6-3 has proven itself. Launched in 2012, this unique approach has garnered more than 15 million media views, won more than a dozen national awards, and leveraged over $20 million in financing. What started as a small, grassroots effort by two high-school friends in one small county has become a region-wide movement. 33-6-3 has been tested, refined, perfected, and is now ready to become a national tool for empowerment. While particularly helpful in rural communities, this solution can cut across geographic divides in our country. With the right partnerships and enough creative capital 33-6-3 can work in many different settings. We can support thousands of Jason's (see above).

9. Financial Sustainability Plan. Can you tell us about you plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?

Social enterprises launched by Coalfield Development generate significant earned revenue through sales and contracts. These flexible dollars are immediately reinvested in the mission of Coalfield Development and used to achieve larger-scale positive change. Recently, our solar enterprise became a totally for-profit venture. Having recently completed a Series-A funding round, Solar Holler LLC is now a $40 million company. In addition to earned revenue, Coalfield Development has over 20 foundations financially support us and more than 150 private donors. Finally, we have been successful in tapping public funding sources (such as Appalachian Regional Commission and U.S. Economic Development Administration) to leverage our grassroots work.

10. Team

Entrepreneurs comprise our team – committed and compassionate Appalachians weaving together each other’s vast know-how, creative imaginations, and technical skill-sets. Coalfield is the parent entity. Enterprises are subsidiaries. Each enterprise has its own social entrepreneur responsible for the success of the enterprise and expert in their specific field. Coalfield is led by an executive team of four and a "core" supporting team of another seven. All full-time. Enterprises vary in size.

Help Us Support Diversity! Are you a member of an under-served , under-represented, or marginalized group in your country of residence? (yes/no) (this question is optional – if you choose to fill it out, the response will not be shared with your fellow contestants)

  • This does not apply to me

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others

11. Bring it to life: Please walk us through a concrete example of how your solution will solve the problem you’re trying to address

Jason was raised on Marrowbone Creek. Growing up without running water, he remembers his Dad tying a highway barrel up in the trees as a makeshift shower for him. They filled the barrel with creek water. When Jason found Coalfield he had been laid off from the coal industry. We hired Jason on to our construction enterprise according to our 33-6-3 model. Jason had a good work ethic, but he had a bad attitude too. And he missed too many days after partying all night. So we tried to understand Jason on a deeper level. Jason’s mom had him when she was 14. Jason had many other struggles: psychological, emotional, financial, and even physical. But we stuck with him. He learned and he grew. And by 2016 Jason had become the first ever college graduate in the history of his family. He now works full time for a local manufacturer earning a living wage. And he encourages current trainees.

12. Skills Matching: HSBC Employees will have the opportunity to offer skilled-volunteering. If matched, which of the following skills would you be most interested in receiving?

  • Research
  • HR Management
  • Marketing Strategy, Design
  • IT Infrastructure/CRM

13. Financial Sustainability – funding breakdown: please list a quick breakdown of your funding, indicating an estimated percentage that comes from each source.

Individual donors: 4%

Foundation grants: 40%

Earned Income: 30%

Government grants: 26% 

14. Financial Sustainability – please tell us more about how you plan to fund and scale your project over the next 12 months.

Social enterprises launched by Coalfield Development generate significant earned revenue through sales and contracts. For example, our woodshops manufacture and sell home furnishing products. Our agriculture businesses produce and sell fresh local food. Our 100% recycled-material t-shirt company makes and sells tens of thousands of t-shirts each year. Recently, our solar enterprise became a totally for-profit venture. Having recently completed a Series-A funding round, Solar Holler is now a $40 million company. Our general goal is to have a 50/50 split between earned and grants. Our pricing model is create products with financial, social, and environmental value. As such, our prices are normally slightly above market rate, but consumers are more and more willing to make purchases with purposes. Combined, we are a $7 million enterprise. Stronger enterprises get larger budget allocations.

15. Growth Strategy: What are your main strategies for scaling your impact?

33-6-3 becomes an open-source curriculum for any coal community. Our collaborative approach to expansion is less about geography and more about empowering local leaders. We envision a global network of coal-country social-entrepreneurs doing business together. We call these Social Enterprise and Economic Diversification partners: SEEDs. The investment vehicle is the SEED Fund, a subsidiary fund we own. This fund has helped fund 50 new social enterprises in Appalachia. We will leverage public and private investment to grow the fund to at least $3 million.  

16. Activating changemakers: How are you giving people the power to control their own destiny and support other people to become changemakers in their communities?

We empower people by not only employing them, but supporting them on a career pathway to raises, promotions, and fulfillment. The goal is not just to get a job, but to live out a passion. The “3” in 33-6-3 culminates with Citizenship. Ultimately, people in need develop agency not only to provide for themselves and their families, but to become leaders, to shape their community’s decision making. This is a new foundation not for only temporary socio-economic improvement but generational justice.  

17. Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions, if any, has the project received so far?

Community Thrive Winner ($1 million prize), JMK Social Innovation Prize Winner, Heinz Award for Technology, Economy, and Employment, and New Vision PIE Investee. Our CEO is a DRK and Ashoka Fellow and was named West Virginian of the Year in 2017. 

18. Tell us about how collaborations and partnerships would enhance the scalability and impact of your project

In the immediate term, we will leverage our Steering Committee role on the Central Appalachian Network (CAN) to scale throughout the region. In looking nationwide, we will primarily look to the Just Transition Fun which has active partnerships in coal communities nationwide. Once ready to scale globally, we will primarily engage our global Ashoka network. All growth is community-based as the SEED description above affirms. 

Finally - Your Selfie Elevator Pitch: Share a 1-minute video that shares a quick summary of the problem you would like to solve, how you’ve chosen to solve it, and the impact you hope to see.

Our founder's vision for coal communities not just being collateral damage in the global shift away from fossil fuels, but rather leading the charge in building a more resilient, sustainable economy.

Evaluation results

1 evaluation so far

1. OVERALL Evaluation:

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2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

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3. Does this entry have SOCIAL IMPACT?

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4. Is this entry VIABLE financially and operationally?

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6. FEEDBACK: Highlights

IMPACT POTENTIAL: You use specific numbers and evidence to describe what your project has achieved so far (or plan to achieve in the future) – and you have a concrete plan for future impact. You have specific tools for measuring impact. - 0%

QUALITY OF INNOVATION: You have a great understanding of the problem, have researched existing solutions, and have developed unique, thoughtful solutions - 100%

FINANCIAL AND OPERATIONAL SUSTAINABILITY: You have given a great deal of thought to not just the idea itself but how to make it work operationally and financially in the present and future; your plan is specific and you value sustainability. - 0%

CHANGEMAKING ACTIVATION: You have a good plan on how to activate changemakers and empower them to innovate through your product or programming - 100%

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7. FEEDBACK: Areas for Improvement

IMPACT POTENTIAL: make sure to provide specific instances of your social impact (or how you plan to measure impact) – it may be helpful to describe the beneficiaries, the main activities/products, and provide evidence of (or plan for) impact evaluation - 0%

QUALITY OF INNOVATION: make sure to describe how your solution is unique and innovative – it is helpful to include the research you have done on past solutions and how your solution is different from (and/or builds upon) these. - 0%

FINANCIAL AND OPERATIONAL SUSTAINABILITY: make sure you have provided descriptive information about your financial sustainability plan. Where do the funds come from now and do you have a concrete plan for future sustainability? - 100%

CHANGEMAKING ACTIVATION: make sure you describe your plan for how to empower others to become changemakers through your programming, service, or product - 0%

WRITING STYLE. Try to be concise, descriptive, and specific. Avoid jargon. - 0%

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