Joe Sanberg, a California native, has spent the past eight years as a philanthropic entrepreneur building socially conscious companies and organizations. Most notably, he is the founder of aspiration.com and of the nonprofit CalEITC4Me.org.
Sanberg’s passion for finding ways to help others afford life’s basic needs began as a child, when he experienced the realities of the very problems he is now determined to rectify. His father left him and his mother when Sanberg was young and didn’t provide any financial support. “I grew up in a low-income household with a single mom and an abusive father who terrorized my family,” he says.
Sanberg eventually made his way through Harvard, where he was a community organizer, on student loans and financial aid. After college, he first and foremost wanted a job that allowed him to provide financial security for his mother — so he went into the financial industry in New York City.
Nearly a decade ago, Sanberg moved back to California. “I wanted to build businesses that fix problems instead of create them,” says the 38-year-old L.A. resident. “There is a huge opportunity to create socially conscious enterprises that can tackle the biggest, hardest problems. And the biggest problem we face right now is that most people who are working can’t afford life’s basic needs. We have an economy that isn’t valuing work and a culture that has become obsessed with treating us all as variables instead of treating us as humans who have value and worth.”
California is the prime example of what he calls the humanitarian crisis of economic inequality. “California has the highest rate of poverty in the country — one in five Californians live in poverty,” he says. Furthermore, Sanberg says, poverty is a women’s issue. “The gender wage gap is most severe among low-income women, like my mom, who are at the wrong end of a rigged economy.”
These issues inspired him to develop aspiration.com in 2013 and CalEITC4Me two years later. Aspiration.com makes it easier for people to match their values with their banking, investing and spending, Sanberg says. It is a financial company that gives people access to socially conscious bank accounts and investing tools.
Aspiration.com exclusively invests in “humanitarian companies” that match the customer’s values — whether that be environmentalism, social justice or other issues. “Every single day we can use our spending to promote goodness in the world,” he says.
Sanberg also looks for ways to offset the gender wage gap, specifically by lifting the wages of low- and middle-income women. One way to do that, he says, is via the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) — a cash-back tax credit for people who earn low wages. He created the group that first lobbied for California lawmakers to pass the credit.
However, the state didn’t initiate any outreach to make sure people knew about the EITC. Sanberg created CalEITC4Me.org to fix this problem. The group operates statewide, encompassing a coalition of partners who work in low-income communities to spread awareness of the tax credit and encourage those eligible to file their taxes so they can receive it.
On May 9, Sanberg announced that CalEITC4Me “sparked over 1.2 million low-income households to claim the EITC they’ve earned,” and those households have received $285 million of CalEITC and nearly $2 billion in federal credits. “Three out of four people the group serves are women, because women are the supermajority of the group who can receive the credit.
“These were issues that I saw when I was 6 years old, when there would be one pot of Hamburger Helper for four or five meals for an entire week,” he says. “I take this issue deeply seriously and won’t be satisfied by anything else in my life than creating a country where everyone can afford life’s basic needs.”
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