Employment and Jobs

Milinda Ysasi, Job Quality Fellow

April 15, 2020  • Economic Opportunities Program

Milinda Ysasi

Executive Director, The SOURCE

The poverty rate for individuals in Grand Rapids, Michigan, outpaces the state average. Due to historical and structural factors, these rates are particularly pronounced for people of color – 32% of Black and 37% of Hispanic or Latinx residents in Grand Rapids live below the poverty line, compared to 17% of White residents. Recognizing the impact of financial stress on employees’ workplace performance and retention, a group of employers in Grand Rapids came together in 2003 to form The SOURCE. The collaborative, comprising employers and community-based organizations and agencies, provides value to businesses through investments in their most crucial asset – their workforce.

The SOURCE connects collaborative members’ employees to community resources such as transportation, child care, housing, and food assistance to address issues that affect their ability to bring their whole selves to work. For example, The SOURCE partners with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) to coordinate public benefits and provides financial literacy and advanced skills training through partner organizations.

Employers benefit as well; these workforce navigation services both help to reduce turnover and increase employee engagement.

“We’ve really distinguished ourselves as a different kind of workplace benefit,” says Milinda Ysasi, executive director of The SOURCE. “The people we’re working with need help navigating multiple systems. They don’t have a lot of time and they don’t have a lot of money, so employers can differentiate themselves by providing these navigation services. And the more time you can give back to employees, the more time they have to be focused at work.”

The collaborative includes 21 different employers , focused on the manufacturing and health care sectors, that pay The SOURCE a membership fee to provide services to their frontline workers. These fees fund about 80% of The SOURCE’s budget. Employer contributions have also more than doubled since the organization’s founding.

Demonstrating Return on Investment for Workforce Services

Making the business case for sustained investments in an employer’s workforce is a powerful strategy for improving job quality. A first step for organizations looking to demonstrate ROI is to ask employer partners what outcomes they hope to achieve through their investments. At The SOURCE, Ysasi and her team use job retention data to illustrate returns on employers’ membership fees, calculating that members receive an average return of 219%.

Ysasi explains that The SOURCE determines ROI by calculating the monetary value created by the organization based on hours of resource navigation provided, discretionary support dollars captured, staff training offered, and DHHS and other supportive services used. The SOURCE then divides the total monetary value of these services by the amount of the employer investment.

Reduced employee turnover is also an important indicator of the value The SOURCE provides. For instance, at Covenant Village, a Continuing Care Retirement community in Grand Rapids, Human Resources leaders reported a reduced turnover rate from 68% to 30% after investing in The SOURCE. Ysasi is careful to note that a variety of factors, including improved business practices, can contribute to reduced turnover beyond the services The SOURCE provides.

The SOURCE also works with employer partners to make the case for workplace policy and practice changes that enhance employee stability. “We call this our quiet advocacy,” says Ysasi. “Through our resource navigation services, we’re able to reflect back challenges employees are experiencing and encourage changes that improve job quality.”

Since its founding, several organizations have adopted The SOURCE’s model, including WorkLife Partnership in Denver, Connect for Success in Seattle, and Working Bridges in Vermont. Currently, these four organizations are working to scale the approach nationally through WorkLab Innovations, a collaborative led by cohort one Job Quality Fellow Liddy Romero.


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Led by Aspen #JobQuality Fellow @milinda_ysasi, The SOURCE connects workers to resources such as transportation, child care, housing, and food assistance so they can bring their whole selves to work.

Making the business case for sustained investments in an employer’s workforce is a powerful way to improve job quality. At The SOURCE, #JobQuality Fellow @milinda_ysasi shows companies the value they gain by investing in their employees.

“The reality for most Americans is that they have to work more and more and they are earning less and less… If we could focus on quality jobs, we could change that narrative.” -Aspen #JobQuality Fellow @milinda_ysasi, The SOURCE

“Through our resource navigation services, we’re able to reflect back challenges employees are experiencing and encourage changes that improve job quality.” -Aspen #JobQuality Fellow @milinda_ysasi, The SOURCE

Our economy needs more quality jobs. Learn how leaders like Aspen #JobQuality Fellow @milinda_ysasi are innovating to boost opportunity in communities across the country. @AspenWorkforce https://www.aspeninstitute.org/longform/job-quality-fellows-profile-series/milinda-ysasi/


Learn more

Milinda Ysasi is a member of the Job Quality Fellowship, Class of 2018-19. The Job Quality Fellowship is a project of the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program.

The Economic Opportunities Program advances strategies, policies, and ideas to help low- and moderate-income people thrive in a changing economy. Follow us on social media and join our mailing list to stay up-to-date on our work, including publications, events, blog posts, and more.