In 2018, the national venture philanthropy organization New Profit brought together pairs of donors and social entrepreneurs from their community for candid conversation on the future of social problem-solving. These "unlikely duos" were given thought-provoking questions to respond to and discuss on the spot, and we were able to see where a conversation can go when it’s centered on getting to know another person and his or her perspective, rather than the technical aspects of change-making. Relationships are fundamental to problem-solving, and these duos show us the power of two people from different backgrounds sharing insights and ideas on forward-leaning solutions.

In Episode One of the video series, philanthropist Venkat Srinivasan (Managing Director, Innospark Ventures) and social entrepreneur Marcus Bullock (CEO, Flikshop) discuss the role of technology to drive social good.

We spoke with Bullock about the power of technology to help people in prison, breaking down barriers and embracing collaboration.

Marcus Bullock is determined to change how we help men and women in the prison system. But first, we have to be comfortable having the discussion.

“Typically, it’s been taboo to have the conversations around how to help people in prison or building technology to help people in prison or re-entry programs to be able to help people in prison,” Bullock said.

Marcus Bullock Flikshop CEOIt’s Bullock’s personal experience — he spent eight years in prison after stealing a car at age 15 — that inspired him to create Flikshop, a mobile app that allows loved ones to send mail to incarcerated family members or friends. The purpose of Flikshop is also steeped in evidence: Studies have shown that men and women in prison who maintain contact with family members have lower recidivism rates and better outcomes after they’re released.

Despite the promising data, Bullock has hit obstacles along the way.

“We were always struggling to beat doors down to allow us to talk about the work we are doing in an environment that typically didn’t shine as much light inside this space,” he said.

Bullock has received support from The Aspen Institute, local nonprofits and think tank R Street, but it was New Profit’s Unlocked Futures initiative that has given Bullock the tools to, as he describes it, “change the world.”

Unlocked Futures is a partnership between John Legend's FREEAMERICA, New Profit, and Bank of America that is designed to remove barriers to social enterprise for people affected by the criminal justice system. After all, these individuals have the deepest knowledge on ways the system can be improved.

Flikshop: More than Just a Tech Solution

Bullock set out to build technology to connect loved ones, but he also wanted to ensure that this same technology could connect men and women in prison to their communities. Bullock remembers that upon release, he wasn’t aware of programs available to him.

“I couldn’t believe there were people who wanted to help people who were in prison,” he recalled.

Flikshop has been used by nonprofit providers, direct service providers and re-entry programs to communicate with people in prison, but Bullock identified another gap: education. He launched the Flikshop School of Business which is centered around technology and entrepreneurship.

“These educational opportunities provide breakthroughs for people that are in these facilities and provide a stronger success path when they come home,” Bullock said, adding that the majority of programs inside prison facilities are centered around obsolete industries.

Collaboration is Crucial to Change

Bullock acknowledges that his background has often been a liability, but he’s focused on being an example of what success looks like after prison.

He also knows his accomplishments rely on collaboration. One example is Flikshop’s partnership with R Street. Together, Bullock and the think tank have helped elevate the conversation about occupational licensing, which is often a barrier for individuals with a criminal record.

“Collaborate with people in your space or people not in your space,” he said. “What you get is a level playing field that is centered in diversity and that’s where real change happens.”

And change can happen even during a short conversation. Bullock said his talk with Venkat Srinivasan allowed him to recognize that there’s no need for an “us vs. them” mentality in social entrepreneurship.

“Even though our models are different and the industries are different, the reality is collaboration is key,” Bullock said. “Entrepreneurial desire is the same.”