Cornell University: An Interview With Jodi Anderson, Jr., Director At The School of Industrial Labor Relations’ Criminal Justice And Employment Initiative

By Amit Chowdhry • May 31, 2024

Jodi Anderson Jr. is a Director of Technological Innovation at the Cornell University School of Industrial Labor Relations’ Criminal Justice and Employment Initiative (CJEI) where he is responsible for overseeing the development and deployment of technology solutions that will enable justice-involved individuals to access employment and career development opportunities. And he is also a researcher at the Stanford Accelerator for Learning, where he manages cohorts of early-stage entrepreneurs to build digital solutions for disadvantaged learning communities. Pulse 2.0 interviewed Anderson to learn more about his involvement with Restorative Record, a digital hiring tool created by the CJEI for justice-impacted job candidates to secure employment against exclusionary practices.

Jodi Anderson Jr’s Background

Jodi Anderson Jr

Amit: Could you tell me more about your background and how the idea came together for Restorative Record in your work with The Cornell University School of Industrial Labor Relations’ Criminal Justice and Employment Initiative (CJEI)?

Jodi: My relationship with Cornell started when I enrolled in the Cornell Prison Education Program. I transferred to Stanford University after my release and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Economy and Development. While at Stanford I joined several early-stage startups in Silicon Valley and gained various other credentials, but I still struggled with the challenges of post-prison job life. The terms of my parole required me to gain traditional, full-time employment, but this was difficult with a criminal record.

After reaching the final interview stage with dozens of companies and getting rejected due to the background check, I finally found a company willing to hear my story. During the interview process at Reddit, I shared my educational background and rehabilitation efforts to give context that wouldn’t be found in a background check. Reddit’s senior leadership recognized my value and took a chance on me.

Based on this experience, I decided to enroll in a Master’s Degree program in Education at Stanford University to research how technology could combat the negative effects of background checks for justice-impacted individuals. I then reconnected with Cornell and the Criminal Justice Employment Initiative and received funding for Restorative Record.

Amit: What was involved in the building and recent launch for the Restorative Record technology solution?

Jodi: I originally envisioned Restorative Record as a simpler, user-facing product that would allow justice-involved job candidates to share rehabilitative efforts with potential employers. Once CJEI got involved and we fully explored the potential scope and impact of the solution, we decided we needed a more robust, enterprise-grade solution. The scope of the project really took off when Cornell decided to integrate the pilot program across the University’s entire hiring system.

At this point we reached out to Gigster, a full-service software development company with expertise in enterprise solutions. They provided the technical expertise, project management, and documentation necessary for a large-scale integration. Gigster quickly assembled a development team with the specific skills needed for the project so we could get up and running incredibly fast.

Since we needed to develop a beta version on a short timeline, the development process was structured around weekly sprints. This allowed us to quickly cross milestones and adapt to feedback and emerging needs. Gigster and our team were able to develop a beta version of Restorative Record in only two months.

Favorite Memory 

Amit: What has been your favorite moment working on this project so far?

Jodi: My favorite moment in the Restorative Record project so far was during the early stages when we opened up our ALPHA version to internal testers at Cornell University. The feedback was immediate and incredibly insightful, revealing both the strengths and areas needing improvement in our initial build. What made this phase particularly memorable was how we utilized Gigster’s agile development framework to rapidly incorporate this feedback.

Within just one week, we conducted a sprint that not only addressed the specific concerns raised by our testers but also introduced additional features that significantly enhanced user experience. This rapid iteration, fueled by Gigster’s capable team, showcased the power of collaborative development and our commitment to creating a tool that genuinely supports fair chance hiring. Seeing our project evolve so quickly and effectively, thanks to the expertise and dedication of everyone involved, was both exhilarating and deeply fulfilling. This moment not only reflected our team’s agility but also reinforced our mission to build a technology that makes a real difference in the lives of justice-impacted individuals.

Amit: What challenges did you face in building the project to be scaled into a commercially viable solution?

Jodi: The internal CJEI team spearheading this project was only myself and two others. We quickly realized the challenges of integrating Restorative Record across Cornell University’s seven schools and the Workday HR system that manages over 18,000 employees. Cornell simply didn’t have all the resources needed to pull this off.

Gigster was able to assemble the team needed for such a large-scale integration. They also had the enterprise experience and documentation needed to work with the various stakeholders and departments at Cornell, including IT departments, legal teams, and HR. The solution needed to align with various protocols and data security standards while integrating with our existing systems.

The robust technical architecture Restorative Record’s beta is built on is well suited to meet the demands of a large institution like Cornell. We plan to use the feedback from this beta version to further refine our tool and make it even more compelling for other universities and enterprises to adopt.

Core Features

Amit: Could you highlight the product’s core features?

Jodi: Restorative Record is a digital hiring tool for justice-impacted job candidates to overcome exclusionary practices and stigma. The solution provides employers with an alternative model to evaluate candidates with a criminal record. It will replace biased, risk-based human resource assessments with research-based restorative factors.

The platform allows candidates to share goal-directed skills, micro-credentials, rehabilitation efforts, community engagement, mentorships, and other personal characteristics that are better indicators of job success.

Restorative Record integrates with applicant tracking systems to improve individualized assessments, remove arbitrary talent filters and other barriers for nontraditional workers, and empower diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

Future Development

Amit: In your work as an entrepreneur across several divisions, how are Restorative Record and other technologies projected to further develop in the future?

Jodi: I believe technology has the potential to massively impact criminal justice reform and improve outcomes for individuals with justice involvement and economic disenfranchisement. There are many entrepreneurs and tech innovators using their expertise to solve real-world problems for the millions of Americans negative impacted by the criminal justice system. As we become more technology-focused in the future, expect to see new solutions from legal, health, and even fintech address these problems in different ways.

The success of Restorative Record and the work CJEI does will hopefully serve as an example to others in the justice reform space on the benefits of technology for fair-chance hiring. As Restorative Record grows, we hope to see it improve outcomes for justice-impacted individuals across every organization.

Significant Milestones

Amit: As an entrepreneur, what have been some of your most significant milestones?

Jodi: Founding my first startup, Rézme,  was a major milestone in my entrepreneurial journey. Building an early stage startup, you’re often in the trenches, handling everything from product development, engineering,  to customer engagement and business strategy. This hands-on involvement taught me a ton about every aspect of running a business and technology deployment in real-time; especially during the pivots we made to align our products with market opportunities and the social needs of the people we aim to serve. For entrepreneurs like myself, driven by a mission to create social change, each experience in the startup ecosystem and every set back is like a preparatory step for bigger business challenges. It definitely prepared me for some of my ambitions with Cornell and taking some of the innovations we’re introducing in this space to scale.

And since scale is always on my mind, partnering with Gigster to develop the Restorative Record at Cornell University represented one of my defining milestones as an entrepreneur. This collaboration was not just about building a product; it was a crucial test of our business model and a significant opportunity for market validation. Gigster’s reputation, stemming from their success as a Y Combinator-backed startup to market leader, brought a level of credibility and expertise that was essential for the ambitious scope of our project. Their proficiency in handling enterprise-grade applications meant that we could take our initial concept for the Restorative Record and elevate it to meet the rigorous demands of a large institution like Cornell.

The process of integration, and seeing it function effectively, was a profound validation of our technology. It proved that our model could operate on a large scale and adapt to complex environments, which are crucial criteria for potential clients and investors. This was not only a technical validation but also a market validation, demonstrating that there is a real need for our solutions in institutional settings.

Customer Success Stories 

Amit: Can you share any specific customer success stories (perhaps Cornell’s use of Restorative Record)?

Jodi: As we worked to beta launch, we were able to use Cornell as our pilot case, which meant Restorative Record would be embedded within preexisting systems and in progress to be developed to immediately scale to the hiring needs of Cornell’s seven schools.

CJEI’s existing team did not have the expertise in technical architecture or the development resources needed to build and integrate an enterprise-grade application within their limited time and budget. Working with our developer team from Gigster, we delivered a completed beta version of Restorative Record in two months and as a pilot approach, embedded the tool within preexisting hiring systems.

As part of the pilot program, CJEI’s new hiring tool helps employers see applicant’s rehabilitation efforts such as community service, education, and micro-credentials to help improve fair-chance hiring.

Restorative Record’s is now in its beta stage and currently open to justice-impacted candidates and fair-chance employees and is collecting feedback for further features and improvements

Differentiation From The Competition

Amit: What differentiates this solution from its competition (or the status quo)?

Jodi: Restorative Record is a response to decades-old hiring practices that are inefficient and inequitable. Forthcoming research from ILR’s Center for Applied Research on Work and Cornell’s Brooks School of Public Policy found that only 13% of employers consider a candidate’s rehabilitation efforts such as counseling, community service, and mentoring. Further, only 50% of companies perform individualized assessments to decide if a candidate’s criminal record is relevant to the duties of the job.

Our solution aims to break the status quo established by third-party background check services and HR management systems, which are used by 92% of companies. According to NELP, 50% of Federal RAP sheets contain errors.

Restorative Record allows employers to more carefully evaluate jobseekers to ensure they don’t miss out on the best candidates due to outdated and biased hiring systems. Adding more context and relevant skills and experiences to the evaluation process will help employers and employees see the most beneficial and equitable outcomes.

Total Addressable Market

Amit: What total addressable market (TAM) size is the company pursuing?

Jodi: Currently, over 70 million Americans have criminal records. Another 650,000 people are released from US State and Federal prisons each year. With 92% of companies using third-party services that may unjustly disqualify these candidates, the market for a more inclusive solution is huge.

Future Personal Goals

Amit: What are some of your future goals as a tech founder and innovator?

Jodi: As a tech founder and innovator in the justice tech sector, my future goals are inspired by the ecosystems created by the technology companies that shaped my perspective living in Silicon Valley: Microsoft, Meta, Google, Amazon, and Apple. Just as these corporations have developed an array of interconnected products and services that bolster the global tech ecosystem, I aspire to construct a similarly interconnected ecosystem within justice technology.

My vision involves developing multiple product lines and services that collectively address the complex needs of justice-impacted individuals. These offerings will range from employment and educational platforms, to legal and fin tech solutions, each designed to support different aspects of the justice system and the households impacted. The goal is for each product to not only stand alone in providing value but also to enhance the capabilities and utility of other products within the ecosystem.

I hope to continue to be involved in innovative projects that use technology to counter the challenges justice-impacted individuals face and use my own experiences to support others in the future.