On the heels of its recent award with the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve Customer Experience on VA.gov, we caught up with Coforma’s Eduardo Ortiz, CEO; Ashleigh Axios, CXO; Angela Palm Hopkins, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications; and Jamie Newberry, VP of Delivery to discuss attracting value-aligned talent and partners; the role of power brokers; their approach to partnerships and sharing; and the goal of technology for good. The team also shares a call to action for anyone interested in supporting the Veteran community.

Leveraging Technology for Good

Founded with the intent of using technology to help people live better lives by accelerating the efforts of those working toward specific goals, Coforma honed in initially on efforts related to immigrants and Veterans, supporting organizations that were either specifically working in this area, or with organizations that were providing services to others where people were applying for those services, formally defining its role a few years later.

Today Coforma is focused in five key areas: Veteran services; healthcare; immigration; access to justice, equity and voting, and civic engagement.   .

Attracting Value Aligned Talent

Coforma’s earliest framework was designed to identify the company as a safe place for value-aligned employees. “We don’t work with police forces, weapons manufacturers and so on. People coming to work with us have that security to know who we will, who we won’t work with, what our focus areas are and how we operate and work.”

Backing a peace of mind that comes with supporting lasting and positive projects on both the commercial and civilian side are benefits, training and professional development that exceed industry standards. Noting that many businesses get caught in the inertia of current and standard practices, Coforma looks beyond that. “Looking at minimum wage trends across the US we know people are not being paid well, that many roles are grossly undervalued. One of our commitments to our full-time employees is that no one will make under $100k a year and we have committed to zero layoffs.”

As a business, this holds the company, and its management, accountable for the financial health of the company, incentivizing everyone to do well through mutual accountability     .

Human-centered Inside and Out

Focused on practicing human-centered design, not just in its services and products, but internally and with its business partners, “clients love this because they get passionate and energized and empowered partners solving these complex problems that they’re working through. And because we exhibit the same ethos of being public servants at heart, the collaboration ends up being really great, with the team snapping right into place and able to integrate much faster.”

While Coforma has always benefited from attracting do-good technologists, the pandemic seemingly triggered an increase in the numbers of people embracing that value, a passion they see time and again when asking potential employees why they are interested in joining the team.

Beyond any statement of work or summary statements, Coforma’s client approach involves asking questions, driving to the heart of needs, of problems to be solved, and understanding the end users who will ultimately benefit from any new product or service. “That can mean helping a client discover the real underlying benefit they’re trying to get to the end user, and you can only do that by making yourself part of the team, by really integrating yourself in what they are doing. That can mean helping them understand both what is possible, and what is feasible based on time constraints or resources for the moment.”

Identifying the Power Brokers

Understanding that its role within any team will and should be temporary, Coforma enters into every engagement fully prepared to leave with a focus on client enablement. “We want to identify the true power brokers on the customer side and understand how we can work with them to ensure they have as deep a knowledge as we do so they can be empowered to carry on, or decide a change in direction. That level of honesty allows us to work with customers in a way others cannot because we are not beholden to specific profit thresholds or financial goals.”

Because Coforma is about more than financial growth, its team is not afraid to step away, at the right time, from an engagement that’s not mutually beneficial or which no longer calls for their support. “Our commitment to our employees and to making a positive impact means that not every opportunity is for us. While we try to vet for alignment in advance of engagements, we’re also not afraid to hand over projects at key junctures or step away from engagements to protect employees, better empower a client, or to both stay aligned and consistent in the presentation of our values.”

In the end, the goal is to leave the client better, stronger and enabled to provide better services to their customers. “Many of the federal employees we work with are the most driven, passionate and steadfast people we know. They are often what enables us to actually achieve the mission set out in the SOW or the SOO because they engage, collaborate and share that common set of goals.”

Partnerships and Shared Lessons

As a partner and industry participant, the Coforma leadership team speaks freely and often about their experiences, their lessons learned, to impart what’s worked well for them and help others avoid missteps     .

They also do a lot of vetting when it comes to partners to ensure there is value alignment, to look at where they may be on a case by case basis, knowing that there are nuances and influences always at play.

“Having an aligned team is key because everyone plays a role and it needs to really be a one team environment. We don’t want to spend a lot of time managing relationships and interaction so when everyone gets along, everyone is focused on helping the client and the team gels.”

A partnership mentality also exists with clients through which Coforma intends to teach, to educate, based on its own experience. And partnership exists within the Digital Services Coalition, of which Coforma is a founding member. “We believe in building community together and sharing knowledge to help the whole ecosystem continue to thrive and to grow.”

Originally named &Partners, the underlying message within the company has always been that whomever the team was partnering with came first. Breaking down its new name “In Latin, co means together and forma means to create or form. Coforma therefore is the literal embodiment of who we really saw ourselves becoming and where we are aiming to go as a company which is evidenced through our partnerships, the way that we intake new partners, the way that we treat our employee hiring process, treat each other internally and then even our industry partners who we need to partner with at times to provide the best solutions to government.”

Growing Together

Noting an ease in bringing others along, Coforma is focused on growth, on a mindset that continually evolves and moves forward. “We’re going to keep learning new things and keep growing and pushing forward and hopefully keep pushing the industry forward. And if we can share some of those lessons with others, it makes it easier for us all to change the dynamics that we’re working in.”

Whether it is internal brown bag learning sessions or an annual professional development stipend, the company is driven to continually build the skills of its employees and its managers, including working with employees to develop personal professional mission statements that focus on the individual and their long-term goals, inside and outside of the company.

Giving Back

Tied to its ethos that it is part of the community and because of that, needs to give back to the community, Coforma has made a commitment of $100,000 in calendar year 2023 for the standing up of the Veterans Hiring Intitiative. “We are currently in the process of looking at organizations that provide the necessary education and training for Veterans that are either at the point of transition from the military into the civilian world, or that are attempting to make a career shift, or that are unemployed and without a career to enter the digital services space by attending one of these technical schools.”

Coforma has also engaged with Luminary Labs in support of its Mission Daybreak program, along with the Department of Veteran Affairs, promoting the creation of tools, products and services to help reduce suicide in the Veteran population. “Our team spent upwards of six weeks reviewing applications, mentoring the teams that we’re going through the challenge and being a partner consultant. In partnership with Oddball, we donated money again in support of Veterans to Codesmith in order to establish a digital services scholarship for Veterans looking to become coders or engineers.”

Whether through direct funding or pro bono work, Coforma’s giving back efforts align with its values, its five focus areas, and brings in ideas and inspiration from the team and what they are personally involved with. “We look at things like, who are some of the most disempowered and disenfranchised groups, what are the opportunities that we have, the skills that we have that we can bring to the table to add support in these instances and that helps connect all the dots for our team and we get ideas from the team on what to support.”

Supporting Veterans – A Call to Help

The leadership team notes that the Veteran Hiring Initiative, although being driven by Coforma, is not something they lay claim to, but rather, something that belongs to the whole community. “We need help. We need people and organizations engaged and willing to put a stake in the ground that they are committed to not just take contracts from the VA, but that they will give back, by giving Veterans the opportunity to care for their families, and themselves.”

Hoping to drive commitments from others in the industry, Coforma is not seeking financial backers at this time but instead, partners and supporters who can help achieve this goal through their commitment, their talents, and their voices.

About Coforma

Coforma works with the government and private sector to craft creative solutions and build technology products that improve people’s lives. They’ve honed a modern, agile, user-centered approach that elevates human needs through thoughtfully-designed systems and products. They’re a minority-owned small business that employs a workforce that’s 10% Veterans. To date, their diverse team has helped improve access to quality healthcare, connected families in crisis at the US border, researched improvements to Veteran care, provided greater access to civic tools, used technology to tell previously untold stories, improved the federal retiree experience, and increased access to equity. Visit them at coforma.io.


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