When restaurants in Newark closed to keep the coronavirus at bay, Audible tapped into its mostly unused global travel budget to buy $1 million worth of meals from local eateries and donated them to residents.
“We can’t let these restaurants go down for the rest of time and never come back and all these jobs go away,” said Audible’s founder and executive chairman, Don Katz. “We can’t allow people to be actually without food in a society like ours, in a place like Newark.”
Audible’s Newark Working Kitchens initiative is just one type of program that would fall under its newly-created Global Center for Urban Development. Aisha Glover will leave her position as CEO of the nonprofit Newark Alliance to head the office on Oct. 1 as Audible’s vice president of urban innovation, working to bring programs like the meal drive worldwide.
The new center was created to put Audible’s other economic development initiatives under one roof. But it also came together in response to the health and economic disparities that have been exacerbated this year from COVID-19 and racial inequalities highlighted by George Floyd’s death.
“If we can be self-reflective and really be thinking about how we use and leverage corporations for good, this has to be this time,” Glover said. “If it’s not now, during this moment that our country is in, I don’t think we’ll ever get there.”
Glover is most known for leading Newark’s bid for Amazon’s second headquarters (it was a finalist but didn’t win). She’s worked towards revitalizing and empowering local residents at Newark Alliance for about two years and was previously the CEO of the Newark Economic Community Development Corporation, which is now known as Invest Newark. She also sits on Newark’s equitable growth commission which aims to ward off gentrification.
Audible, a subsidiary of Amazon, moved its headquarters from Wayne to Newark in 2007. Audible’s Innovation Cathedral, a workspace for mostly tech employees, opened across from Washington Park in Newark’s downtown last year too.
The company has long invested in its employees in a way that also boosts the local economy in the Brick City. Its given employees gift cards to eat lunch in the city and a $500 monthly stipend to live in Newark. Audible also works with Covenant House to hire those who struggle with homelessness into customer care jobs.
Katz also helped found Newark Venture Partners to help grow local tech startups. He said working with communities is a better philanthropic investment than simply donating large sums of money to different causes.
“All of this stuff is good for business, but good for society,” said Katz.
Glover said she wants to focus on retaining Newark’s tech talent, while also building neighborhoods around the globe. She hopes to bring ideas from Audible’s other operations in India, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Japan, Canada and more and apply them to Newark.
“We’re really going to be looking beyond Jersey to really think about models and best practices to help curate the downtown that we’ve always wanted for quite some time,” Glover said.
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Rebecca Panico may be reached at [email protected].