By Harold Goldberg
WeWork has certainly had its issues. But after making a request of WeWork Pilot through Meetup, I came away with this feeling: Because of their technology and perhaps because of certain uncaring individuals, both companies are not doing enough for nonprofits and those who offer education to underserved communities. And that’s an understatement.
Here’s what happened. WeWork purchased Meetup in 2017. WeWork Pilot, which matches Meetup organizers to select WeWork locations, allowed our group to select a date and space for our first New York Videogame Critics Circle Meetup. It would be at the 401 Park Avenue South office, a central location in Manhattan. The Circle created the Meetup page to offers community events that would spread the word about our nonprofit organization’s programs in underserved areas, perhaps procure some volunteers and less importantly but still part of our community essence, to give away game codes to each attendee.
Online, the rules of WeWork Pilot went like this: “It all depends on availability at the local WeWork office.” Since the date was available, we thought there would be no issue. As you read this, please remember the words “It all depends on availability.”
But our organization, a multicultural group of 40 journalists whose stated purpose it to give back to various communities, was denied. The answer came via a terse email. “They’ve decided that it isn’t a great fit for their space.” When I asked for a more specific reason, Alex_H, a Pro Support Expert from Meetup, replied, “If a particular type of event or topic is already being addressed by a Meetup, the Community Team will not accept new requests for the similar topics to make sure they offer a variety of events for their members.”
This response was a glittering generality of the highest order. What were the other nonprofit events that this location was promoting? I went to that WeWork website. I couldn’t find anything that had to do with nonprofits at all. If they were there, they certainly weren’t public. And “not a great fit” went against the stated rule that it “all depends on availability.” Alex_H ended with “Let me know if you have any other questions I can help with!”
I responded to Alex_H with another question and a comment. I said it’s been our experience that what we offer is something completely new — and needed. That’s not hubris. Everyone from Reggie Fils-Aime from Nintendo to Sony’s Shawn Layden has helped to mentor the students we so happily serve. And they’ve enjoyed passing along their knowledge. We’re not about talking haphazardly about games and we’re not another group talking about coding games. Actually, we teach journalism and game narrative and we offer paid internships to students in an area of the Bronx that is in the poorest Congressional district in the country. The people there are smart and the area is beautiful, but they need some help. We are doing the best we can. We have made a difference. We can see it. The educators in the Bronx can see it. And although we can do more, we’re proud of what we’ve done.
To clarify things for Alex_H and to help him understand, I sent this paragraph from our 501(c)3 narrative:
“NYVGCC advances education and educates the public about technology, videogames, the games and technology industries, and journalism by (i) conducting educational classes and workshops for students and adults, (ii) conducting an educational internship program for students, (iii) providing scholarships to students, and (iv) making grants to other section 501(c)(3) organizations for similar purposes.”
I asked this of Alex_H: “Does WeWork not work with nonprofits? This would be good to know for the future – because ‘not a good fit’ is actually insulting to all the students of color with whom we work.”
A day passed and we’ve received no reply. Another day turned into a week, and a week into a month. We’ve still gotten no reply. Not a peep. So much for “other questions I can help you with.”
WeWork should not ghost us. Meetup should not ghost us. WeWork and Meetup shouldn’t ghost anyone. That’s no way to nuture community and it’s no way run a business dependent upon collegiality. WeWork and Meetup should be especially open to the underserved in our society. Everyone should. But judging from the lack of communication about this issue, WeWork is about “Work,” but not about “We.” And judging from the effort Alex_H put in to deal with our particular issue, Meetup isn’t any better.
That’s a sad thing to state and a sad thing to feel – especially during a time when we’re trying hard to be optimistic during our Spring Fundraiser. But we’ll continue to try to do good things, despite these companies’ odd policies and despite the odds. It’s too late to stop us now.
Author/journalist Harold Goldberg is the president and founder of The New York Videogame Critics Circle and the New York Game Awards.