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Finance & Investment
Education, Business, Community Initiatives Elevating Young Changemakers

Two rich panel discussions at SB Brand-Led Culture Change featured insights from organizations across the business landscape on how to maximize impact and opportunities for the next generation of diverse, young talent.

At SB Brand-Led Culture Change in Minneapolis last week, leaders from a variety of industries and sectors shared insights on their organizations’ efforts to maximize impact and opportunities for the next generation of diverse, young talent.

Brands investing in education as a vehicle for social change

Green Bronx Machine partners with Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital to produce 400 bags of student-grown leafy greens and vegetables every month, which are distributed locally to food insecure senior citizens who are recovering from cancer and live in public housing. | Image credit: Green Bronx Machine

This Thursday morning panel featuring leaders from tech, non-profits and education highlighted work taking place in each field aimed at equipping the next generation to thrive.

Ann Woo — Executive Director and Head of Corporate Citizenship, Employee Engagement & Emerging Talent at Samsung — and MindSpark President & CEO Kellie Lauth discussed how their companies are each working to upskill and educate young people pursuing careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

“We work with thousands of brands — often as an intermediary,” Lauth said. "They’ll come to us and ask for help to upskill girls to work in STEM careers. I tell them it is a long-term commitment."

When asked about the current state of girls pursuing STEM careers in the US, she explained there is still work to be done: “A lot of schools and corporations use STEM as a buzzword. Industry should drive STEM outcomes. In places like Appalachia and our work with tribal communities, there is an enduring effort in terms of educating teachers and upskilling potential workers. Brands should know it is a long-term, deep-impact strategy.”

Phil Berry, IDSA — Director of the Office of Sustainability at Pima Community College in Tuscon, Arizona — discussed the need for more students to be literate about climate issues given the projected temperature rise younger generations are likely to see in their lifetimes. “For Generation Z or Gen Alpha, it could be as much as a 5- to 7-degree increase,” he said.

Stephen Ritz, founder of Green Bronx Machine — an educational program on a mission to build healthy, equitable and resilient communities through inspired education that boosts local food systems and 21st-century workforce development — then shared a powerful message about the connection between education in low-income communities and building community health: “The greatest lever for equity in this country is education. Kids are getting fatter, sicker faster. Why don't we grow food in every schoolyard in the country?” he asserted. Green Bronx Machine’s new documentary, Generation Growth, demonstrates a template for low-cost, highly effective education around food and nutrition that can be replicated in public schools across the nation.

The session ended with a key takeaway for brands to think about how to marry their sustainability strategies with education. Lauth encouraged brands to “think of education as a solid investment in their bottom line, and as a vehicle for addressing more social challenges brands face, now and in the future.”

Elevating the next wave of diverse entrepreneurs, executives and leaders

Image credit: RDNE Stock Project

The next morning, a similarly engaging session covered best practices and creative ways of investing to elevate new generations of diverse entrepreneurs and leaders. The conversation featured panelists from across the business world — including non-profits, the spirits and beverage industry, and consulting.

Moderated by Michelle Benavides, Executive Director of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP), two main themes drove the discussion — investment strategies in support of historically marginalized groups including Black and tribal communities, and how to find and recruit more diverse talent.

Malcolm Ellis, Head of Diverse Investments at Diageo, provided an overview of the company’s $200M commitment over 10 years to cultivate the next generation of Black entrepreneurs, executive leaders and founders within the spirits and beverage industry. The investment includes two pillars — the first is providing Black founders with funding, go-to market, brand marketing, finance and legal capabilities; the second is HR-driven and aims to diversify the industry by sourcing talent from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and HBCU alumni.

According to Ellis, the spirits industry does not accurately reflect the consumers it serves — Black Americans represent 12 percent of consumers but only ~7 percent of the spirits labor force and just 2 percent at the executive level. “We need to look like our consumers. There is a space for brands that reflect my lived experience,” Ellis said.

Lola Bakare — CMO advisor, inclusive marketing strategist and owner of be/co — spoke about the need for companies to be more proactive when finding and hiring more diverse talent.

“If people are telling me, ‘We don’t have a single Black woman on the team’ — if we’re not going out of our way to level the playing field — then, what are we really saying?” she said. “We can’t be waiting for perfection for people to have these opportunities for communities that are underserved. There needs to be a willingness to take a chance on this person even though they may not be perfect.”

Lina Constantinovici, founder and CEO of climate-tech accelerator Innovation 4.4, shared examples of her organization’s work with tribal communities that exemplified the proactive approach Bakare mentioned. “We’re working with Lakota and Dakota tribes. There’s such excitement and energy among the younger generation who want to bring in renewable energy… the desire is there,” she said.

Constantinovici spoke about another project, with the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, that involves repurposing wind turbine blades. “There are 2,000 wind turbines that cannot be landfilled because of a toxic chemical. By making a $10M investment in the recovery project, it unlocks a $50M investment from the government,” she asserted.

After the panel addressed questions from the audience, Benavides wrapped up the session by reminding attendees of the larger purpose behind the work that was shared — and the impetus for companies to seek opportunities to intentionally and equitably expand their reach. “The aim is to create a better future for everyone,” she said.

Check out more highlights from SB Brand-Led Culture Change