Throughout the week at SB’19 Detroit, as we were regaled with tales of inspiring programs such as Dave’s Killer Bread’s Second Chance Employment initiative, we were pleasantly struck by the theme that emerged of brands and other organizations cultivating leaders and changemakers from unlikely places and in unique ways.
TRU Colors Brewing: Unlikely collaboration for the win
by Shannon Houde
TRU Colors' Press and KO onstage at SB'19 Detroit | Image credit: SB
TRU Colors Brewing is far from your typical brewery. For one thing — to work at TRU, you have to be an active gang member.
As crazy as it might sound, TRU Colors is a for-profit company with a tightly integrated social mission to bring rival gangs together and stop gang violence. It all began two years ago, when George Taylor heard about a 16-year-old getting shot on the streets on a Sunday morning in his neighborhood in North Carolina. He called his District Attorney to find out who the head of the gang was that had the most influence; he then spent a year hanging out with these gangs, learning how the gangs were structured, what drove the violence and building their trust.
He learned that gangs are more like a college fraternity than the mafia — they were driven by economic needs and none of them really wanted to do what they were doing. They hated the reality they'd created. So, together with rival gang members, Taylor — who had already founded or co-founded nine startups in his career — created and launched TRU, the name representing their values: Truth (our word is our bond) + Responsibility (we handle our business) + Unity (we stand together).
Taylor saw that in order to keep influence over the 700+ gang members, they had to stay in the gang. This was the only way to influence and reduce the violence in the city. The hashtag #gunsdownmanup says it all. He needed to hire 100 guys — and to compete with street earnings, he set the minimum salary at $40K; but this is performance-based — so, if someone doesn’t perform, they are out.
Khalilah Olokunola, aka KO — TRU’s VP of HR — says that it is like a combination of the military, gangs and the Boy Scouts. They look for people with hunger, personality and influence. Once hired, the gang member spends the first four weeks with mornings in the gym and days in the classroom. They then spend months doing hard manual labor in the field. They expect the staff to be stable — stable housing, relationships, finances. If they succeed at these, they then become eligible for badges, company stock options and promotions.
Forming new bonds and trust where rivalry existed is a process, but so far, the TRU Colors team has defied everyone’s expectations of what can be achieved by gang members. They plan to launch their beer in early 2020; and from there, they will launch TRU Colors in cities across America — opening brewpubs and replicating their social mission platform of reducing gun violence.
TRU Colors is building a scalable blueprint that saves lives and enables its employees to reach their personal and professional potential. They’ve already been successful with their mission locally, with an immediate and significant drop in gang-related shootings.
When I asked Press — one of TRU’s first recruits who took part in the presentation — at an SB party later that night what makes him happy in life, he responded without hesitation, “My kids!”
Sports as a platform for raising the sustainability leaders of tomorrow
By Mia Overall
Ovie Mughelli | Image credit: SB
What does a 6’2’’, 250-lb African American NFL star bring to the sustainability movement? A lot. When Ovie Mughelli retired as fullback of the Atlanta Falcons, he created the Ovie Mughelli Foundation. He organizes football and eco-education camps for youth — so, while they brush up their football skills, they’re also learning to incorporate recycling, reducing and reusing into their everyday lives.
Many of these kids would not have had much reason to care about it before. Mughelli himself didn’t, until his twin babies were born prematurely — and the air quality in Atlanta was so bad, the doctor advised they stay at the hospital. Mughelli recognizes that it takes wake-up moments such as these for change to take place in both kids and adults — he also recognizes the need to the environmental movement to grow more diverse. To do this, he urges several changes.
The first is language. It needs to be simpler — we can’t make it so complicated that people feel alienated. Terms such as “resiliency,” for example, can get quickly lost in the abstract.
The second is representation. Young people of color need to see people who look like them. When we look at people in solar power companies, for example, do they represent the diversity of our society?
The third is fun! We have to make things fun. Kids want to be with their friends and feel included. They come for the football camps, but they stay because they are excited. One way he is making environmentalism fun is through the creation of the first environmental superhero, Gridiron Green, developed in partnership with Unicef.
Ovie’s ultimate message to the audience was:
“Pick a lane and make a difference. Whatever that lane is, getting hundreds of thousands of black and brown people involved will get you to your goal faster.”
Tackling inequality and sparking opportunity by helping traditionally underserved communities
By Melissa Radiwon
Image credit : Best Buy
When we think of yesterday’s major brands and philanthropy, we tend to visualize the corporate suits shaking hands with the charity directors as they both clutch a giant-sized check between them. But today’s brands are reaching out further to make a positive impact, and some are targeting traditionally underserved communities.
Laura Fruitman, co-founder and general manager of The Right to Shower, described her inspiration for the idea from an experience growing up in New York City, where she met a homeless man who told her people walked by him, never making eye contact — he felt invisible.
“Dignity is the thing we want to give to people,” Fruitman said. “A shower can renew hope and make people feel more like themselves.”
The journey from working the idea to building up the structure, to gaining internal support and proving the concept started as something “on the side” while continuing her day job, but has now evolved into her full-time responsibility at Unilever.
Fruitman also highlighted the importance of informed giving — understanding what people need before you start handing out solutions.
“If you give people soap and they don’t have a place to use it, how helpful is that?” she said.
The social enterprise was launched eight weeks ago, but sights are already turning toward legislature and tackling the issues affecting the people they are helping with the program. Fruitman was keen to point out the need to partner with the right organizations that can help with identifying and pursuing the right legislation.
General Motors’ Student Corp program — a paid, 10-week summer internship — pairs up GM retirees with high school students to “go do good.” They are given a budget, but not too many guidelines, to have a positive impact on their communities.
In the first year, the program targeted 11 high schools in Detroit and generated ideas that included safe walking paths, a school community center and a day camp; along with painting schools and fire hydrants, and giving a bed to the firemen’s hall.
Now in its seventh year, the program has expanded to 15 schools and over 500 students in Detroit, Pontiac and Flint, Michigan. The program also boasts a 75 percent return rate of the retirees, with more wanting to join.
Heidi Magyar, director of corporate giving at GM, highlighted the need for strong partnerships to make this happen — The Skillman Foundation, DTE and Quicken Loans work with GM to tackle issues together.
“We all have different skill sets — housing, education, community, skilled trades,” Magyar said. Utilizing what each does best creates a strong team.
Best Buy created Teen Tech Centers, state-of-the-art after-school centers with robotics, 3D printers, sound studios, cameras and many other types of technology. The idea is to help teens figure out their passion and provide basic technical training to get them started on the right path, with the goal to have a 98 percent graduation rate of tech center participants and a clear plan for their post-secondary school or a job path.
“Minneapolis/St. Paul has a large achievement gap between white students and students of color,” said Andrea Wood, head of social impact at Best Buy. “Teens from underserved communities are not getting exposure to be prepared for technology-based jobs.”
Wood stated we will not have enough people to fill tech jobs in the near future, and this program is a business imperative, as well as social, for Best Buy.
Best Buy is working with partners — including vendors such as Google, Sony and Canon — to branch out and create other tech centers, send employees to mentor and support the centers, and to provide internships to students of the tech centers.
Laura Grannemann, VP of strategic investments with Quicken Loans, discussed one of its many community impact programs. The Community Fund is primarily focused on Detroit housing.
“We are the nation’s largest mortgage lender, yet in a city with housing instability and tax foreclosure issues,” Grannemann said.
Working with 30 different organizations across the city, Quicken hired Detroit residents to go door-to-door to talk with residents and gather data. Residents didn’t know the resources they should have access to including 75 percent that should not have been paying taxes in the first place due to lower income levels. Also, 61 percent of renters didn’t know their landlord was behind on taxes and the risks they were facing.
Quicken has worked with renter-occupied properties to pay back taxes, and through partnerships with community groups, established a program where renters can become home owners.
Grannemann stressed the importance of data to understand a problem and apply the right solution. Additionally, measuring KPIs for the short, medium and long term to allow for scaling programs to other communities and advocating for policy changes with governmental bodies.
Cultivating the business leadership required for a more sustainable, inclusive and equitable economy
By Mandy McNeill
Image credit: WOCinTech
Each member of this accomplished panel on the final afternoon of SB’19 Detroit brought different perspectives on sustainable, inclusive and equitable economies that were, at times, provocative. John Lanier — co-author of Mid-Course Correction Revisited, with his grandfather, the late Interface founder and sustainability champion Ray Anderson — shared the vision of his grandfather’s company: the prototypical 21st-century company that “has figured out how to grow without natural capital or one [that] has learned to succeed without having to grow at all.”
David Rice, Chairman of the Organization of Black Designers, described how we have inadvertently designed ourselves into the current situation, and the same thinking will not be able to get us out; we have allowed the evolution of science to pull us along without considering the consequences and imagining that we are “somehow a master species, [instead of] a part of a natural system.”
The panelists all agreed that we are part of nature. Companies sometimes focus on one tenet or another, but the ‘triple bottom line’ of social, environmental and economic prosperity cannot be conceived of separately. Caesars Entertainment’s Wendy Bagnasco stressed this in her example of a family “thriving and earning enough money, but if they don’t have clean air and clean water… that isn’t enough.” Moderator Eric Martin, of Adaptive Change Advisors, reinforced this thought when he presented what he called an uncomfortable truth:
“Sustainability leadership that doesn’t create a substantially more inclusive economy, simply put, is not sustainability leadership.”
Marina Shoemaker, Director of Global Diversity and Inclusion Strategies at GM, told the audience about the efforts the carmaker is making toward inclusive leadership. She asked rhetorically, “Are we really capitalizing and leveraging talent” if employees and dealers do not reflect the communities they serve and the customer base?
Adding to the discussion on inclusion, Rice asserted that, due to the state of the world’s environment, we no longer have the luxury of marginalizing entire groups of people based on a category, saying, “We don’t have time to deal with this social foolishness.” Human capital must be considered everywhere as time runs short for the planet, and we have to rethink the current economic model that, Rice said, “is, in its very nature, exclusive and racist.”
Bagnasco urged the audience to continue to push back on institutions including corporations, governments and civil society to make sure that the message is received.