The Value of the DE&I Movement

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Your editor as a member of the Innov8GA.org consortium of metro Atlanta and North Georgia entrepreneurship educators attended the organization’s fall conference Sept. 27th at the Emory University incubator The Hatchery. The theme of DE&I was enlightening to those outside of the specialty. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I), three words that have recently been grouped together are used to designate any role or initiative that aims to strengthen exactly what they define. The phrase also broadly outlines the efforts an institution takes ot create a more welcoming environment of people of less privileged identities.

*white anglo-saxon protestant. this usually refers to affluent people in the new england area, but also whites of “old money” in other areas throughout the country.

Two panels were outstanding, the first designing inclusive teaching for entrepreneurship and the second exploring inclusive accessibility to entrepreneurship ecosystems. Among the participants were educators from Spelman College’s Blackstone Launchpad, GA Tech’s Social Innovation Center, Emory University’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI), Georgia State’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute (ENI) and practitioners from Goodie Nation, GA Tech’s VentureLab, the Peachtree Minority Venture Fund, and the HBCU Founders Initiative. These panel members by themselves represented diversity providing a wide spectrum of players in the field practicing D, E & I.

For a mainstream former entrepreneur and WASP* adjunct professor the discussions were heartfelt and revealing. One lady professor “told it like it is” flat saying access to entrepreneurship was limited by race. Metro Atlanta is the exception because it is the chief African American middle class city and an educational hub. For this reason these panels were a perfect representation of the Atlanta entrepreneurship ecosystem.

*White anglo-saxon protestant. this usually refers to affluent people in the new england area, but also whites of “old money” in other areas throughout the country.

Editor Clint was glad he was in attendance. Asking to address the group at the end of the second panel, I gave my own experience inside the community college system as a member of the advisory board to NACCE.com, the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship. I have seen first hand the impact entrepreneurship has on minorities and disadvantaged persons. It is simply impactful and changes the course of peoples lives. Our poster student is Rodney Walker who was growing up listless and a high school senior on the Southside of Chicago. Curious, he took an elective course in entrepreneurship, and his life changed abruptly. Not only did Rodney start his own business, but he applied to Morehouse College getting accepted on probation. The rest, as they say, is history (see https://www.nacce.com/contacts/rodney-walker#).

Entrepreneurship is an experiential learning experience, students learning by creating and building themselves often in teams. They learn self-efficacy, how to present in front of others, follow steps to build a new enterprise, and self satisfy their own work. It is a transformative experience because they begin to think entrepreneurially, the so-called entrepreneurial mindset takes over. They see opportunity and visions others do not, and they learn how to reduce risk to an acceptable level. In a mentor process they are exposed to successful role models and get one-on-one attention. Because the learning is fun, they improve in other areas of education and acquire interest, often becoming passionate about their work.

Among my travels across the U. S. to entrepreneurship programs and conferences, two programs stand out, and they were shared with the Innov8GA organization. One is the EEVF, the Everyday Entrepreneur Venture Fund run by NACCE.com and founded by a former college president and her husband, a tech business founder. The other is a well-know professor’s focus over time on poverty entrepreneurship. Dr. Mike Morris invented the Experimental Classroom for Entrepreneurship which I had the privilege of taking at the University of Florida. He has since moved onto Notre Dame University’s Keough School of Global Affairs and founded the UPBI Poverty Entrepreneurship Program. UPBI stands for Urban Poverty and Business Initiative, and designed to to advance knowledge and understanding of entrepreneurship as a vehicle for poverty alleviation.

Michael H. Morris, Ph.D Senior Professor of Entrepreneurship and USASBE Longenecker Fellow.

Dr. Morris focus after forty years is this endeavor which has successful enrolled 23 communities as diverse at several U. S. cities, the UK, France, Germany, Uganda, Nigeria, Canada, Pakistan, Ecuador, Bolivia, South Africa, etc. Because poverty is pervasive throughout the world, entrepreneurship has success at raising populations not just economically but issue of food security, housing, chronic health problems, transportation, safety, limited education. and limited social networks. Through this program over 80% of a given cohort end up with a formalized operating business and 35% reach a place of sustainability. Families are able to move out of poverty and experience the self-efficacy, the belief one can be successful at a specific task, i. e., starting a small micro-business.

Entrepreneurship not only raises self-worth, but it teaches by experience developing abilities to present in front of others, social skills, and most importantly it is fun to create one’s own version of a personal concept. Low-income and disadvantaged individuals are just as talented and have the same aspirations as others with different circumstance but just have not had the same opportunities to grow. These program focused on less advantaged populations are truly the most life changing of any use of entrepreneurship. More and more foundations and non-profits are discovering the impact of training populations long neglected from independent business. We leave the reader with our NACCE.com “poster child”, one Rodney Walker, who took an entrepreneurship course in a Chicago Southside high school, got into Morehouse College on probation, and, as they say, “the rest is history.” You can read about his journey at https://www.huffpost.com/entry/a-young-author-and-entrep_b_9632816. Editor.

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