Entering this process, the “long-term” objective is pretty clear. I want to establish, what I see as, a key piece of the potential co-op and minority-business enterprise ecosystem here in Miami.
In my eyes, the ground is fertile (i.e. the businesses and potential worker-owner-entrepreneurs exist), but there has not been enough water and sunlight (economic access and relationships) to ensure that local, minority-owned firms and co-ops can grow and scale past a point that ensures their survival and resilience in the face of potentially upcoming economic and social upheaval.
After a year and half in the U.S and more than a year working with Future Partners, a social impact consulting firm started by former Obama White House officials that focuses on creating economic opportunity between minority-owned businesses (MBEs) and large corporate/institutional buyers, I’ve realized that it can be an extremely uphill battle to scale your business as a minority founder in the U.S.
Our work is centered often around using an organizing approach to inspire many levels of an incumbent organization to approach minority-contracting in a different way. We ultimately try and veer them away from the compliance side of it (if it exists in their particular industry/geography) and more towards an aspirational view. This then leads to initial traction and the ability to implement policy change that opens the floodgates for new opportunities.
This approach is very new to me as a former consultant at The Boston Consultant Group and an engineer by training. I have literally no organizing experience other than what you might see happen in a traditional consulting project. However, those situations are vastly different simply because you have a top-down mandate you can lean on and point to should anyone resist (people have and did get fired for resisting).
I realize then, that my assertion, or world view, for this work should be something like:
If we know there is persistent discrimination towards minority populations (racial, ethnic, gender identity, you name it), and we know that this discrimination affects their ability to create economic prosperity, and we know that this, in turn, also causes their health and quality of life to be inferior to what it could be, and we know that this is unfair and inhumane THEN we can help address these issues by creating a mission-driven vehicle that promotes and directs economic influx to these communities.Me.
I can’t hold any illusions that this will be a silver bullet that solves all the problems for everyone everywhere. Or any of the problems for anyone anywhere. But I do believe that it is a step in the right direction. I believe that communities DO want to look out for each other in this way. What I see in the CPA approach is the means to have them do precisely that.
For this goal, of establishing a CPA in Miami, I’ll use Zig Ziglar’s 7 steps, but then I’ll break this down into SMARTER goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound, Evaluated and Readjusted) for 6 months, 3 months, 1 month and 2 weeks (I know, bear with me).
1. IDENTIFY THE GOAL: Start CPA in Miami. This will mean full-time staff, a formal balance sheet (but can be housed within another organization), contracts facilitated, a growing network and funding to move forward.
2. LIST THE BENEFITS? There are several outcomes I’d look forward to seeing. First, moving the needle on a key social justice issue that, frankly, makes my blood boil. Then, creating an organization by minorities, for minorities to take charge of this issue, provide meaningful employment, foster development opportunities, and foster quality of life. Last, and most certainly least, it provides me an avenue to continue developing my professional impact.
3. LIST THE OBSTACLES TO OVERCOME: I can already foresee a ton of them: Time is the first big one. Until CPA has funding, I have to continuously convince my supervisor(s) that I’m engaging in business development work that could potentially be lucrative for them. The tension exists, however, when I’m engaging in this work during time that I’m not dedicating to their other projects with certain revenue schedules. The second one would be the relationship building itself and all the challenges that come with it. The third would be the process of finding and developing relationships with the MBEs. This last one can be particular challenging as a Latinx man in Miami (often seen as majority, even though I’m not Cuban). Finally, as we scale up the organizing, finding and training new staff.
4. LIST THE SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE REQUIRED: For starters, organizing and relationship building skills would be very useful. Also ability to facilitate and navigate these conversations. Fortunately, CPA’s material and Felipe himself have been overly generous with material, templates, action plans, best practice, process and anything “technical”.
5. IDENTIFY THE PEOPLE AND GROUPS TO WORK WITH: Fortunately for me, I find myself in a stage of my life where support is abundant. Not only do I have the CPA incubator team and Felipe himself, but I also have my firm who is genuinely interested in this work. I’ve also become part of an additional leadership development program that runs parallel to this, called Maven Leadership Collective. I spent all of last weekend with them on a first of 6 retreats over 6 months developing myself and this idea for maximum impact. Finally, I’m counting on the Miami Global Shapers network of young professionals, all highly skilled and socially committed, to support me as their passion and time permits.
6. DEVELOP A PLAN OF ACTION: This is the project plan I’d like to work on as soon as next week. In place of it, I’ll leave my shorter term, intermediate goals further along the post.
7. SET A DEADLINE FOR ACHIEVEMENT: For CPA itself, as my vision states it, 1 year. For the intermediate goals, read further.
So, for the intermediate goals, my 6 months goal looks as follows:
To facilitate 1 contract that aggregates 3-5 institutions and that is awarded to 1-2 firms, one of which must be minority-owned, a co-op or majority ESOP (employee stock-ownership) within 6 months (by March 1st, 2020). The contract must provide savings for the institutions and must be profitable for the new firms.
In 3 months, it would be then:
To identify an actionable opportunity for 3-5 institutions to pool their buying power and get them on board for a joint RFP process.
In 1 month it would be:
To establish relationships with 3 institutions that are enrolled with the CPA model and are open to doing a contract with others in the short-term. Based on initial conversations on facilities categories, identify a shortlist of firms that COULD service these contracts.
In two weeks it would be:
Establish a relationship with 1 institution that is enrolled with the CPA model and open to doing contracts with others in the short-term.
Oh snap….this got real. This may be sabotage, but I’m also open to them being re-evaluated (hence the ‘R’ in SMARTER), but I know myself enough by now that I work better under rigorous accountability. This work is worth it. Now, I’m off to find more allies.
Wish me luck team!
Reflection Script (RS)
So for this part of the exercise, I’m hoping to reflect back on the learning over the past few days, many catalyzed by the comments of my peers on this post and others that emerged through my process of reading and commenting on the posts of my peers.
My first obvious reflection is how I tend to isolate myself and forget about the allies who are on my side. I’ve noticed I constantly reinforce the illusion of separation in my life as a way to justify that nagging feeling that I’m not enough or that I’m going to fail again.
Concretely, I did it this time but not even bringing up my newest and most potent ally in Miami for executing this work, who is also engaged in this program.
Funny how it didn’t even occur to me to bring her up then. That is not a reflection of her capabilities or commitment or anything. It’s my own tendency to forget my allies in the face of the big challenges of my life.
Of course I could blame it all on the late night writing, my workload, trying to get this done, Mercury being in retrograde (or was it Saturn this time?) or whatever. The truth is that would be a missed opportunity to shine a light on this tendency to isolate and feel like I have to do everything myself and alone.
I’ll have to be extra careful to make it a point to reach out, enlist support and recognize I don’t have the time or expertise to make it all happen beautifully by myself.
The second reflection is the additional layer of challenge that I’m placing on myself when it comes to relationship building, but the powerful support I’ve enlisted for this. Specifically, the Maven Leadership Collective is an organization that supports Queer and Trans People of Color (QT-POC) and allies to develop their leadership, technical skills and networks to augment their social impact initiatives.
Being able to work with them was a process I had to apply for, with a very intense and vulnerable application process I might add. In my interviews with them, they challenged me to go one level deeper in the sense of how this initiative could be harnessed to also support QT-POC. While my initial response was something along the lines of “gee, I guess we’re not there yet”, they challenged me to look at the disparity within the disparity. The Executive Director, a Black, Queer, Gender nonconforming man himself, spoke to me about his experience in the Black community and how the prevalent image of the Black man, even within the Black community, is antagonistic to homosexuality and queerness in all of its forms. This leads those individuals to suffer additional challenges and disadvantages.
His experience, insight, and message are incredibly incisive, powerful and deep. Being generally proud of my ability and disposition to incorporate new points into my thinking and change my mind if I consider I’ve been proven wrong or ignorant, I conceded to his reasoning and asked for their support in finding and developing relationships with QT-POC owned businesses who could potentially serve CPA institutions.
So far, they’ve been an incredible resource for deepening self-care, challenging my limiting beliefs, organizing next steps of my work, and even introducing me to new contacts that can help CPA flourish (such as people in the City of Miami and other non-profits who can fund this effort).
My last piece of public-facing reflection for this topic has to do with what makes this work so important to me and how I see it evolve in terms of “who I’m building it with and who will I enroll to sit at the table”.
Recently, in my work with the Maven Leadership Collective, I finally understood something about myself I had not before. Throughout my life, I have witnessed all sorts of injustice, but oftentimes it would never involve or affect me directly.
As many of you know, I grew up in Chile and spent part of my early childhood in Miami. My parents were both upper middle class, college educated, white-presenting people with a lot of privilege that was obviously passed down to me.
Growing up in the better-off suburbs of Chile, a rather conservative, westernized and politically stable society, I can’t say my story was one of resilience per se (at least not at that point).
I was, however, exposed to several traumatic events in my life that began to chip away at this apparent fairy-tale childhood I once had:
- My parents’ divorce and moving to a different continent without my father.
- 9/11 (big one for me)
- The massive student protests in Chile during 2006 and then again in 2011-2013
- My uncle committing suicide
- Wrestling with, and then coming terms with, my own homosexuality
Did you know that when we experience trauma, our brain’s structure fundamentally changes?
Did you also know that hearing about the trauma of other’s can provoke that exact same effect? Basically, our brain doesn’t know the difference between hearing trauma and experiencing it for yourself.
My experience suggests that not everyone processes trauma the same way, BUT if you are a deeply empathetic person, who is known to feel and absorb frustration, agony and pain that others feel, then maybe, just maybe, you feel in your soul as if the trauma and the injustice is being inflicted to you as well.
Maybe, if we consider that our souls do not care for the illusion of separation this material world insists on, then not only do we acknowledge that the trauma of other’s is also our own, but our very being pushes us and mobilizes us to react and commit towards doing whatever we can to help remedy this.
I’m deeply convinced I am such a person, and I have become more attuned to this side of me over the years.
That’s why I’m convinced this work is a step in the right direction and it matters to me. In a way, it is a component of a structure that can help solve the trauma that is the lack of economic opportunity and the tragedy of unfulfilled potential in communities that have been suffering persistent disparities.
I also believe this work should empower and build-up the communities we’re trying to serve, as opposed to playing (white) saviors.
Whether I am or not a person of color depends on who you ask. Even if I am, I have not experienced the same level of disadvantages others have by nature of where I was born, how I grew up and what I’ve done since. However, and this was pointed out to me by a close friend here in the U.S. who studies discrimination in the context of global politics, the signs of discrimination are oftentimes subtle and my own implicit bias may make it easier for me to see when others are being discriminated but not myself. While I’m not exactly sure how accurate this notion is, I also know it’s not entirely inaccurate, to say the least.
I also think that allies (in this case, people not of the same minority demographic but are also committed to moving the needle on the issue), are crucial to making this and any social justice work a success. Taking down an oppressive system, in my mind, requires both those oppressed and those who have benefited from the system to tear it down. We’ve seen it in the American Civil Rights Movement, we’ve seen it in the Women’s Suffrage Movement and countless other times.
My vision for CPA is that it should eventually be run and expanded mostly by people who have suffered these persistent disadvantages and who have deep ties to the communities around them, either by virtue of having grown up there or being close to those who have.
While my first allies and I may not necessarily be those who have suffered the disparities, we’ve come to care about these communities as our own, and that puts us in a position to help enlist and empower the rest (I have my eyes on 3 residents of Overtown who are enormously driven and resourceful. I’ll be sure to approach them when the time is right, but the relationships are there at least).
So Sheila and team, we’ve got our work cut out for us. Thanks again for all your faith and trust. How about we knock this one out of the park? 🙂
Oh shoot….I think this reflection is longer than my original post… oh well.