Mind The Gap

My first introduction to the idea of evolving economic development was building The Gathering For Justice and working with at risk youth to help them start legitimate businesses. Models like Homeboy Industries is a standard bearer of how best to create jobs and hope for inner cities. Seeing how entrepreneurship can replace the “illegal market” choices so many of our inner city kids face convinced me on the power of business creation for minorities.

Now through #acceleratebos I am working to build economy in cities. #acceleratebos has been my first experiment and after 5 years of supporting 100 businesses with almost 80% being minority business. It has become clear many well intentioned efforts fall short because they are missing a huge gap…our desire to integrate.

The definition of a “gap” is; a break or hole in an object or between two objects or an unfilled space or interval; a break in continuity. Gaps are important to note because they can hurt you. In society we often talk about the education gap, the wealth gap has been popular. For years I have been working with minority businesses to help them get to market and build thriving businesses and the gap here is much harder to quantify and seem to remain invisible. This invisible gap looses money and time when trying to support minority businesses.

Boston is a city of tribes and contradictions; a stronghold of the abolitionist movement, yet the last city to desegregate schools. It’s a majority minority city ranking number 1 in economic and social inequality. These contradictions have real outcomes for people classified as “other”, including the rising tide of innovation and entrepreneurship is unavailable for many. Many of the successful efforts have not been able to create an authentically diverse space that feels open Boston’s people of color and poor people.

Boston’s segregation hurts our innovation industry because it does not expose investors to all of the possibile successful investments. Believing successful businesses and industries only come out of certain communities is ignorant and short sighted. Innovation is happening in all neighborhoods, and if necessity is the mother of invention, then there are probably some amazing inventions in the hood.

Integration and networking is more than getting different people in the same room. Implicit bias will stop transformative relationships from being formed. It’s a waste of time to execute any diversity effort without an internal process to address the reasons one needs the diversity effort in the first place. If you are looking to include “diversity” it is probably because you have implicit bias and maybe even structural traditions that have kept people of color feeling welcome. Here are some questions to ask:

  1. What do your personal networks look like?
  2. Who do you ask for advice?
  3. What characteristics do you see as making a successful business person and why?

Our integration gap is hurting us and wasting a lot of money with diversity efforts that will not have long term impact. White people have a responsibility to reflect on why this gap persist and what assumptions they have about diversity that may be contributing. If we want a thriving economy for all we have to get honest about the whole solution.

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