Building a Future of Equal Opportunity at CE+Co

How we’re helping provide opportunity where there wasn’t one before

I don’t have a college degree. I ran out of money. At the time, only $3,200 was holding me back from finishing my degree but it just wasn’t there. I’m pretty sure my dad would have found a way to pay it, but as a machinist in the 90’s responsible for the education costs of my brother and sister, I just couldn’t bring myself to ask for yet another burden.

It’s ok though. To be honest, my college career was a mess anyway. I came to Umass Amherst from with history of getting into small-town trouble. My momentum was headed in the wrong direction and it was only worsened by teachers, school administrators, and even friends’ parents that had written me off.

So yeah, college started out rocky…but I did turn it around. There were clear pivot points along the way–maybe even epiphanies–that changed my momentum for the better; but there was no bigger pivot than when I had to decide what to do next.

After college, I had two options in front of me: 1) Go back home and continue raking dirt for my dad’s cousin (I’m not kidding, I raked rocks out of dirt for Westview Landscaping)…or 2) take my older brother up on his offer to live with him in Brooklyn. I know the choice should have been easy, but at the time it was scary for a broke small town kid who was unsure of himself to make a jump to the big city.

I went to Brooklyn. My brother was great. While working within Sotheby’s web department, he supported me for six months while I found work during the dotcom bust. Slowly things took roots thanks to him. It was a hard road though.

Sixteen years later I found myself in a leadership position for the largest digital agency in the country…only to leave and start up a new experience & technology firm in Boston with the mission of putting people at the heart of every business.

My life today came down to one singular choice, one opportunity, one person in my life that was willing to support me.

I was a nice kid. I worked hard. I always tried to do the right thing…but none of that mattered unless there was a helping hand somewhere along the way.

I made it by the split of a hair but others aren’t as lucky. There are millions out there that have similar stories but never had the one person or the one opportunity I was lucky enough to have. Millions of potential entrepreneurs, designers and creative geniuses were ready to change the world but never had the chance. Whether it’s due to institutional limits or socioeconomic hopelessness–they never had that one opportunity to show their potential and improve the community around them.

Get out there, be uncomfortable

Nowhere are the effects of limited opportunity more apparent–and more important to understand–than when you’re hiring at a large digital agency. As you sit back and interview the candidates coming in, you can’t help but to see a very homogeneous pattern. By definition, everyone you’re sitting in front of has had access to at least one meaningful opportunity.

It may not be our fault, but it is our problem. The creative field should be a level playing field. Fancy backgrounds don’t count for nearly as much as great work and great culture…not to mention the entire discipline is based on collaborating with different perspectives. It’s lucrative too. The need for what we do, particularly in digital, is strong and most businesses today see it as mission critical to their business. The design and technology field has the opportunity to be the great equalizer and provide mobility, but no one’s showing up because the opportunity was just never there.

Access to those the smart-and-capable-yet-overlooked talent isn’t going to show up at your doorstep. You have to lean in, go out in the world, and find them. Attend events. Participate in non-profit work. Share your thoughts and hope it leads to discussion.

And I get it, all of the things we should be doing can be uncomfortable…but if we don’t lean in, who will? If we don’t find the time, who will? If we avoid the conversation because it’s too sensitive, then who will?

I believe that if we can go out in the world and find new ways to access overlooked talent, then we can create a promising future for everyone by providing opportunity where there wasn’t one before.

The impact won’t be immediate, but if we invest today in helping the underprivileged find opportunity at an early age, we believe we’ll see foundational and permanent fixes to the system in the long-term.

Bringing it all together with the Summer of Good

We started Carter Edwards & Company to change the world through better business. That’s not easy to do. It will take time. It will take resources. It will take a lot of discipline. And we know, even as a start-up, we must create a foundation of goodwill now rather than trying to find a way to retrofit it later on.

After a lot of ideation (and maybe a couple beers)…we got it.

Every summer, we’re a non-profit.

We call it the Summer of Good. It’s still business as usual during the summer, but we take all the profit we earn and use it to fund non-profit activities for the rest of the year.

There are no models for this so we had to get creative. We researched what we could. We co-created with the non-profits that would benefit from it. We’re prototyping it as we speak. We built the Summer of Good through design thinking.

The Summer of Good is only five months old, but so far we’ve been able to make–what we think is–a considerable impact on helping others find opportunity. Here’s what the Summer of Good has enabled us to accomplish in just a few months:

Do you notice a common bond between the types of organizations we’re helping? Youth, education, and opportunity. It’s not a coincidence.

Want to join in?

We have the easy part. The real credit goes to the organizations and the community that have dedicated their lives to giving others more opportunity. If you want to work directly with the best organizations in Boston or partner with us to make a difference, here are our NPO friends that could always use some extra help:

Design for Change USA–Design for Change is the teacher of teachers that helps educators establish design thinking programs for students. Feel, Imaging, Do, Share. This is the design thinking process they live by and it’s at the core of how we do business at CE+CO.

America Scores Boston — America Scores Boston dedicates themselves to “developing the whole child” through Team-Based Education Programs. Since most teams are coached by school faculty, they are tying soccer on the field to education in the classroom…and it works.

One Hen–Now a part of the America Scores program, One Hen places a strong emphasis on global entrepreneurship to make a difference for themselves and the world around them.

Jobs for the Future–Jobs for the Future works to make sure that all underprivileged young people and workers have the skills and credentials needed to succeed in our economy. The work they are doing is critical to helping provide economic mobility for those that need it most.

Resilient Coders–Resilient Coders believes in social justice through economic empowerment, and in the opportunity for meritocracy in tech. From Bootcamps to agency work, they’re helping post-high school individuals learn technology to they can get the opportunities they would have otherwise missed.

We’re in this together

If you’re interested in learning more about our model, or just want to help, we’re always open to grabbing a coffee for good. More about the Summer of Good or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Thank You.