Grow a diverse future

Izaah Knox | Executive Director, Urban Dreams

The Idea: Cultivate a homegrown workforce by offering at-risk, marginalized and underrepresented high school and college-aged youth opportunities for involvement in internships with our companies and via roles within our boards.

When I moved to Des Moines in 2000 to attend Drake University, I planned to leave after graduation. However, like many of you, I fell in love with our growing metro. From the time I arrived, I watched as cornfields turned into shopping centers, and downtown buildings became vibrant and full of life.

This blossoming region gave me many opportunities for success: the opportunity to earn a great education; the ability to marry a beautiful spouse; time to raise a happy family; resources to live in an affordable home; the possibility to network with leaders in the community; and so much more.

What has kept me here though, is not love for my coveted quality of life, but the commitment to ensuring that all members of our community – especially the ones who identify as low-income or people of color – are afforded these same opportunities, and that as we press on to become a “greater” Des Moines, we do not unintentionally leave capable, competent individuals behind – especially our young people.

Because of my work at Urban Dreams, I could go in many different directions on how we have quite a bit of work to do in our great city to give marginalized communities adequate access to opportunity.

However, I am going to offer an idea that is a long-term, easily implemented and nonthreatening solution that will help continue the positive growth the region has experienced over the past two decades.

I believe we should cultivate a homegrown workforce by offering at-risk, marginalized and underrepresented high school and college-aged youth opportunities for involvement in internships with our companies and via roles within our boards. Having been a part of the creation and execution of successful internship programs for both Wellmark and Broadlawns, I can tell you that the return on investment these companies found in our youth was not a few new employees; it was a deeper respect and understanding of the different perspectives and backgrounds that exist in our city, it was innovation, it was camaraderie, it was, overall, greater community.

If not an internship program, then let’s get these underserved youth on our boards and commissions. Evaluate the possibility of adding a youth advisory committee, or a seat on the board designated for an area high school or college student.

Imagine how skilled and networked our young people from the metro would be with direct access to our community’s most influential board members? Not only would this get and keep our youth more engaged in our community, but it would open boards to the new and innovative ideas that our young people have to offer.

As we know – or as I now know because of my experiences on boards and commissions – so much of what shapes our community starts there. All one needs to do is open the Book of Lists to identify 25 influential boards that need a younger diverse perspective and a pipeline for succession.

Unfortunately, however, the current membership of most of these boards consists of a mix of the same folks, representatives of the same organizations and social and ethnic groups. There is no doubt that these people have done a marvelous job making this city fabulous and building many opportunities for us to live, play and prosper in the city.

However, I often hear these same community leaders say that they are ready to turn the leadership over to the younger generation – well, so am I!

I have worked in schools – both high schools and colleges – quite a bit over the years. All of the leaders and employees of these institutions are looking for authentic experiences created by people who care about their students’ futures.

All the students want is the opportunity to enjoy the prosperity Des Moines has to offer.

Therefore, creating and cultivating at-risk, marginalized and underrepresented high school and college-aged youth would begin to alleviate this issue of lack of diversity and burnout. It would also help us get new ideas for the future of the Des Moines area and create a pipeline to prosperity for all, as opposed to the pipeline to peril that many of our young people feel is the only option. And if you want help deciding where to recruit these young talented students, please don’t hesitate to call. >

+1 Nikki Syverson | Director, Capital Crossroads

The region is becoming more and more diverse. However, we don’t always see the cultural tapestry in leadership roles. In the future I hope we see that our region’s city councils, school boards, supervisors and boardrooms will have meaningful representation of all races, genders, ages and sexual orientations. Having diverse decision-making bodies will ensure that we are a best-in-class region for all to thrive. >