Sulaiman Rahman feels there’s a fine line between prosperity and potential poverty in Philadelphia.
The equity-minded entrepreneur reflected on his own career and the opportunities he’s had while talking about the need for a “pipeline development system” for Black and brown talent in Philadelphia. He wants his company, DiverseForce, to be a hub for that work.
And the Philly-founded, diversity-focused talent company is is taking another step toward that mission by partnering with the organization OneTen, a national network with the goal of getting 1 million Black people who don’t have four-year degrees into solid, sustainable careers over the next 10 years.
“When OneTen came along and shared their mission for us, it was an opportunity to democratize excellence, if you will, to open up that path,” Rahman told Techncial.ly.
OneTen was created following the social justice movement around George Floyd’s murder in 2020 as a way for companies to take action in promoting diversity and equity. Former corporate executives turned venture capitalists Ken Chenault and Ken Frazier started OneTen to create a way for Black people without four-year degrees to actually connect with big companies. They now have partnerships with similar organizations in about 20 cities around the country.
This initiative is focused on knocking down the “bachelor barrier” which is the obstacle many Black and brown people face when trying to get into sustainable careers without four-year degrees, Rahman said. That includes historical and current barriers to education, opportunity cost and seeking credentials through alternative routes.
Rahman said DiverseForce’s mission and work align with OneTen’s and he believes that his other projects, like the P4 Hub and BBEx Network, can help bolster the work that OneTen is doing. The company officially announced its partnership with OneTen at a launch event in May 2022. DiverseForce was hired as a community development lead in the greater Philadelphia region.
And some of this work is now being done at the state level — during Gov. Josh Shapiro’s campaign, he said he intended to support OneTen’s initiative and become the first state to be a partner. Recently, Shapiro followed through and announced that 92% of state government jobs would no longer have a four-year degree requirement.
Rahman said there are multiple aspects to this work, including recruiting Black talent to an organization, working together with existing professional development organizations like Per Scholas and Hopeworks, and connecting those people with major companies that are committed to OneTen.
Rahman said they held a few events in 2020, one of which was to identify and connect talent development organizations and also introduce them to employer companies that are partnered with OneTen. At the end of 2022, DiverseForce hosted an event for talent to meet those local development organizations.
In working with these organizations, Rahman said they want to make sure as many people as possible are able to get into professional development programs. This year, DiverseForce and OneTen is also partnering with the Community College of Philadelphia. And in 2023, Rahman said DiverseForce wants apprenticeship opportunities to be a focus and they are working with the Philadelphia Apprenticeship Network. (Many companies in the network are also part of OneTen.)
With this model, people are able to gain skills and degrees along the way. The focus is not on “no education,” it’s about alternate education.
“So it’s not that they don’t ever get a four year degree potentially, but this is a way that they can do it much more effectively, efficiently and remove some of the barriers that have been in place for talent to be able to get a proper education,” he said.
Ultimately, Rahman said that having more diversity in workplaces will be a strength, and he wants to see more Black and brown people in top positions at companies.
“Until we have more diversity at the top of organizations, in the boardroom and the executive leadership roles, we won’t really benefit from the value of diversity, equity and inclusion,” he said. “Because diversity starts at the top of the organizations and all throughout that organization.”Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
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