Written by Jice Johnson, Founder and Director of The Black Business Initiative (BBI). She is best known as an advocate for Black Business and wealth building. Since 2014, BBI has worked to provide Black entrepreneurs with business acumen, mentorship programs, investment opportunities and access to capital. It has also worked towards advancing race-specific economic policy development, in order to correct historical injustice and create opportunities for intergenerational wealth building. BBI firmly believes in the power and responsibility of business to build thriving communities. 

 

In the Black community we have a funky little saying that goes: “You’ve got to be twice as good to get half as much.” This unfortunate saying is quite popular among Black elites and academics. Those who have experienced putting in an incredible amount of time and effort into their craft only to be passed up by nepotic and often mediocre colleagues, or those who are assumed to have only received placement or a position due to diversity quotas and suchyou knowaffirmative action speculations. What’s even worse are those who have experienced both.

When we consider the idea of success by way of merit, a foundational concept in this country, we can’t get too far into the conversation until we acknowledge that the systems and policies that govern our lives lean heavily in favor of white people. This is actually no secret at all and is highly documented. And yet corporate America is still plagued with disparities even as monetary pledges to black owned or led organizations flood social media timelines and PR campaigns.

The concept of Black excellence is really quite intriguing when given a bit of context. For example, despite being illegal and often deadly to learn how to read, post slavery statistics show that, once freed, the Black community’s literacy rates sky rocketed past all other groups, growing from a 30 percent literacy rate to an 80 percent literacy rate in a short period of time, all without formal education or access to resources or schools. Although significant disparities continue to exist in education today, Black women are still the most educated segment in the country when looking at associate and bachelor degrees. 

The sheer amount of obstacles in the way of the Black community to obtain any level of success indicates a level of excellence most of white America will never need, and places a huge black hole in the theory of success by merit. Pun intended. 

What’s more offensive is the lack of awareness and insight into the contributions of Black Americans that seem to be missing in the C Suite and board rooms across this country. What adds insult to injury is the Black tokenism in order to check a diversity box that ultimately doesn’t create any lasting change. What rubs salt in the wound is that said tokenism can be detrimental to the one Black person attempting to shed their culture and assimilate into white America, often causing isolation and mental health issues due to both covert and overt aggressions.

Every CEO must work to push past performance. While many corporate changes take place under public pressure and scrutiny, few changes, pledges, and commitments have resulted in a decrease in racial disparities. The climate of the times calls for and allows for organizations to take strong stances in anti-racists practices that have long been upheld in corporate America, challenging CEO’s and boards to perform massive policy overhauls and intentional shifts in their corporate culture, talent development, and supply chain management.

It’s time to change the narrative. Black excellence exists in abundance. It’s more than a trend. It’s an economic revolution and it’s time to take your stand on the right side of history.

 

If climate change wasn’t enough for us to stop and evaluate our societal level of resilience, maybe the coronavirus pandemic and upcoming national election will finally capture our much-needed attention. As a participant in a recent Colorado Emergence Series convening put it, “resilience was broken before the pandemic,” but maybe this crisis will finally give us enough impetus to build a more resilient future. Before I get ahead of myself, what exactly do I mean by resilience? 

There are countless interpretations and definitions of resilience depending on who you ask. One group of social-ecological researchers dedicated to studying resilience define it as “the capacity of a social-ecological system to absorb or withstand perturbations and other stressors…It describes the degree to which the system is capable of self-organization, learning and adaptation.” In other words, resilience means a community’s ability to prepare for, adapt to and create advantageous change. Defining a word is easy, but how do we actually build resilience?

When coronavirus reached Denver, The Alliance Center began to grapple with this difficult question. We quickly pivoted our programming in response, creating the Colorado Emergence Series and the Regenerative Recovery Coalition. The Regenerative Recovery Coalition is our latest adaptation strategy, which will implement the strategic ideas of the Colorado Emergence Series to create a more sustainable and equitable future for Colorado beyond COVID-19. Alongside this effort, the Best for Colorado  program has continued to leverage Colorado-based, value-driven companies that are adapting and demonstrating a commitment to serving their communities. I believe The Alliance Center’s strategic changes within these areas reflect how we can create resilient sustainable development. The Regenerative Recovery Coalition and Best for Colorado tackle two of the greatest vulnerabilities COVID-19 has exposed: our democracy and our economy. Without strengthening both, we’re left susceptible to shocks like the one we’re currently experiencing.

The Regenerative Recovery Coalition and Best for Colorado are in the process of both modeling and building resilience. First, they model resilience through their focus on Colorado. There will not be a “one size fits all” approach to building a more resilient, post-pandemic future. What works in California or New York won’t necessarily work in Colorado. This localized attention is valuable and often forgotten in the highly globalized world we live in.  Secondly, both of these efforts are extremely multi-faceted. They refuse to be pigeonholed, which is what makes them good models of resilience. For example, the Regenerative Recovery Coalition will work on a wide array of issues: climate change, economy, workforce development, food systems, agriculture, infrastructure, natural resource management, transportation and democracy. Likewise, the Best for Colorado program not only seeks to increase the number and impact of environmentally responsible businesses but also the number of businesses that are working on issues related to community, equity, democracy and other benchmarks. By focusing on addressing local vulnerabilities through a holistic lens, the Regenerative Recovery Coalition and Best for Colorado are leaders in imagining a more resilient future here in Colorado.

So, you’re interested in helping build a more resilient future? One way you can get involved is by joining the Regenerative Recovery Coalition. So far more than 80 individuals and organizations have joined the coalition and committed to implementing solutions in the state. Another way to get involved is to check out the upcoming Best for Colorado Virtual Awards Celebration on August 5 and 12. You’ll have a chance to hear from incredible business leaders and learn about their first-hand experience with resilience, economic revitalization and more. Reaching a resilient future will certainly be a challenge, but it’s not beyond reach. If we’re willing to learn, adapt and change, we can create the sustainable and equitable future we all know is possible.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations and institutions scrambled to put systems in place to allow for remote work. Some were able to adapt rapidly and some are still struggling. Ultimately, the overwhelming majority of workers who are able to work from home did so. Now almost three months into mandatory remote work, we recognize that while the isolation can be difficult for some, the reality is that working from home is a privilege. 

Students too were required to go home as dorms emptied and classes moved to online platforms, but those at the crossroads of work and school are often overlooked. The young aspiring professionals worked tirelessly during the school year for the opportunity of landing an internship, hopefully putting them a step closer to their dream job. Internships are key because they allow students to build their network, learn soft skills not taught in schools and provide the opportunity to be paired with thoughtful, patient and understanding mentors. 

Because of the pandemic, many internships have been canceled. For some it might merely be an inconvenience and a disappointment. For others, such as low-income students, missing these experiences can have lasting repercussions on their professional lives; alternative work might be scarce as the national unemployment rate continues to soar. Some internships are fortunately still taking place, yet the experience of a virtual internship is not the same as an in-person one. There is not the same sense of camaraderie built among other interns in the same cohort, networking and face to-face-interactions with mentors and colleagues and getting to know the feeling of working in an office. 

So what can organizations with virtual internship opportunities do to support their students even while they themselves are coping with ongoing current challenges?

A crucial step organizations can take is to ask questions. We can’t fix problems we don’t know exist. Open and honest conversations between mentors and mentees are more important than ever. Some students might be afraid or embarrassed to admit they don’t have a reliable internet connection, a personal computer or a quiet place without distractions where they can work. Organizations like Girls Inc. have had experience in this even before the pandemic, and they provide laptops to all program participants. For summer 2020 internships, they conducted surveys with their participants to find several accommodating solutions for their students. 

Other organizations like Focus Points Family Resource Center also understand that simply providing a student with an internship or apprenticeship, even if paid, is not enough to guarantee a student’s success. Focus Points offers childcare for participants in their adult English classes and the Comal Food Incubator program. A holistic approach to participant well-being should be a high priority in any organization.

Employers also need to regularly examine the challenges of remote work. Supervisors and mentors must be understanding of the unique difficulties of communicating virtually and be more flexible with all working practices. Understanding the different realities of each student is pivotal to their success. 

Last but not least, improving practices to reduce workplace inequities, which include building teams that are intentional in creating a culture of diversity equity and inclusion to aid the success of the interns and the workplace as a whole in the short and long term. Despite the challenges of virtual work, this time can also be an opportunity to encourage and strengthen your organization’s diversity goals. Most importantly, organizations must remember the commitment they have to students and to the next generation of professionals in the sustainability movement and beyond.

Through our Sustainability Skills Initiative, The Alliance Center is providing internships to five young people this summer, made possible by partnerships with the University of Chicago, Girls Inc. and the University of Wisconsin. Through these partnerships, we are able to assess and work to meet the individual needs of each of our interns to provide a safe, valuable and constructive internship experience. To learn more about this initiative, contact Isabel Mendoza at imendoza@thealliancecenter.org

Written by Isabel Mendoza, Program Manager at The Alliance Center

By Anne Behlouli | Program Manager, The Alliance Center

As we learn how to navigate the far reaching impacts of COVID-19 and work to get to the “other side” of this crisis, we have the chance to ensure things don’t necessarily go back to business as usual. While there are many activities we aren’t able to participate in currently, there are still actions we can do from home to build a more sustainable future. 

Last month, the Rainforest Action Network, Sierra Club and several other nonprofits released the latest version of Banking on Climate Change 2020: a report focused on global banks’ fossil fuel financing. One of the major takeaways is the financing of fossil fuels by banks is on the rise. Since the Paris Agreement in 2016, 35 international banks have not only been sustaining their investments in fossil fuel companies, they have actively expanded it with $2.7 trillion invested. 

To be part of the solution, what actions can we take to relocate our money and support banks that focus on the wellbeing of people and the planet?

Step 1: Check How Your Bank Stacks Up

The annual Banking on Climate Change Report Card ranks banks in order of how much they lend to fossil fuel companies. You can get key insights on what financial institutions to avoid without having to read the entire report!

Step 2: Take Action

There are other banking options worth considering for your checking and saving accounts. Local credit unions are member-owned nonprofits focused on serving the needs of their community. You can actively look for a socially responsible bank utilizing Global Alliance for Banking on Values as a resource. This is an independent network of banks using finance to deliver sustainable economic, social and environmental development.

Finally, if you have a portfolio to invest in, specialized impact investing companies are a valuable resource.You make smarter choices to support innovative companies that are addressing systemic problems and leading long-term economic growth. Oil and gas companies were already facing structural problems even before COVID-19. The recent crash of the oil price demonstrates how volatile the market is and how divesting from fossil fuels is both an ethical and financially-wise decision for the future of your savings.

It’s Up to Each of Us

We each have the opportunity and available resources to evaluate where our money is and which industries it’s currently supporting. If you are looking for a way to take action to support a more resilient future during the time of quarantining, please consider researching your bank and discovering more sustainability-minded options. This small step can make a big difference in reducing the funding of fossil fuels and instead investing in a more equitable future for all.

The Best for Colorado community has demonstrated immense resilience and care during this difficult time and we couldn’t be more appreciative. Here are five Best for Colorado companies that we’d like to highlight:

1.  Montanya Distillers

To help support frontline institutions like, hospital, senior care centers and doctors’ offices, Montanya Distillers, an American rum company, has pivoted their production to make an antiviral surface sanitizer! The distillery is collaborating with the Gunnison County Incident Command Center to distribute the sanitizer to those most in need in their community. In a recent blog post on their webpage they explained, “we believe it’s our duty and responsibility to do what we can to help our community navigate this challenging and uncertain time.”

2.    Ship Sunshine

Every month Ship Sunshine picks a cause to support, and next month’s will be nurses and teachers! Sending these critical workers care packages and giveaways is their way of showing their appreciation and spreading a little sunshine to those who need it most during this difficult time. Ship Sunshine offers a carefully curated collection of gift boxes designed to brighten anyone’s day and you can also build your own gift box on their website. With so many of us needing a little extra care and thought during this turbulent time, Ship Sunshine is definitely helping spread some joy.

3.  Simple Switch

During this time the world has scrambled to online shopping platforms.What makes Simple Switch different from other platforms is their commitment to ethics, labor laws and environmental impact. Their collection of ethical products ensures that your purchase directly makes a positive impact, spanning from environmental innovations to supporting development projects. Lately, they’ve been offering discounts to encourage people to shop online rather than leave their homes. If you’re looking for an alternative to Amazon, for an ecologically and socially conscious e-commerce website, consider Switch Switch. 

4.  Phunkshun Wear

Phunkshun Wear normally manufactures ski masks out of plastic water bottles. Right now, they’re committed to doing their part to slow the spread of coronavirus by donating a mask to the Colorado Mask Project for every mask purchased. Using a mask like theirs can help Colorado communities protect themselves against the spread of the virus, while simultaneously helping ensure that medical workers face no shortage of N95 masks. Governor Jared Polis even appeared on television, wearing a Phunkshun Wear Colorado branded personal hygiene mask, encouraging all Coloradans to wear non-medical protective masks outdoors. 

In 2019 we celebrated The Alliance Center’s 15th anniversary, and now we’re excited to launch our 2020-2022 strategic plan. We have 10 years to drastically change the trajectory of the climate crisis, and this ambitious plan puts the Alliance on track to lead this shift in Colorado. 

In early 2019, The Alliance Center embarked on the strategic planning process. As we began to lay out our vision for the next three years, we started with a marketplace analysis to review and learn from the work of our peers. From there, we looked introspectively at our work through a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis. We gathered input from staff, Board, tenants, community members and partners on our existing work and our impact over the last 15 years. 

Building on our strengths as leaders in high-performance building innovation and connectors and empowerers of change agents, we developed a three-year strategic plan to guide us through 2022. The plan continues our trajectory of demonstrating sustainability in the built environment, grows our capacity to mobilize change agents and drives our ability to accelerate solutions. 

We are excited to continue harnessing the power of business as a force for good through our Best for Colorado program, and we are excited to engage leaders from across sectors in our democratic systems through our Climate+ Democracy program. We continue to operate our building at the highest levels of performance, and we’re ready to move the needle in building technology through partnerships and our Living Lab program. Supporting all these programs is our new academic partnership initiative that will build an employment pipeline into sustainability careers that will provide valuable skills and experience to young professionals, diversify the sustainability movement and increase The Alliance Center’s capacity to implement effective programs.

Check out the two-page version of the strategic plan below. The comprehensive plan can be downloaded here. We have big plans for the next three years, and we are ready to launch into our next era of impact. Thank you for being a member of our community and joining us on this journey!

Whose voice do YOU want to hear on the train at DIA?

In many ways, Denver is a thriving city. US News and World Report lists Denver as the #3 Best Place to Live in the US. Our unemployment rate sits at 2.6 percent, which is 1.8 percent lower than the national average. We were recently announced as one of the winners of the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge for our work to fight climate change at the local level.

However, Denver is dealing with some pretty significant challenges. For one thing, our air quality is terrible. The harsh reality for many Front Range residents is that Colorado not only flunked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard set in 2015, but the state never met the older, less-strict standard from 2008. Our growing population, and the cars that come with it, are making it harder and harder to meet the EPA standards. Poor air quality affects not only people with asthma and respiratory illnesses, but also children, whose lungs are still developing. Our poor air quality is just one of a variety of challenges that the next mayor will face in their position.

Local elections often get a lot less attention than those at the national level, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less important. Denver’s upcoming mayoral election will determine much more than whose voice plays on the airport train; it will determine how our city tackles issues such as climate change, air pollution and affordable housing.

How This Vote Works

Ok, now that we have laid out why to vote, we can discuss how to vote in the upcoming mayoral election. Denver is holding its general election for mayor on May 7, 2019. In Denver, all candidates are listed on the same ballot. In the event that a candidate does not receive over 50 percent of the votes, the top two vote-getters advance to a runoff election scheduled for June 4.

Voting in the general election is relatively simple. There are two ways to vote: 1) vote by mail – ballots will be mailed on April 15, or 2) vote in person at a voting center starting April 29.

Here are a list of important dates to keep in mind:

  • April 15: Ballots begin mailing to active voters
  • April 15: 22-day residency deadline
  • April 15: Drop-boxes open across the City
  • April 29: Vote Centers open
  • May 7: Election Day
    • Voting centers open 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.
    • Ballots must be received by 7pm
  • June 4: Run-Off Election (if necessary)
    • Voting centers open 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.
    • Ballots must be received by 7 p.m.

Here at The Alliance Center, we are deeply invested in the future of Denver. We believe that local government can be a powerful force in the fight against climate change and in creating an equitable and responsible economy. As a lead-up to the 2019 mayoral election, we are hosting a Mayoral Candidate Forum at The Alliance Center on March 21. Confirmed candidates include Michael Hancock, Lisa Calderón, Marcus Giavanni, Jamie Giellis, Ken Simpson and Penfield Tate. Our forum will focus specifically on sustainability-related issues, such as transportation, climate change, pollution and affordable housing. The event is already sold-out, but there are a limited number of scholarship tickets available, and we will be livestreaming the event. Click here to learn more.

Please get out and vote in the election on May 7. Our future is in our hands, and voting is one of the best ways to make your voice heard.

Have you heard of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

Created by the United Nations, these 17 interconnected global goals are designed to create a better and more sustainable future for all.

Why are the SDGs useful?

As you may know, sustainability is incredibly complex and sometimes quite messy – it can mean many different things to  different people. The SDGs layout 17 social, economic, and environmental components of sustainability, with goals associated with each of them (see the image above). The creators of these goals set an aggressive timeline to meet these goals – 2030 – which basically means that we have 10 years to tackle issues such as poverty, gender equity, climate change and more if we want to create a better future for our kids and our grandkids.

We realize these goals are broad and can be vague at times. Rest assured these are just the titles, the UN has created 169 sub indicators that identify key areas under each of these broad and ambitious goals to use as a tool to track and measure progress.

This is a big challenge. One that will take all of us. Don’t let this aggressive timeline overwhelm or discourage you, the SDGs lay out the road map to achieve this future, we just have to roll up our sleeves and dive in.

Why is The Alliance Center working toward these goals?

We recognize that there are many organizations, governments and businesses working toward these goals, and we aim to collaborate with these leaders to make the global goals more tangible, actionable, and local to Colorado. Here at The Alliance Center, we have begun to map our work and impact to these 17 goals. We are currently undergoing an in-depth process of determining which goals we are working on and how we can legitimately track our progress toward meeting them. So far, we have determined that our work aligns with seven of the 17 goals. These seven include:

7 – Affordable and Clean Energy
9 – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
10 – Reduced Inequalities
11 – Sustainable Cities
12 – Responsible Consumption and Production
13 – Climate Action
17 – Partnerships for the Goals

We recognize that even 7 of the 17 goals is A LOT for any one organization to work toward. Our mission and our vision are based on strategic collaboration – which means we understand that we can never achieve these goals alone. At our heart, The Alliance Center is a collaborative working space, home to many of the leading NGOs in Colorado. We have also begun to map our tenants’ (NGOs housed in the Alliance) work to the SDGs. We aren’t sure, yet, but we expect that with the 50 or so organizations working in our building, all 17 of these ambitious goals are being meaningfully addressed. We will share much more about this process as it unfolds in 2019, so stay tuned!

As an organization, we have a lot of resources, passion, and partners to work with to achieve these goals. As an individual, you may be asking, what can I do to make a difference in the face of these ambitious targets? Don’t fret – there are tons of ways you can make a difference – right now, right here.

How can you get involved?

The SDGs are big. Really big. It can be daunting to think about how you as an individual, community member or employee can help push progress on any of these goals. Don’t fret – there is a lot you can do. The Good Life Goals are individual actions that everyone around the world can take to help meet the SDGs. The Good Life Goals are based on the idea that the power of the people matters as much as powerful people.

At The Alliance Center, we have aligned the Good Life Goals with our Act Now Initiative – creating a resource of (relatively) easy, personal actions that you can take right here, right now to contribute to a more sustainable future. This is a work in progress. If you have ideas for more actions or if you are working toward the SDGs yourself – please contact us! We look forward to building a better tomorrow with you.

Across Colorado’s business community, a variety of initiatives are working to help grow the sustainability movement. All these initiatives share a common vision: accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy. These initiatives highlight and share best practices and tools, giving companies the opportunity to learn from their peers and to join of a movement that is working for good.

You may have heard about B Corp certification, B Local Colorado, the Best for Colorado program, and benefit corporations. We know the intersections and unique qualities of these concepts can be confusing, so we have created a guide to help distinguish between these different tools, initiatives, and organizations.

Organization, Program, or Certification?

  • Best for Colorado is a program and a challenge run by The Alliance Center, which invites all Colorado companies to measure and improve their social and environmental impact, regardless of where they are on their corporate social responsibility journey.
  • B Corp certification is a certification of performance, like LEED certification for buildings or FairTrade certification for coffee. B Corps are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. To be certified, a company has to meet the legal requirement of a benefit corporation; meaning they must consider the impact of their decisions on all their stakeholders. Because of these high-standards, the B Corp community represents the leaders of the movement to use business as a force for good.
  • B Local Colorado is a non-profit organization that serves as the home of engagement and volunteer opportunities for the Colorado community of Certified B corporations – creating space to connect, grow and give back to the communities where they work and live.

Where should your company engage?

Best for Colorado is specifically designed to engage all businesses on the path to positive impact, regardless of whether B Corp certification is a goal for their organization. The Best for Colorado program is the prime business environment for a company curious to learn more and assess its performance in corporate social responsibility with no fees, legal requirements, of any sort. Companies self-report their information for the Best for Colorado program, allowing them to start from any place on their sustainability journey.

Certified B Corps go through a more in-depth process. B Corp requirements include meeting a minimum level of performance on the full Impact Assessment and making a legal commitment to adopt the benefit corporation status and the requirements to consider shareholders in decision making. B Corps also receive additional benefits as a result, and there is a fee associated with the certification.

A close partnership to grow the sustainability movement in Colorado

Best for Colorado is a program focused on business improvement by connecting companies to local resources and programming. Best for Colorado is valuable to ordinary businesses but also to B Corps who are looking to improve their practices and to receive support along the way.

After launching the Best for Colorado challenge, B Lab transferred the reins of the program to The Alliance Center in October, 2018. B Lab will continue to be a strategic parter for the program, providing technological support and administering the full B Impact Assessment. Certified B Corporations in Colorado are invited to engage with Best for Colorado in in a few ways: In a leadership capacity, by serving as a mentor or speaker, or by sharing stories and best practices to inspire other Best for Colorado companies to follow in their footsteps. They are also invited to engage in the program as a participant, to utilize the impact improvement education and resources. This is a great way for B Corps to improve their B Impact score before recertification!