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May 27, 201502:45 PMMinority Biz Report

with Sam Owens

Important truths about Madison's economic disparities

(page 1 of 2)

“What important truth[s] do very few people agree with you on?”

Peter Thiel, cofounder of PayPal and author of the New York Times bestseller Zero to One, engineered this provocative interview question. The purpose of Thiel’s question was to test for boldness and “new thinking” in a candidate for hire. From Thiel’s perspective, it seemed pointless to entrust operations or program leadership to a person who is not an innovator.

Madison has an old problem of economically depressed black communities. Yet and still, we refuse to approach this problem with innovation. Why shouldn’t we approach assessing economic justice leadership the same way that Thiel approaches business leadership? Why shun new thinking in favor of old habits that have not already solved our problems?

Reading Zero to One inspired me to conceptualize applying Thiel’s model leadership test to economic development within Madison’s black communities. This thought experiment forced me to contemplate the false, yet popular beliefs that I imagine make even the most well-intentioned Madisonian become a part of the problem instead of the solution.

The results

Here is my short list of the top two myths — along with their corresponding truths — that are holding us back from making substantial forward progress toward black economic development in Madison.

1.) Most Madison-based companies believe that donating money to nonprofit corporations is the best way to leverage dollars toward poverty reduction in black communities. But the truth is that reallocating your company’s B2B dollars toward black-owned businesses is the smarter investment.

It’s your prerogative as to how (or whether) you donate dollars to charitable service organizations. However, if the intent of your donation is to economically uplift black families and entire communities, gainful employment and family-sustaining jobs must take precedent. Black businesses tend to employ black employees. If you want to significantly increase black employment, then you grow black businesses. This may not feel as warm and fuzzy as donating to kids’ charities, but it will have a broader economic impact.

Your company can help grow black businesses simply by engaging in open bidding and giving them an opportunity to compete for your procurement contracts. But you won’t do that, because you want those contracts and dollars to remain within your closed network of friends, family, and board members. It’s just easier to cut the check, shake some hands at the charity gala, and smile for cameras, right?

During a recent conversation with a representative from a local nonprofit, I mentioned that supplier diversity is the key to stimulating economic development within Madison’s black communities. The representative expressed complete agreement with my premise. But when I then asked the representative if the organization would commit to designing and implementing a supplier diversity program for their multimillion-dollar portfolio, my question was (very politely) ignored.


Jun 2, 2015 04:59 pm
 Posted by  ThinkWay

Thanks for a thoughtful article. It's not that Madison isn't ready to discuss alternative choices for giving, it's that we haven't reached consensus on the root issues resulting in the differences in economic success. Until then, there's really no basis for criticizing where most businesses donate their hard earned dollars.

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