Leadership Program Alumni Tackle the Diversity Issues Facing Minnesota
St. Paul small business owner David Edgerton Jr. is grateful to the Minnesota Young American Leaders Program.
If not for the group learning and collaboration seminar he attended in 2019, Edgerton said, he wouldn’t have been inspired to leave a good job to start his own company, the DEJ Group.
Since 2019, the program — MYALP for short — has brought together 35 emerging leaders from business, nonprofits, and government for three days a year at the University of Minnesota. Participants focus specifically on the inclusive economic development of their regions and on challenges and opportunities of common interest to generations across the state.
At the time of his involvement, Edgerton was Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Andersen Corp., after several years in IT and engineering. At the 2019 seminar, about two-thirds of attendees were women and one-third were people of color, many of whom came from companies that struggled to find candidates of color for leadership and leadership positions.
“This MYALP program has given us the platform, the opportunity to explore our passion for social justice, equity, closing the gaps and fighting systemic racism,” said Edgerton, who is black. “We reviewed the data presented and worked with a diverse group who brought different perspectives and then synthesized solutions to these challenges.
“It gave me what I needed to start my own executive search agency.”
After a quarter century in corporate America, Edgerton, 48, is now focused on mentoring and working with organizations to develop more diverse management teams. The Business Roundtable and other organizations say companies that create an inclusive workforce and social responsibility tend to perform above average.
Edgerton is still holding informal discussions with his MYALP seminar team. He credits them for helping to distill an approach that works for him and his clients.
“There is an inclusive value chain,” Edgerton said. “How do you capture value? And every aspect of that is inclusive. Including your client’s suppliers. That was a big takeaway. I also coach other entrepreneurs of color. That’s part of the solution. .”
About 145 participants have attended MYALP seminars since its inception. They hail from Duluth, Fargo-Moorhead, Mankato, the Twin Cities, Rochester and St. Cloud.
Veena Iyer, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, attended the 2021 seminar and continues to work on a project to help increase the low percentage of K-12 teachers of color in the Twin Cities. She called the seminar a positive experience even though the summer cohort was virtual due to the pandemic.
The work continues
Iyer said she “learns so much” from her MYALP peers. The group came from several types of organizations, as well as business students.
“I am delighted to see how our [project] is taking shape because increasing the number of teachers of color will not only have a profound impact on the families served by the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, but also on my own children,’ Iyer said.
Lynette Dumalag, senior vice president of commercial real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle, completed the Harvard Young American Leadership program in 2016. Dumalag, also a St. Louis Park City Council member and active in homelessness solutions for years, was also involved in a MYALP cohort.
“Some of my fellow YALP colleagues have become some of my closest allies,” Dumalag said. “It is through this lens of equity and shared prosperity that is a guiding value of Young American Leadership that I encounter.”
Lynn Casey, a retired Minneapolis and Itasca-MYALP volunteer, said the program’s cost of about $175,000 per year is economical, including accommodations, food and travel. Expenses are supported by the Itasca Project – a 70-member business-led civic group that focuses on the Twin Cities’ regional economic competitiveness and quality of life issues – and other companies and foundations.
Itasca executives and several participating companies launched the local consortium, with help from Harvard, because they thought it would be important to take a regional approach.
The Minnesota curriculum is modeled after the original Harvard curriculum. Harvard Business School research proves that local cross-industry collaboration helps advance shared prosperity and overall economic growth.
“By bringing together leaders from diverse backgrounds early in their careers, giving them the opportunity to collaborate on a specific challenge facing their region, and then encouraging them to continue learning from each other, our region and our state will build the social capital we need to solve the challenges we face,” Casey said.
“Think of MYALP as a down payment on the opportunity to create an even better future for our region and our state.”