Many of us found ourselves digging deep in the past year on issues of diversity, equity, social justice, and ways to create a better future. Where do we begin? How do we take action when our schedules may already feel overloaded? How can we use our existing resources, relationships, talents, tools, and most of all, passion to affect meaningful and concrete change?
Three powerful leaders have done just that. Confronted with the same questions, they moved quickly from insight into action and offer concrete ways to affect change, pool resources, and live the answer instead of the problem. In January, Christine Sakdalan, Serene Hennion, and Tina Chang (along with their diverse board) launched the non-profit MVP—Momentum and Value for People of Color—in order to move the dial on the way young people of color are granted access to opportunity.
Though it is well-established that inequity disproportionately affects Black, Asian, and Hispanic communities, it can often seem that well-meaning initiatives and committees yield little progress. “It’s about changing systemic issues,” says Sakdalan, who experienced bias and discrimination both personally and professionally. “For people of color, it’s not just about the recent events in the last year,” she adds. “Mentoring and creating access to opportunities has been a part of my life and I’ve always been a proponent of mentoring young people, so MVP is a natural extension of that.” Sakdalan is currently a senior leader at J&J who aims to pay it forward through this nonprofit work.
Co-founders Chang and Hennion come from equally diverse and successful backgrounds and acknowledge how their achievements were not without the help of key mentors and supporters. “I started seeking out my own mentors after college,” says Chang, who grew up in Taiwan and immigrated to the U.S. with her family, landing in Queens, New York. She knows well the obstacles immigrants face in forging a path in a new country. “We were not well off and needed support,” she says, noting that a majority of Asians in that neighborhood lived below the poverty level yet received a disproportionately low percentage of the social services budget.
Chang is now the founder and CEO of the thought leadership firm Pioneering Collective, and along with Hennion and Sakdalan, brings a wealth of executive relationships and expertise in communications, marketing, and business and brand building. “We have a passion to leverage our influence and position to do good,” says Sakdalan.
Their mission is nothing less than to create a movement—one that will give young Black, Asian, and Hispanic individuals leadership skills, life-changing skills, networks, internships, and employment opportunities.
The programs will target college students who need assistance accessing strategic internships and mentorships and graduates who can benefit from early career support, which includes everything from networking to salary negotiations to financial literacy. “Young people of color need access to the strategic connections that most people take for granted,” says Chang.
Hennion agrees, bringing an extensive background in discrimination law to the partnership. “I’ve witnessed how prevalent discrimination is,” says Hennion. “My day job is to rectify that, but it’s usually after the fact. The work we do at MVP is to make an impact earlier on in someone’s professional journey.”
“It’s really about supporting these young individuals with skills and surrounding them with relationships that will last them a lifetime,” says Sakdalan.
By leveraging MVP’s expansive network of executives and leaders across disciplines to mentor and create opportunities, Sakdalan, Hennion, and Chang have already created a stir in the business community.
“We have a lot of momentum,” acknowledges Sakdalan, who has a growing list of organizations, leaders, and volunteers signing on to join the movement. “The early interest has helped us hit the ground running,” adds Hennion, who notes that though there are non-profits that have similar missions, few combine the financial support, career mentorship, job opportunities, and networking that MVP does. “We’re very human-centric,” says Chang. “MVP will provide a career ecosystem that an individual needs to thrive.”
All three women underscore that quality is key. Making sure that their MVPs receive the personal attention they need to succeed and eventually pay it forward is at the heart of their mission. As Hennion says, “We want them to benefit so much from this program that they come out the other end and want to help another person through the process also.”
This benefit overflow characterizes how the founders and board members intend to interact with every person who comes into contact with MVP. “In addition to supporting these talented young people, we want to amplify the stories of our mentors, volunteers, and the organizations that work with us,” says Chang. “In that way, we inspire others to say, ‘I want to make a difference. I’m going to join that movement, too.’”
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