I had the privilege of being invited to President Obama’s announcement of “My Brother’s Keeper” earlier this year, representing my partners and colleagues at Deloitte.
I was moved by the frankness and forthrightness with which the president spoke regarding the issue of supporting young men of color.
It is obviously an issue of personal concern and connection for him, as it is for me, and I think for many other African-American and Latino men in the business community.
When reflecting upon the circumstances that have contributed to what successes we have had in our lives, I believe that most of us can point to a single moment of intervention or opportunity (or perhaps many such moments) that were crucial to us staying on the right path.
For me it was education. I vividly remember the day my parents and I were called to the principal’s office at my public elementary school in Baltimore, to meet a gentlemen named William Greene.
Bill Green (as everyone called him) offered me the opportunity to attend a college preparatory school – a place that we would have had no exposure to without his intervention. Along with his continued mentorship and sponsorship, that opportunity changed the trajectory of my life.
So for me, and others like me, it is personal and a key part of who we are is an intense desire to do whatever we can to help create opportunities for those who follow us.
My hope for My Brother’s Keeper, and my intent as a participant in its evolution, is that it will help organize people around where we can make the most impact in the lives of these young men.
This was another point made by the president that resonated with me. To paraphrase, “we know what works, let’s do more of it and less of what does not work, no matter how well intentioned.”
I am also pleased that President Obama described this vexing, entrenched problem as “an American problem,” because it is.
We in the business community understand this point first hand. No issue is more crucial to business than a healthy economy and job market, and the education and support we provide to our next generation of leaders will be the difference between our success and failure.
Developing a workforce for tomorrow is critical to the success of American business, but its benefits are far broader and greater than that. A well-prepared, well-educated, skilled workforce will increase the quality of life for America’s families and communities.
Of primary concern is the significant and growing mismatch between our country’s demand for talent and its current supply, which hampers our competitiveness as a country. In just the last 10 years, we have seen emerging demands for new skills from entirely new industries, and, just as importantly, from a rapidly evolving global economy. If we do not make a commitment to improving education and training, America will fall behind countries around the globe.
To ensure America does not fall behind, we must ensure no members of our communities fall behind. We can only consider our country the land of opportunity if we ensure each one of our citizens has the opportunity to succeed – regardless of economic background or race.
And while every American should feel called to create and preserve opportunity for the next generation, as Bill Greene did for me, businesses have a special responsibility to address the problem of career education and training for a more prosperous tomorrow. And as a community, businesses are in a unique position to do so in a way that translates to real, meaningful knowledge, skills, and careers.
We must accept the challenge of strengthening America by creating a future where every child has the opportunity to grow, succeed, and contribute to his or her community. We must hold ourselves accountable for the future of our country.
At Deloitte, we believe it is essential to address the particular need in America of supporting young men of color throughout the early stages of their lives.
We recently developed the Courageous Principals program, partnering with other members of the business community, government and not-for-profits, and school systems to help principals bring change to their schools.
The program provides public school principals with training that enables them to become more effective leaders and to help their students become stronger and more capable future leaders.
Over the next year, we’re committed to providing similar training sessions to up to 500 principals across the nation and, ultimately, impacting over 100,000 students.
Preparing America’s next generation of leaders is an investment not only in our businesses, but in our people, our communities, and our country. We are confident that by working together, we can discover, develop, and deliver real, meaningful solutions to the challenges facing our nation.
We look forward to working alongside the president, the public sector and philanthropic communities, and other companies, as well as citizens across the country, to create a better future for all Americans.
David Williams is CEO of Deloitte Financial Advisory Services LLP.