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Advancing Diversity from Intention to Impact, Part 1

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Most
organizations in the commercial real estate industry express some level of commitment
to diversity, but turning lofty words into concrete, measurable action has often
proven challenging.

A session at NAIOP’s 2020 Chapter Leadership and Legislative Retreat, “Advancing Diversity from Intention to Impact,” showed how programs initiated at NAIOP chapters in Philadelphia, Massachusetts, Ohio and San Francisco are doing the hard work and generating real results. This is the first part of a two-part series.

NAIOP Greater Philadelphia

Joe Ritchie of NAIOP Greater Philadelphia, who is vice president of development at Brandywine Realty Trust, shared details of a program for minority high schoolers that his chapter put together in collaboration with Drexel University.

“It’s
basically a summer camp,” he said. “They spend 100% of their time living on
campus as a college student and learning about real estate.”

The Drexel Summer Real Estate Program is a 10-day residential program for current high school sophomores and juniors of color. It introduce teens to careers in commercial real estate fields including architecture, development, investment, construction, brokerage and urban planning/design. The program is a combination of classroom learning, site visits and industry events where participants learn the basics of real estate through case studies.

“We
present the kids with case studies and they divide into groups,” Ritchie said.
“They work on them and present solutions to judges, one of whom is the actual
developer.”

Ritchie
says the program has been a huge success.

“After
the course, more than 65% say they want to go into the industry,” he said. “We
think it’s been great. We’re hoping to build internships off of it.”

Ritchie
said the program worked so well because it had support from the highest levels
of NAIOP Greater Philadelphia.

“Our
board was 110% behind us,” he said. “It was one quick conversation and everyone
jumped in.”

The
chapter puts in a lot of footwork to find students for the program.

“We
ourselves go directly to the schools and go to school district events,” Ritchie
said. “We go to churches, too. We also reach out to social organizations, such
as Jack and Jill, and fraternities and sororities. We go everywhere we can be
where we might encounter a parent.”

Once
candidates are found, Ritchie said they go through a rigorous application
process that involves transcripts, applications and teacher recommendations.

Building
a curriculum geared toward teenagers was another major challenge for the
chapter.

“We
are real estate professionals; we’re not educators,” he said. ““Translating what
we do in the industry every day to a 16-year-old is tough. It was a bit of a
learning curve. It’s really key to have that kind of partnership. Drexel did a
lot of lifting to make this successful.”

Ritchie
said he was already in contact with Drexel University President John Fry each
month regarding an ongoing development project, so that helped facilitate a
conversation about establishing the program. And Drexel has a longstanding commitment
to a diverse student body.

“Like
many universities, they’re looking for talented kids of color,” Ritchie said.

He
said NAIOP Greater Philadelphia wouldn’t have been able to pull off the program
without the support of the university, and he urged other chapters looking to
launch similar programs to find the right collegiate partner.

“We
raised all the funds for the program, then provide funding to the university as
a restricted grant,” he said. Ritchie said NAIOP Philadelphia raised $60,000
for 19 students in the inaugural program in 2019.

“A
lot of that cost is food and lodging,” he said.

While
a day-camp setup would have been more affordable for the chapter, Ritchie said
it wouldn’t be as impactful.

“I
think they would lose a lot if it were off-campus,” he said. “First, they would
miss the bond with each other. The other benefit of being on campus is getting
used to and comfortable with the college experience. We want them in real
estate, but we also want to develop them as adults.”

The
chapter raised funds by getting members to directly sponsor the program. Money
also came from an annual “Battle of the Bands” event the chapter puts on.

Ritchie
urged commercial real estate professionals who want to start a similar program
to take a look at the one at Drexel.

“Here
is a way to start,” he said. “I firmly believe that talent is distributed
equally, but opportunity is not. I am one of very few African American
corporate real estate executives. I happened to be in the right place at the
right time. We’re trying to get more folks in the right place at the right
time.”

Next:
A look at efforts from NAIOP Massachusetts, NAIOP Northern Ohio and NAIOP San
Francisco Bay.

This content was originally published here.

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