In 2018, the national venture philanthropy organization New Profit brought together pairs of donors and social entrepreneurs from their community for candid conversations on the future of social problem-solving.

These “unlikely duos” were given thought-provoking questions to respond to and discuss on the spot, and we were able to see where a conversation can go when it’s centered on getting to know another person and her or his perspective, rather than the technical aspects of change-making. Relationships are fundamental to problem-solving, and these duos show us the power of two people from different backgrounds sharing insights and ideas on forward-leaning solutions.

In Episode Six of this video series, Greg Shell (Managing Director, Bain Capital) and John Rice (Founder and CEO of Management Leadership for Tomorrow, a New Profit Grantee-Partner) share their thoughts on recognizing potential and creating opportunities for others.

Giving Compass spoke with Rice about expanding economic mobility, the impact coaching can have on workforce preparation and the benefits of setting high expectations.

How do we create a more diverse workforce? John Rice has found a winning combination: Professional coaching, a personalized playbook for advancement, and an accelerating network.

In 2002 Rice, a former NBA executive, founded Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) to equip men and women from underrepresented communities with the knowledge and tools to excel in college and their professional lives. MLT provides everything from skill development boot camps to interview opportunities from a pool of more than 100 leading organizations in the corporate and social sector, including Google and Omidyar Network.

John-Rice“We combine the coaching and give them what we call our high-performance playbook, to essentially help them understand what that bar is in terms of readiness to land that high trajectory job and be a high performer once you’re there,” Rice said.

Rice drew on his previous sports experience to create this high-touch approach that goes far beyond basic mentoring.

“[In sports], we figured out … how to make sure that if you’ve got talent and you’re willing to work hard, that regardless of your socioeconomic background or race, you don’t get lost,” said John Rice, founder and CEO of MLT and former NBA executive. “The first stage is putting them in the game: Getting them the kinds of jobs out of college that you couldn’t get if you didn’t go to college.”

MLT identifies high-achieving individuals through college campus outreach and through partnerships with organizations that help students access college and finance their education. However, referrals from current and past MLT fellows account for the largest number of applicants, according to Rice.

“Folks whose lives have been changed by our programs are paying it forward, giving leverage to the fellows who come behind them,” Rice said.

The multiplier effect appears to be working. In 15 years, 7,000 fellows have passed through MLT’s various programs — they range from Career Prep for undergraduates to Career Advancement for professionals. Additionally, these men and women are playing a role in closing income gaps. Ninety-eight percent of MLT’s undergraduate fellows are placed in jobs that start at $70,000 annually.

“Driving economic mobility for the individual is not just important for that student but it puts their entire family on a totally different path,” Rice said.

Advancing Diverse Talent in the Workplace

Recent research has shown that workplace diversity can drive greater innovation. Meanwhile, immigration, the #MeToo movement and other social justice issues have highlighted the importance of hearing different perspectives in organizations throughout the public and private sector.

“It’s elevated what our institutional partners are asking of us as it relates to support and advice,” Rice said.

With 15 years of learnings, MLT is now looking to increase its impact further and engage two to three times more college students through partnerships with universities and other nonprofits. Rice said there’s an immense opportunity to reach a broader set of students and to advise employers on how to move the needle on a diverse talent pipeline. It will require help from donors who can put aside preconceived notions.

“I believe philanthropists need to move from what I would argue is too narrow a view around what it takes to move minorities and lower income people from the fringes of poverty to college,” Rice said. “Philanthropists should be setting higher expectations and aspirations for these young people — the same expectations they have for their own children.”