T.D. Jakes is a globally recognized serial entrepreneur, philanthropist, visionary, business and faith leader who is deeply committed to serving as a force for good in underserved global communities. He is founder and chairman of the T.D. Jakes Foundation, a workforce development and community building organization devoted to building bridges to opportunity in the United States and around the world. 

Prince: Tell me about the T.D. Jakes Foundation—what was your goal in creating this organization?
Jakes: We founded the T.D. Jakes Foundation in January of 2020 to give people the tools they need for success in the 21st-century workforce, uplift underserved populations and connect corporations to new, highly skilled pools of talent amid increasingly global competition.

We are a workforce development and community building foundation with a focus on transforming lives through uplifting communities. To do that, we focus on three key areas: business partnerships, workforce readiness and community building.

With a renewed focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, companies of all sizes have committed to ensuring that their workplaces look like the people they serve. But without the right partnerships and trusted voice in these communities, many businesses will fail to gain the traction needed to deliver sustainable outcomes. So we’re partnering with businesses to help connect them with the communities they aim to serve.

From early childhood STEAM—which refers to science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics—exposure to re-skilling and up-skilling of older adults, we believe that workforce readiness programs must serve communities across the entire lifecycle, ensuring that people of all ages have the skills, education, training and access to compete in the modern economy. Through our online STEAM education programs and our proprietary PATHWAY hiring program, we offer life-changing opportunities that will have long-lasting effects in our communities.

To reverse centuries of inequality, underserved communities require access to integrated social service programs aimed at prevention, intervention and integration/reentry. But since most nonprofits fill only one specific need, many people will inevitably fall between the cracks while trying to navigate a maze of programs and services. The T.D. Jakes Foundation provides a helping hand, guiding those in need through intervention services, training, educational and aftercare programs, ultimately connecting them to living-wage employment.

Prince: You talk a lot about the concept of collective impact, could you explain what that means to you, and why it’s such a big part of your work?
Jakes: To me, collective impact means bringing private, public and non-profit entities together for common good. One of the reasons I chose to start this foundation is that I am uniquely positioned as a global collaborator with deep relationships with business leaders and trust in communities they aim to serve. I knew we could create a nimble organization, which could quickly and cost effectively bring these constituencies together in a way that legacy organizations cannot do.

Last year in the wake of George Floyd’s death, companies pledged more than $50 billion toward racial equity causes. But according to reports from this spring, only about $250 million has been spent or committed. While I believe that many businesses genuinely want to be part of enacting positive change, this discrepancy shows that many don’t know where to direct their dollars or how to allocate funding to achieve the best results. Creating partnerships to bring about collective impact is a solution to that problem.

For example, as states face budget shortfalls, arts and humanities programs are often among the first programs cut from schools. Children in poorer districts that rely heavily on state funding suffer the most. This disparity means that students in underserved communities are missing the opportunity to be exposed to what we know is a key gateway to STEAM disciplines.

In a show of collective impact, we launched an innovative partnership with Dallas Summer Musicals, the Dallas Independent School District and Frito-Lay to create district-wide STEAM education themed around the hit Broadway musical HAMILTON.

Over the course of several weeks, 3,400 theatre students and teachers from 25 Dallas ISD High Schools will participate in specially created curriculum that relates to the HAMILTON production. The lesson plan culminates with students and teachers attending a full performance of HAMILTON. We have no doubt that this experience will have a transformative effect on these students’ lives, opening career paths they previously hadn’t considered and equipping them with the tools and skills of the future.

This is an example of the pivotal role we look to play to bring businesses and communities together. Partnerships such as these—for-profit companies working with nonprofits and governments—are what is needed to create collective impact.

Prince: Why is it important for businesses to prioritize being a force for good?
Jakes: Today more than ever, business leaders have a special responsibility to influence and promote positive cultural change. It’s not enough to offer hollow sentiments. We must listen with empathy, use our voices to advocate for change and turn talk into action. Being a force for good isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s ultimately what will allow businesses to attract and retain talent and grow at a time when consumers are looking to spend their money with companies committed to solving major problems.

Phrases like income inequality and systemic racism were, at one time, almost taboo, but now there is broad consensus among all facets of society—from business executives to politicians and religious figures—that we must do something significant to shrink the gulf between the haves and have nots, especially as pertains to women and people of color, who haven’t always had equal access to opportunity.

Recently, Pope Francis spoke plainly about the need to extend basic human dignity to all and for powerful corporations to play a key role in bringing about change. His words, when added to the chorus of so many other prominent business leaders like Tim Cook, Doug McMillion and Jamie Dimon, are finally getting many business leaders to act. And it’s working.

In the last 12 months alone, businesses have led the charge to vaccinate workers, bringing us closer to ending the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses are also stepping up to provide workers with benefits, such as tuition support, that will put them on a path to professional success and financial independence. And despite the federal minimum wage being stagnant since 2009, it has been businesses that are pushing to pay workers a living wage—$15 or more per hour.

We face enormous challenges, but I’ve always believed that with crisis comes opportunity. Businesses have an opportunity to be a force for good to create transformative generational change. It is incumbent upon business leaders to commit to doing this difficult work.

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