Project Forging Boards Diversity

November 12, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — Project Blueprint has been serving the community for 14 years and along the way has graduated 325 professionals and dispersed them among 150 agencies in the area.

The leadership development program, named for its aim to serve as a blueprint for a more diverse future, opens the decision-making doors of various leadership boards to professional people of color, making the boards more representative of the community.

"The United Way system discovered that there were some partner agencies, agencies that we raise money for, that didn't have equal representation on their boards," said John Romero, in charge of organizational development for Project Blueprint and director of human resources for Heart of West Michigan United Way.

"They were working with, let's say, inner-city populations, but they didn't have anyone from the inner city on (the boards).

"They didn't have people of color on their boards, so some of the decisions they made did not reflect the needs of the community. So they (United Way) started Blueprint."

In essence, Romero said, Project Blueprint is opening doors that might not otherwise be open to people of color, and opening the doors to executive boards who may not know where to look in order to diversify.

Romero explained that he recruits people of color who are college graduate professionals working in the community and looking for ways to become involved in the community.

He takes those interested and teaches them the basic skills of serving on a board. According to Romero, the development from professional to executive board member is fairly simple. Students go through a five-week program consisting of 20 hours of instruction: four hours a week for five weeks.

He told the Business Journal that the program's classes include — but are not limited to — how to be a good and effective board member, how to make one's way in parliamentary procedure, the nature of minority development, techniques of fund-raising, reading financial reports and improving one's personal communication skills.

In some cases Romero said partner agencies wish to enrich their staff and refer members of the staff to be trained for possible placement on an executive board in the community. Many students are referred to the program by past graduates.

Romero says 20 hours of classes sometimes are not enough. But he said, considering students' busy schedules and coming to class after a busy day at work, sometimes that is all that is possible.

He added that last year to combat that problem, Blueprint offered quarterly in-service training programs in which students could enroll for additional and specific training.

He said that in-service topics included tips on running for public office. Topics also covered what an executive director looks for in a board and what a potential board member should look for in an agency — and how to find a good match.

Funding for the in-service program wasn't available this year.

"Once they graduate from the program, if a partner agency or any agency in town calls and — for example, the American Cancer Society calls and says we have some retirees on our board of directors and we want to diversify our board — they tell me what kind of person they are looking for.

"And I look at the credentials of the graduates and match the needs of the agency with the credentials of the people we have in our data bank," said Romero.

"From there I give the eight or 10 prospective board members to the agency, they interview the ones they like and then if it is a good match, they offer them a position on their board of directors."

He said that the program asks its participants what issues they are passionate about.

Romero also said the students are queried concerning what type of organization they would like to work with or in what type of cause they would like to become decision-makers. He said Blueprint takes those ideas into consideration when it places graduates.

Recently Project Blueprint won the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce 2002 Minority Business Award for Advocate of the Year. In the nomination statement, Romero told the Chamber how Project Blueprint has advocated for minority businesses in West Michigan.

"Each of these organizations has helped the minority community grow and prosper by insuring that those minority voices are heard through the Project Blueprint graduates who sit on their policy-making boards of directors," he said.

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