On the McKinsey Institute for Black Economic Mobility & Supporting Black Talent

Early in December 2020, McKinsey & Company launched the McKinsey Institute for Black Economic Mobility, “a think tank dedicated to accelerating research, convening people and organizations, and developing tools and assets that can help advance racial equity and inclusive growth to safeguard the lives of Black people around the world”.

The Institute is one of McKinsey’s 10 Actions to do their part to advance social and racial justice and equity, and has been designed to help institutionalize changes across public, private, and social sector organizations by fostering collaboration among groups working in racial equity who might not otherwise find ways to leverage one another’s strengths.

The Institute will provide in-depth research to contribute to a fact base that can help guide decision-making, leverage the company’s connections in the private, public, and social sectors to convene stakeholders, and try to ensure these efforts lead to practical tools, assets, and capabilities to create real-world impact.

The events of 2020 – from issues of police brutality to the higher economic burden of the pandemic on Black Americans – culminated in organisations, companies and institutions announcing commitments to addressing racial equity. By October 2020, a third of Fortune 1000 companies had pledged a total of US$66 billion to racial equity initiatives, but there is a need to address how these commitments can be applied to deliver meaningful, systemic change.

Through conversations with racial equity organisations, leaders and individuals who have shared their expertise and lived experiences, McKinsey reports that collective actions that unite public-, private- and social-sector stakeholders are the most promising means of delivering change.

In the Institute’s first research effort, they identify five key attributes that ensure that these coalitions succeed.

The first element is to unite around one clear mission, despite racial disparity in many aspects of society, and create a critical mass of supporters and momentum to deliver on the mission.

Another is to coordinate and collaborate via a central backbone – a core group to convene stakeholders, collect data, track overall progress and publicize results.

The third key element is securing adequate and appropriate funding as black-led and focused organisations are disproportionately underfunded. Funders should be willing to pool resources and assign leader organisations to ensure that funding allocation is flexible and equitably done.

Fourth, racial-equity organisations must ensure accountability, and build systems based on established guidelines to collect, analyse and share data on their work.

Finally, racial-equity organisations must win and maintain support from (and actively engage with) a broad set of stakeholders – beyond those directly affected by the racial inequalities they address.

Hopefully, these collaborative efforts will produce tangible results and alter the trajectory of Black economic mobility in the US and around the world.

The Institute for Black Economic Mobility is a welcome initiative, and a good example of what companies in developed countries can emulate to drive racial equality in the US and Europe, and indeed everywhere, as long as racial inequality exists.

Nevertheless, I am personally interested in how the Institute’s work may have an impact within Africa, in line with its commitment to support Black communities across the globe.

Although it seems more tailored to Black American communities, which is acceptable, economic equity and inclusive economic growth are some of most pressing concerns for many young entrepreneurs in Africa, and initiatives and measures that foster this are helpful for the economic prosperity of Black people on the continent.

Early in my professional career, I worked as the Ethnic Arts Officer at the Greater London Council. The 1981 civil disturbances, or “uprising” as we called it, and the ensuing Scarman Report highlighted the cultural marginalisation of the UK’s Black and ethnic minorities. It forced a review of funding and cultural policy towards Black and ethnic minority arts practitioners. The Greater London Council responded with the creation of an Ethnic Arts Fund and in June 1982 I was appointed to manage the grant aid programme and to help develop policy for the integration of Black and ethnic minority arts into the mainstream.  

The 1980s was the moment when Black and Asian creativity flourished and when many of the present generation of the leading black and Asian artists emerged, for example, John Akomfrah, Isaac Julien, Don Kinch, Chila Burman, Lubina Hamid, Sonya Boyce, Courtney Pines, David Bailey and Armet Francis. It was a moment when the already established artists like Gavin Jantis, Anton Phillips, Yvonne Brewster, Jatinder Verma, Menelik Shabaz, Wilf Walker, Balraj Khanna, Aubrey Williams, Tara Raj Kumar, Imruh Caesar and Horace Ove consolidated their creativity to impact on the mainstream. This period also marked the establishment of independent Black and Asian arts and cultural institutions like Tara Arts Theatre, Staunch Poet and Players, Talwa Theatre Company, Black Audio Film Collective, Sankofa, Retake Film & Video, Autograph ABP, Akademi, and Black Dance Cooperative, to name but a few. It was also a time of “celebrating Black and Asian creativity” through arts and cultural festivals designed to put Black and Asian artists at the centre stage in mainstream venues, promote critical debate around politics and arts and push the boundaries of representation through The Black Experience, The Business of Black Music Conference, Third Eye, London’s Festival of Third World Cinema, Anti-Racist Film Festival, Black Literature Competition, Caribbean Crafts Fair in Covent Garden, Black Theatre Season, Black Jacobean and CLR James Exhibition, From Resistance to Rebellion Exhibition, Black Artist White Institutions Conference, Black Filmmakers Conference, Community Murals Programme, James Baldwin Black Writers Competition, to highlight a few of the initiatives.

The period from 1980 to March 1986, when the GLC was abolished by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government elected in 1979, marked a particular conjuncture of social, cultural, political, and economic events in London.  Today, the Black Lives Matter movement is a continuation of this story.

More recently, I spent five years at the Tony Elumelu Foundation in Lagos, Nigeria between 2014-2019, where I designed, structured, and implemented its Entrepreneurship Programme, a 10-year, $100 million commitment to identify, train, mentor, and fund 10,000 entrepreneurs from across the continent. Over the five years that I lived in Nigeria and travelled across 50 of the 54 African countries, I met Africa’s exceptional talent, pursuing incredible dreams, re-imagining history, entrepreneurial pursuits, and humanitarian work across the continent.

Through my multi-faceted professional career promoting diversity and supporting African businesses, I have come to recognise that it is important to support Black and minority ethnicities, whether in so-called developed economies or on the African continent to help them thrive. This support does not need to be limited to just financial aid, but also includes creating policies and providing research generated by bodies such as the McKinsey Institute for Black Economic Mobility that allow them to be supported by governments and development agencies in ways that can truly effect change.

About Parminder Vir OBE

Parminder Vir OBE has dedicated herself to positively impacting and transforming lives through a professional career spanning 40 years in philanthropy, entrepreneurship, film and television production, arts and culture, and investment funding. She is the co-founder of the Support4AfricaSMEs campaign and The African Farmers Stories, launched in 2020. She served as the CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, based in Lagos, Nigeria from April 2014 to April 2019. Prior to joining the Foundation, Parminder has enjoyed a distinguished career as an awarding winning film and television producer and private equity investor in film and media.

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