Directing the Economic Influence of a Regional Business Community toward Racial Equity Projects

Author: Sonia Torres Rodríguez
Date Posted: August 29, 2022

Regional businesses have an important role in advancing racial equity in their communities. A group of chief executives and business leaders in San Antonio, Texas, came together after George Floyd’s murder to form Corporate Partners for Racial Equity (CPRE) and talk about how the local business community could better support racial equity in San Antonio. Morgan Jones, senior manager of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging for Spurs Sports & Entertainment, shared that this campaign was an opportunity to involve CEOs with influential platforms and “not always rely on the DEI department” to lead equity initiatives. As CPRE looked to maximize the impact of their time and collective investment in service of racial equity, Community Information Now (CI:Now), the San Antonio NNIP Partner, provided critical quantitative evidence to demonstrate how and where racial disparities persist in the city, which informed the partnership’s grantmaking.

Before the founding of CPRE, the Spurs organization wanted to go beyond the statements of support for racial justice that many firms published in summer 2020. The organization created a space for highlighting racism’s ongoing harm through Spurs Voices, a series of 30 employee- and staff-directed vignettes about their experiences with racial discrimination. According to Morgan Jones, this series inspired the Spurs CEO to seek new strategies for improving DEI efforts locally and to reach out to other influential corporate leaders in the region to align on a joint commitment to address structural racism. CPRE was born, thanks to the partnership of chief executive officers from 12 corporate entities. This partnership differed from other corporate efforts related to racial diversity because the highest leadership was personally involved, not only writing a check or delegating to a corporate responsibility department.

CPRE organizers selected three priority areas: equitable education, economic opportunity, and safety and justice. They recognized they weren’t experts on the city’s social issues and reached out to the United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County, which, for several years, had brought community leaders together to target shared priorities via data-informed Impact Councils. The United Way has a long partnership with CI:Now and realized they could leverage existing data on racial and geographic disparities CI:Now had already compiled. CI:Now had also written multiple reports in recent years related to racial equity, including the City of San Antonio’s 2019 Racial Equity Indicator Report, and had disaggregated community-indicator education and economic data for United Way’s Impact Councils. To meet CPRE’s interests, CI:Now augmented their existing body of equity work with data sheets featuring additional indicators. These data sheets included indicator trends and disaggregation by race and ethnicity, place, and in most cases, contextual variables.

The corporate group organized work sessions around each of the three priority areas to review and discuss the data. In their CPRE workgroups, the executives came to realize that racial disparities are generational and have been perpetuated through policy over centuries. They also reviewed the City of San Antonio’s equity efforts and consulted practitioners already working on the issues to add context to the statistics. Informed by CI:Now’s analysis, CPRE announced nine key initiatives in fall 2021 in equitable education, economic opportunity, and safety and justice for a total investment of $13.8 million, with each area having performance metrics to track progress. They are targeting their investments to neighborhoods where the investments could have the biggest impact. One of the identified initiatives, to improve in- and out-of-school tutoring programs, was chosen because of CI:Now’s clear and effective linking of math and English proficiency with academic success and economic stability. They also used the data to inform the selection of a tutoring agency to work in an identified high-priority neighborhood.

The CPRE process and interaction with CI:Now’s data and analysis is also inspiring CEOs to invest in internal initiatives to support equity, such as new internships, career paths for people involved in the criminal legal system, and new senior-level diversity hiring efforts. Ultimately, influential business leaders committing to changing their corporate structures will have a ripple effect that may even eclipse the value of the $13.8 million investment.

CPRE is two years old, and the CEOs and leaders continue to meet quarterly to monitor progress and learn more about the historical context and current effects of racial inequity in their San Antonio community. They hope to have other firms join and contribute additional funding. Darryl Byrd, an advisor with ULTRAte Strategy and Advisors who helped support the CPRE conversations, shared his view that “all of this is rooted in the credibility and clear communication of data and what it tells us about the state of things.” This community collaboration demonstrated the payoff of having a local data organization like CI:Now consistently contributing to the equity conversation with sound data and analysis over time. Thanks to CI:Now’s evidence-based, compelling story about racial inequities at a critical moment, this opportunity for renewed investment in communities of color in San Antonio was channeled to the issue areas and neighborhoods most in need.

This story was written by Sonia Torres Rodríguez at the Urban Institute. A thank you to Laura McKieran, Morgan Jones, and Darryl Byrd for their support with this story. Community Information Now is the San Antonio Partner in the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, a learning network in 30 cities coordinated by the Urban Institute. All Partners ensure communities have access to data and the skills to use information to advance equity and well-being across neighborhoods.

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