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Deloitte Chief Purpose Officer Kwasi Mitchell On Promoting Workforce Development, Financial Inclusion & Health Equity

Yitzi Weiner @ Authority Magazine

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Deloitte has been able to help impact a number of individuals through the changes we have made with respect to hiring as part of OneTen, a coalition of employers committed to help hire, promote and advance one million Black Americans without a four-year degree. To no longer be solely focused on a college degree as a screening mechanism for people joining our organization and have the opportunity to open doors for people who didn’t have the luxury of attending and completing a four-year degree has been transformational. I am inspired by the stories of people we have hired into different parts of Deloitte as they share what it means to have a path toward a family-sustaining job and the impact that is having on their family, their children, and the ability to inspire others around them. You just fundamentally can’t beat that.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kwasi Mitchell.

Kwasi Mitchell is the chief purpose officer at Deloitte. He is responsible for leading the organization-wide strategy that powers Deloitte’s commitment to purpose and drives a broader impact for its clients, people and the communities in which we live and work. Kwasi built and oversees the organization’s first dedicated Purpose Office focused on addressing some of the world’s most complex societal issues including diversity, equity and inclusion, sustainability and climate change, education and workforce development and technology trust ethics.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Thank you for having me. It’s an interesting question because I tend to think every part of my upbringing brought me to where I am today. I grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, as one of nine children in my family. Our neighborhood, like many, had to deal with the crack cocaine epidemic of the late 80s and early 90s that led to the mass incarceration of people of color. Many people who I grew up with didn’t get the opportunity to have access to quality education, health care or financial assistance to even consider going to college. I was fortunate to have family members who nurtured my interest in school and made sacrifices to ensure I would have the opportunities to get me to where I am today. I was very fortunate but it’s the memories of those who didn’t have those same opportunities that motivates me to advocate for change and do everything I can to create pathways for others in my current role as chief purpose officer.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

The first thing that comes to mind is related to the $1.5 billion social impact investment that we announced in the US in September. Before going to leadership to ask for buy-in to make such a significant dollar commitment, we spent weeks doing research and pressure testing our strategy — running through every question we thought might come our way in those discussions. Then when I sat down with our CEO and showed one slide that articulated our vision for the investment I received a resounding, “YES. Let’s do it.” We then presented the idea to Deloitte’s executive committee which was only a five- to seven-minute conversation and no more than two to three questions, because we immediately received full support. Everyone agreed this is exactly what we should be doing as a purpose-driven organization. I have always been proud of Deloitte, but that moment stands out to me because I saw the unquestioned commitment to inclusive prosperity and our responsibility to do this type of work for our people, our clients and for society more broadly. It was one of the highlights of my time at Deloitte, particularly since taking on my role as chief purpose officer.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I don’t believe it was necessarily a lesson I learned when first starting but I have the unnatural capacity — or perhaps foolish capacity — of turning down great roles at the right time. I find myself having to be convinced to take on roles that I initially don’t think are in line with what I want to do. The lesson it’s taught me is to trust your sponsors. I’ve had a number of sponsors over the course of my career who have been thoughtful enough to say, “You know that path you’re heading down? That probably isn’t going to give you energy and allow you to have the most impact. I know you’re focused on this but it’s time to pivot to a new role that is going to let you have broader impact that no one else can.” So, my tendency for potential career self-destruction has been overcome dramatically by outstanding sponsors and those who know me.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

We recently announced that Deloitte is committing $1.5 billion over the next 10 years to help increase social and economic mobility, especially for those facing the greatest barriers to equity and prosperity. Our investment focuses on three pillars that are vital to creating equity within society: education and workforce development, financial inclusion and health equity. To start, we selected 12+ investments that are demonstrating impact, innovation, and the ability to advance equity, so that together we can contribute to long-term and systemic change. We know the challenges are too large for any single entity to tackle alone, so I view this investment as an invitation to others to join us in this effort of driving systemic change so together we can make a real impact.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Deloitte has been able to help impact a number of individuals through the changes we have made with respect to hiring as part of OneTen, a coalition of employers committed to help hire, promote and advance one million Black Americans without a four-year degree. To no longer be solely focused on a college degree as a screening mechanism for people joining our organization and have the opportunity to open doors for people who didn’t have the luxury of attending and completing a four-year degree has been transformational. I am inspired by the stories of people we have hired into different parts of Deloitte as they share what it means to have a path toward a family-sustaining job and the impact that is having on their family, their children, and the ability to inspire others around them. You just fundamentally can’t beat that.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

For me, it’s not really about what are the three things — it’s about just doing something. We talk about systemic issues that are so large, people can be paralyzed by the nature of the challenge ahead. For example, where do you start to fundamentally fight racial inequity or other efforts we’re making around purpose? When you sit back and think about these issues, people don’t do anything because they can’t conceive how their individual actions can lead to change. Start by doing something and always realize that little things matter.

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How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I am a big fan of servant leadership. I think as a leader, your role is to empower others to achieve things that they individually did not believe themselves able to do. I believe it’s a leader’s role to create a vision that is beyond self-motivating prophecy or activities, but brings others together in service of something greater and more meaningful.

It’s a leader’s responsibility to create a space around them where others can feel valued, cared for and loved to achieve their full potential. So instead of having an impact on one or two lives in your immediate sphere of influence, a great leader is one who can have an impact on hundreds. The goal of being a leader is to expand that sphere of influence and uncover how many people can you impact and help grow.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Reinvent or become obsolete. About 10 years ago, when I was a newly minted Manager within Deloitte, I heard a senior leader speak about this notion of either you’re growing or you’re dying as an organization. I have always felt that Deloitte excelled at reinvention and pressing the boundaries of what’s expected. I have personally adhered to that notion throughout my career which led me to having the job of Chief Purpose Officer, a role that didn’t exist two years ago. The need to continually reinvent yourself and grow with new skillsets that align to your passion is critical.

A kind word is as frequently impactful as a great idea. I distinctly recall working with a colleague who I worked with for a long time and as I was moving into a new role, he pulled me aside and said, “I’m really going to miss working with you for two reasons: you always say please and thank you, and you always give people respect.” It was meaningful to me that he wasn’t going to miss a colleague because he was losing a partner he knew he could be successful with, but rather he was going to miss somebody who gave attention to others in a way that truly felt respected. A kind word matters so much more than other things in the grand scheme of things.

Everything that is worthwhile is hard. I shared earlier how pleased I was with the rapid response from our leadership team who got onboard with the decision to commit $1.5 billion to social impact. After those initial conversations, I had to spend a year actually putting that plan into action. I think sometimes people forget that approval from senior leadership doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. I frequently remind my teams that anything worthwhile is going to require you to build a coalition, to remind people why they should care, to articulate why it’s important and more. It’s hard. If it was easy to do, then you need to ask yourself if you really pushed the organization forward. Everything worthwhile is going to be hard.

People are watching and they care. I frequently thought my work and my career were moving along fine, we were making an impact, we had happy clients, I moved onto the next thing. What I didn’t realize was the people who were watching from afar and those who would help propel me to where I’m at in my career today.

Bad behavior and bad culture start with small things. I once heard a close friend and mentor within Deloitte say this. If you think about all the poor decisions organizations can make that have led to challenges with their culture, it’s all been small things that were overlooked that became engrained in a culture. For me, I’ve always been a student of understanding what’s problematic on my team right now and how do we change it to create a culture in where people want to be engaged and create a positive experience for others.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I would never describe myself as a person of enormous influence, but if there was a movement I could start, I would inspire people to understand that they belong. I try to instill this notion within our interns. Deloitte is now hiring some of its most diverse intern class we’ve ever seen as an organization. Last summer, I spoke to 500–600 interns from a variety of backgrounds, universities, genders and many who were new to an environment like Deloitte. I received a question about how to know whether they belong. I assured them that same question was on the mind of many others in the room and pointed out that Deloitte would not have invited them to that room if we didn’t think they belonged there. Our organization is very prescriptive in the things we do, so I challenged each of them to show up knowing that they belong. I urged them to participate and join in rather than wilting in the corner because someone else had exposure to something that they didn’t, but to embrace it. Imposter syndrome should never enter our minds and if it does, it’s something necessary to overcome in order to achieve great things.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My grandfather would say, “If you aren’t better at your job this week than you were last week, then you wasted a week.” He said job, but he meant as a spouse, as a friend, a colleague and as a citizen of the world. That always resonated with me because if you aren’t continually trying to improve and show up in a different way, then what are you really doing? I like to live my life rather than have my life happen to me, and I’d like to be in a position where people can look back and say, “He had the ability and drive each and every day to be better and help make us better.”

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

I’m not really a person who is overly awed by celebrity or fame, but if there was one person especially given the passion of how they speak about things and the role I have now, it would be Paul Polman. Paul has done exceptional work and has a keen ability to instill hope while also being very realistic about the things we need to do (most of which needed to start 20 years ago). He wrote a book that gives people the tools they need to become a responsible enterprise. I love people that make things tactical, and he does just that.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I share a lot of what I’m reading, what our Purpose Office is doing, individuals who inspire me and are making a difference and more on my LinkedIn page. Outside of that, any news related to Deloitte’s Purpose Office is here: https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/purpose-at-deloitte-us.html.

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Yitzi Weiner is a journalist, author, and the founder Authority Magazine. He is also the CEO of Authority Magazine's Thought Leader Incubator, which guides leaders to become prolific content creators. Yitzi is also the author of five books. In 2017, he created the popular, “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” series that highlights the empowering lessons learned from the experiences of high-profile entrepreneurs and public figures. This series has inspired a mini-movement among writers, with scores of writers worldwide profiling inspiring people to share their positive, empowering, and actionable stories. A trained Rabbi, Yitzi is also a dynamic educator, teacher and orator. He currently lives in Maryland with his wife and children.

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