More, Please: Behind A Partnership to Help Close the African American Tech Opportunity Gap

When you spend your days writing about philanthropy, you sometimes find yourself thinking less about what you're writing about and more about what you're not writing about.

I know that sounds confusing, but hear me out.

Inside Philanthropy is chock full of gifts to promote STEM education. But relatively speaking, there are far fewer gifts earmarked to, say, close the African American or Hispanic tech opportunity gap. And so, when I comb through yet another higher ed STEM gift, I can't help but wonder: Why am I not writing about, say, coding boot camps in underserved communities bankrolled by some tech billionaire or Silicon Valley company? 

All of which makes the following piece of news out of Washington, D.C. so refreshing. Enlightened, Inc., a business management consulting firm, has partnered with the Howard University School of Business to create the region's premier education center for workforce development, executive training, and research in cybersecurity. The Cybersecurity Education and Research Center will be housed at the predominately African-American Howard University.

See? This is what happens when a business consulting firm gets involved with workforce development. Enlightened, Inc., which gets paid to gaze into the future and advise its clients accordingly, sees the writing is on the wall: "With continued cyber attacks across many government and business sectors," the press release noted, "the industry is projected to see the demand for highly trained cybersecurity professionals and executives increase exponentially in the Greater Washington Area and nationally."

This isn't to say donors aren't concerned about the African American tech divide. Billionaire Robert F. Smith, the richest black American not named Oprah Winfrey, gave $50 million to establish an endowment for the Cornell University School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering a little over a year ago. The school will use the bulk of the funds for "scholarship and fellowship support for groups traditionally underrepresented in engineering and technology—particularly African-American and female students."

We've also looked at Northrop Grumman's efforts to make STEM professions more representative of the nation as a whole. And as this USA Today article notes, the push to boost diversity in Silicon Valley, where African Americans make up two percent of the workforces of major technology companies, is finally gaining some traction.

That said, it isn't very often we come across a partnership like the one between Enlightened and Howard, which isn't just geared towards African American students, but also hones in on an in-demand skill set like cybersecurity in a city whose beleaguered federal agencies can use all the help they can get.

In fact, as you read this, in the very same city, in, say, the Cannon House Office Building, some Silicon Valley legislative liaison is lobbying Congress for more H1B work visas, ignoring the vast, untapped labor pool in his own backyard. Presumably it's cheaper to hire experienced engineers from abroad then upskill them here at home. These companies have to answer to shareholders and investors. Fair enough.

But we here at Inside Philanthropy are idealists at heart. (It's actually a prerequisite for the job.) So until macroeconomic forces change in a meaningful way, here's hoping partnerships like the one between Enlightened and Howard, coupled with the emerging power of black philanthropists, can help close the tech opportunity gap and provide solid jobs in the process.