ROMBA Fellow Awarded Sands Family Social Venturing Fellowship
In November of last year, ROMBA Fellow and 2018 ROMBA Conference Leadership Team member Kevin Deese (University of Minnesota – Carlson School of Management MBA ’19) was awarded the Sands Family Social Venturing Fellowship which supports a select number of Carlson students to develop their ideas for improving local communities. The Fellowship was founded by Bill & Susan Sands, graduates of the university who dedicated their lives to making the Twin Cities a better community. To date, the Sands Fellows have launched more than a dozen businesses to support workforce training for disadvantaged groups, affordable housing, medical devices designed for youth market, and a broad range of social venture.
How did you first hear about the Fellowship? What made you decide to submit a proposal?
There was a presentation during orientation that discussed the Fellowship. I didn’t have any ideas for a project at the time, but the presentation from Bill and Susan Sands and the current Fellows was really eye-opening. It was easily the best day of orientation for me – at the time I was wondering if I had made the right choice in going to business school, wondering if I would find purpose in my career choice, etc. The Sandses’ presentation made me excited about my decision to pursue an MBA because I knew that there was tremendous support at Carlson for people who wanted to figure out how to use their MBA in service to communities who need it most. It was during that session during orientation that I began to think about theissues I care about and could work to address. It didn’t take long for me to decide that the community I most wanted to serve is one that is my own: the community of people living with HIV (PLWH).
The ROMBA Fellowship also really spurred me to take on this project. Being named a ROMBA Fellow meant that I was recognized for having leadership qualities that could be used to promote equality and fair treatment of the LGBT community, and as I think we all know, there is great overlap between the LGBT and HIV+ communities. The support from Carlson and Reaching Out MBA put at the forefront of my mind my ability and responsibility to advocate for myself and others, especially within groups to which I belong. This is about giving back to other members of my community who are not as fortunate or privileged as I have been. Between the ROMBA Fellowship and this opportunity with the Sands Fellowship, I felt called to action to address an issue of concern to the HIV+ community.
What issue does your venture seek to address?
My venture with the Minnesota AIDS Project (MAP) is called “People Working with HIV” and is aimed at increasing access to employment resources and opportunities among PLWH in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. HIV research and medicine has made a lot of progress since the AIDS Crisis: people are aware of what it is now, and treatments can positively impact the lives of those diagnosed – yet the epidemic persists nevertheless. Moreover,there is great disparity in HIV statistics; in addition to disparities in race/ethnicity and sexual orientation of PLWH, analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that HIV disproportionately impacts economically disadvantaged communities in the United States.
My thinking on this point led me to pursuing the idea of leveraging employment as a tool for upward mobility in the HIV+ community. Further research in the topic revealed another potential benefit of this approach, illustrated by the following two concepts that numerous studies have shown:
-People living with HIV are at a higher risk for low levels of physical and mental health, and
-Employment is positively correlated to higher levels of physical and mental health
By boosting employment in the HIV+ community, we hope to drive not just upward mobility, but improved physical and mental health. We’re currently working on what our exact methods will be by interviewing MAP’s case managers and clients to discover their needs, researching the successful approaches that other cities have taken, and connecting both with organizations who specialize in workforce development and job training as well as with potential corporate partners who could benefit from tapping into this underemployed community to address their own workforce shortages and concerns.
How will you utilize your LGBTQ MBA and local community?
I’m doing my best to leverage the connections that Carlson is helping me make. I’ve been connected with some incredible folks who work in both HIV/AIDS service organizations and in workforce development. Minnesota is not only the “Land of 10,000 Lakes;” it’s also referred to in jest as the “Land of 10,000 Nonprofits” – so there’s a plethora of helpful professionals who are only too willing to share with me their experiences and resources. I hope that thisproject will have a large impact on the state, since 81% of Minnesotans living with HIV as of 2016 reside in the Twin Cities metro area. With such a high concentration of the state’s HIV+ community in one place, I’m hoping for this work to make a major impact on what living and working with HIV looks like in Minnesota. Additionally, working directly with MAP’s staff allows me to better understand how the organization’s resources are used by the community – and tailor our program around how the organization already delivers other services successfully. I’m also connecting a great deal with other HIV advocates and pushing for our issues to be prioritized through our political system: I just returned from AIDSWatch, and annual conference and lobbying event in Washington, D.C., where HIV advocates gather to network and to lobby our representatives to more actively take up the fight to end HIV/AIDS.
I’ll also be intentional in connecting with local and national LGBTQ and allied business leaders at the 2018 ROMBA Conference – here in Minneapolis, October 4-6! – to gain their buy-in and partnership. At the end of the day, it’s my hope that this project will help to change the lives and outlooks of people living with HIV here in Minnesota, and perhaps beyond.