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Project 99: Creating a network to support and empower a diverse workforce

Project 99

Guest post from Josuel Placencia ’17 and Yulkendy Valdez ’17.

“With Babson’s 2017 graduation looming, many students are finalizing plans for what comes next. For us as Babson seniors what is next is happening now. Together, we are the co-founders of Project 99, a social venture enabling millennials of color to not only get a seat but also stay at the table of corporate America through workforce development programs, network of mentors-femtors and conferences – all for millennials of color by millennials of color. Today, diverse professionals are three times more likely than their counterparts to drop out of work, Project 99 aims to make this dropout rate no more.

Our work is very much connected to our upbringing as a daughter and a son to immigrant families who lacked representation in professional services. Yulkendy emigrated from the Dominican Republic to the city of St. Louis at age 10, at which point she did not speak English. Three years later she was a finalist in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C. Josuel was born and raised by a single mother who emigrated from the Dominican Republic to an attic room in Queens, New York. Despite this, the skies have always been the limit for him. As senior in high school, he was named the Junior Achievement Student of the Year.

Both of us have stories that make us unique but that also inspired the same desire and commitment to a world that where no matter who you are – you have access to opportunity. This shared commitment was apparent when we met just a few weeks into their Babson experience. Right after meeting, it was clear that both of us had an opportunity to take our common vision and put it into action.

In our time at Babson, Project 99 has enabled over 100 young people through programs at a global scale. Having launched in the United States, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Chile with the support of organizations like Resolution Project, EY, and Delta Airlines, we have had great success. Every single participant in a Project 99 program would recommend it to another person as participants express increased self-awareness, teamwork ability and adaptability.

All things considered, this is only the start for Project 99. As we prepare for life as Babson alumni, Project 99 is expanding into working with leading organizations that can provide a ripple effect of our work in recognizing and giving visibility to millennials of color. Two organizations that have committed to the movement include, SAP, the global technology powerhouse and Humano, a leading Latin American health insurance company. In these companies, Project 99 will be put up to the task, to work with millennials in their respective companies to provide a space for them to be engaged on a personal and community level.

If you don’t work for one of these companies you can still catch Project 99 on the road, speaking at the Ashoka U Exchange and the Harvard Social Entrepreneurship Conference this spring. In fact, we are also co-chairs of the 11th National Dominican Students Conference, which is coming to Babson this March 31- April 2, 2017. The NDSC is an annual event featuring the highest quality in academic workshops, inspirational speakers, and networking events — for and by the Dominican-American community. Attended by over 400 student leaders annually, it has been hosted in various colleges around the country, from Harvard to NYU, and now it is coming to Babson.

Project 99 envisions a future where the millennial workforce is stronger, resilient and visible. This will lead into more African-Americans and Latinx professionals entering leadership roles. Today only three percent of senior leaders in corporate America are Black or Latinx while the demographic represents thirty percent of the country. We believe that when millennials are brought together, they are able to inspire and enable each other in powerful ways. Perhaps the same way that us meeting and working together, led to the creation of a startup that is crucial to the future of America. In fact, Project 99 gets its name from the Human Genome Project, a scientific report that confirms that at the DNA level we are 99.9 percent alike and .01 percent different. In other words, we are all capable yet we are all special in our own unique way.”