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How We Built Our Winning Pitch in the John R. Lewis Racial Justice Case Competition

team Javeln

The members of Javeln, the team that won the competition earlier this month, outline their proposed strategy to tackle entrenched racial inequities in the technology industry. 

The John R. Lewis Racial Justice Case Competition (JLCC) was an incredible learning experience that pushed us to develop creative solutions to tackle entrenched racial inequities in the technology industry. We first decided to enter into the competition in early November, at the beginning of Fall 2.

The competition was established by Emory University Goizueta Business School students in the wake of the 2020 racial justice movement that swept the country. Now in its second iteration, the case competition brought students and corporations together to generate bold and actionable solutions for racial justice. To us, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to apply skills that we acquired in the classroom and in our previous careers to spark positive change on one of the most important issues of our time.

When applying to enter the competition, we had the option to choose one of five industries to focus on: Consulting & Professional Services, Food & Beverage, Healthcare, Technology, and Transportation & Logistics. We knew from the beginning that we wanted to select the Technology category, given our career goals—five of us are members of the Technology Club at SOM, while Eva is an M.S. candidate in statistics and data science and has professional experience as a data scientist.

The preliminary stage of the competition involved submitting a comprehensive statement of intent describing how we planned to approach the problem of entrenched racial inequities in the technology industry. We proposed a framework that simultaneously tacked “people” (the diversity of the workforce) and “product” (the design of tech products and services). To us, these two pillars fed into one another: tech companies that represent the experiences of all people will also create products that accommodate the needs of everyone. Conversely, limiting bias and misuse in tech products empowers marginalized people to enter and positively influence tech companies.

At the beginning of December, as we were getting ready for Fall 2 final exams, we found out that we had made it to the semifinals for the Technology industry. We were paired up with our industry sponsor, IBM Call for Code for Racial Justice, an IBM initiative that aims to combat systemic racism through open-source technology projects. Their ask was for us to design and create an implementation plan for a physical hub dedicated to closing the racial tech gap in a specific American city.

We had six weeks to come up with our solution, but we knew that finals and winter break would make it challenging for us to coordinate. Vivian took the lead in creating a detailed work plan to keep us on track. After agreeing on a general approach with a solution centered around the issues of training, job placement, and innovation, we divided up responsibilities, with each of us researching a specific piece of the solution. To collect primary data, we used SurveyMonkey credits provided by the case competition organizers to deploy a survey. The responses that we collected played a critical role in informing the design of our core programs.

Additionally, we conducted interviews with two professors at SOM, Tony Sheldon and Seth Zimmerman. Both professors were incredibly generous with their time and gave us helpful advice about how to approach the problem. Professor Sheldon also connected us with Andrea Levere ’83 and Eric Ferrer-Vaughn, two experts with deep experience in the design and implementation of programs aimed at uplifting marginalized communities in the U.S. Without the guidance provided by these mentors, we would have struggled to develop a clear direction for our proposal.

Our final solution was centered around the principles of sustainable impact and community engagement. We chose Atlanta as our host city, given its diversity, history of civic engagement, and thriving tech scene. We devised a program that consisted of three initiatives that built off of one another, creating a continuous cycle of impact over time. First, we proposed training and upskilling BIPOC learners seeking to enter the tech industry. Second, we envisioned providing a space for trained learners, tech professionals, and local community members to collaborate on innovative tech and policy solutions to racial justice issues. Finally, to close the loop, we proposed to match learners to jobs and cultivate a thriving alumni network for all Hub participants to unlock opportunities for mentorship and networking. Throughout our proposal, we stressed the importance of partnering with existing organizations doing similar work in Atlanta and amplifying their impact through additional services, funding, and support.

We presented this solution in the JLCC semifinals on January 20. To our surprise, the judging panel, including representatives from IBM and Call for Code, liked our presentation enough for us to progress to the finals. A day later, we found ourselves competing against teams from Emory University, University of Southern California, University of Florida, and Georgetown University in the JLCC finals. We are honored to have been named the winners of this competition against such incredible teams and are inspired to continue advancing the cause of racial justice throughout all aspects of our careers.