That’s A Wrap: Second Cohort of Changemakers Complete 2019 DEI Accelerator

by Cornelius Lee and Xiomara Padamsee | Sep 16, 2019

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We are excited to have completed the 2019 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Accelerator program. This second cohort brought together 132 leaders from 43 organizations to understand their current state around diversity, inclusion, and equity and to drive forward progress. These leaders came from across the country representing schools, nonprofits, and foundations to implement a concrete plan for progress and to build skills and community along the way..

Participating Organizations

Participating organizations (click to enlarge)

Why did we design a national cohort program for leaders and organizations committed to DEI?

Historically, the field lacked comprehensive data with which to understand and measure progress (or lack thereof) toward creating diverse, inclusive, and equitable organizations. In July 2017, Unrealized Impact: The Case for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion was released by Promise54. The groundbreaking study revealed that organizations in the field are losing talent, implementing DEI practices inconsistently, and lacking accountability for those practices, all of which indicates missed opportunities for impact. Further, the report paired with Promise54’s proprietary DEI survey tool gives leaders an unprecedented ability to assess their organizations’ DEI progress against field-level benchmarks.

With data in hand, organizational leaders were eager for support to chart a path forward which is where Promise54’s DEI Accelerator comes in. The program is anchored in quantitative data and human experiences; we’re grounded in the deeply introspective and personal work of engaging hearts and minds in the journey toward more diverse, inclusive, and equitable organizational cultures. We do this by supporting leaders to reflect on their own consciousness and the current state of DEI at their organizations, and then implement a responsive strategy with clear metrics to measure progress. Participants build connections within the cohort community, problem-solve around common challenges and opportunities, and leverage one another as thought partners in the effort to advance DEI priorities within their organizations.  By the end of the eight-month program, participants:

  • demonstrate increased awareness of the importance of DEI to their organization’s ability to achieve its mission;
  • can describe their organization’s current DEI strengths and weaknesses;
  • have participated in 25 hours of high-quality professional development and coaching;
  • have created and implemented a one-year plan for accelerating progress on a prioritized set of highest need areas; and
  • demonstrate material progress on at least one high-need area in their organization related to DEI.

The Spring convening is the focal point of the DEI Accelerator program. For two years, we’ve had the honor of assembling this community of leaders committed to building thriving work environments where adults can do their best work for students, families, and communities. We came together in Kansas City to learn from one another and engage in action-planning and capacity-building in service of sustainable organizational change and impact, and 90% of participants left the convening with a better understanding of the importance of diversity, inclusion, and equity work. Here’s how participants described their experience:

“For our team, the convening was a good place to work through some of our org’s challenges, and also some of our own personal ones. There were tears and hugs, and the convening felt like a warm, comfortable container to do all that.”

“It was the best and most thoughtfully planned conference I’ve attended.”

“I want to commend your lived commitment to head, heart, and hands. I have been to other conferences that speak to the importance of heart, but do not live that out in the content or execution of the meeting. Your team’s modeling of vulnerability and creating space for us to do the same was so well done.”

There were so many powerful moments at this year’s convening; we’ve included a few highlights from our time together below.  Will you join us next year? Apply Now!

Huge thanks to all of our attendees, and to the Kauffman Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and The Walton Family Foundation for making this convening possible!

Apply Now to Join Us in 2020!
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Founder & Chief Executive Officer


Xiomara is: a proud Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Indian cisgender gay woman; a family-first mother and wife, daughter and sister; an enthusiastic pinata maker, former pianist, and a dedicated educator and activist. Xiomara’s 20 years of education and organizational effectiveness experience include roles as Leader of the talent advising practice and management team member at Bellwether Education Partners, Manager in Deloitte Consulting’s human capital practice, and as Vice President of Staffing & Organizational Development on Teach For America’s management team, where she built the organization’s first national talent team. Xiomara holds a BS from Cornell University and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

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Cornelius is: an advocate for those who reside on the margins of society without their consent; a proud Black gay man; a partner to a wonderful man who has taught him myriad lessons in empathy and kindness; an oenophile; a conscientious objector; a work in progress; and a leader and learner of concepts related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Cornelius’ decade+ career includes roles as a classroom teacher, founding school team member, K-12 school leader, and as the Associate Director of Leadership Development at Education Pioneers, where he led the organization’s national programming and operations team. In addition to his role as a Partner at Promise54, he is an Adjunct Professor at Dominican University’s Graduate School of Education, and he serves on the City of Chicago’s Mayoral Advisory Council on LGTBTQ+ issues. In his spare time, he enjoys a good glass of vino and exploring the intersection of wine and equity. Cornelius holds a BA in Journalism from Western Kentucky University, an MAT from Dominican University, and an M.Ed. from Harvard.  

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