Wealth Creation: The Next Leadership Challenge

Article excerpt

Wealth's importance is fundamental. Wealth creation is both an indicia of and driver of the quality of life and life prospects of a person and a people. Research has long established the relationship between wealth (or the lack thereof) and a panoply of social ills-from poorer health, to greater crime, to lesser educational performance. Unfortunately, the research and data also show that blacks not only have a significant wealth gap relative to white Americans, but essentially have no true financial wealth at all. Until that changes, blacks will be forced to depend on outside intervention for their well-being.

Obviously, African Americans must do everything they can to change this predicament; and the National Urban League, whose origins and decades of work are rooted in improving blacks' economic strength, must help push wealth creation to the top of Black America's agenda.

Numerous signs exist that, more than ever before, blacks are ready to meet that challenge. Perhaps the most important one is the large pool of talented and experienced black business people who are capable and ready (perhaps with a nudge) to play the entrepreneurial role that is pivotal to wealth creation. This reservoir of talent is a product of decades of work by the Urban League and others in pursuing equality of opportunity in education and in the workplace. Even as the Urban League sharpens its focus on wealth, education and workplace opportunity must continue to be priorities because they are important contributors to a group's pursuit of wealth creation.

Another important dynamic is the spreading cultural impact of the visible success of blacks in a variety of business pursuits that resonate across a broad cross section of the black community. The achievements of Oprah Winfrey, Bob Johnson, Ann Fudge, Russell Simmons, Ken Chenault, Richard Parsons, Pamela Thomas Graham, and Reginald Lewis, to name a few, have made business ambitions more normal and possible for a sizeable and growing number of African Americans to envision and pursue. Handling one's business both on and off the court or in and out of the studio is a common discussion in the community-in effect there's a wealth creating role model for everyone.

With its more than 100 affiliates across America and its broad range of economically-focused programs, the Urban League is superbly positioned to both help spread the cultural fervor or wealth creation and undertake wealth creation as a fundamental objective of its own work. But we must remember that wealth doesn't result from the application of simple formulas, nor is it subject to easy programmatic solutions. Enterprising entrepreneurs and established companies toil daily (and often nightly) attempting to create wealth-and frequently failing. In a word, wealth creation is hard-but there is a practical path forward for the Urban League that rests on three observations:

Observation 1: Private markets are the most potent source of wealth creation. Initiatives and programs focused on personal finance, home ownership, job training, and so on, are clearly needed and valuable. However, significant wealth creation results from success in private markets. Thus, the National Urban League should increase its programs and advocacy that support the success of black and other minority firms in private markets. …