Represented Foundation | New York, NY
Noel McKenzie is on a mission to build a workforce of Black and Latinx leaders. In his own life, from a very early stage he understood that his race, sexual identity, and socioeconomic status was limiting the opportunities he had at being a leader.
“I'm a Black, Queer man who worked in high-impact nonprofit organizations for the last 10 years. Both of my parents are immigrants, and neither one completed college. Early in life I could see how my race, sexual identity and my socio-economic status put me at a disadvantage for success. It meant I had to work harder, starting from scratch to achieve the same or comparable success as my peers. It also meant that it took me longer to find the right networks, build up my career, and begin my own nonprofit.”
Identifying the Problem
One pivotal moment that exposed this inequality to him was during his time working for an NGO in South Africa when the Board Director thanked every single colleague of his for their work except for him, and he was the only person of color in the room. Although their NGO served 100% people of color, Noel became aware that as a leader he was being looked over and treated differently than his coworkers. During grad school, Noel was studying nonprofit management at the New School in New York. He was learning invaluable lessons and gaining skills to advance social impact work, while being one of the only people of color in his classes. Just to get this education in the first place, he had to go into extreme financial debt. Despite Black and Latinx community members having invaluable knowledge from their personal experiences, Noel understood that these groups were not granted access to the tools or opportunities to become leaders in their communities and address its problems.
“There were virtually no other people of color in my classes. We represented a minute demographic of students. I thought this was problematic because the curriculum and training were preparing nonprofit management students to go out and work in diverse communities. I had to assume a lot of financial debt to obtain my education. I saw a huge opportunity divide between those who were able to receive the education, and between those who had extensive experiences and a passion to solve social issues because they had lived them. I wanted to start my business to make growth and success in the social impact field easier for other Black and Latinx leaders like me.”
With this insight, Represented Foundation was born. Noel decided that Black and Latinx leaders like him need better resources and tools to succeed and grow in the social impact field. In 2018, he launched a virtual workshop to train and mentor Black and Latinx entrepreneurs from their own homes in order to teach them how to drive social change.
After this successful pilot, one of Represented Foundation’s trained teams opened a job training program for formerly incarcerated women in Brooklyn. The team from Noel’s workshop was able to launch this program using their own personal experiences and struggles navigating life after prison release. That is the key to the program’s mission: give Black and Latinx resources to become leaders in an overwhelmingly undiverse pool of social entrepreneurs, while also giving them tools to address problems they may have experienced themselves. Represented Foundation provides a space for Black and Latinx entrepreneurs to build networks and the necessary skills to initiate change.
Working with Sky’s the Limit and talking with several mentors like Fabio Rosati, Noel was able to drive success for his organization. Founders and staff have been great thought partners throughout his journey while helping him understand the hurdles in front of him and bring “support, training and practical tools to a community of previously underserved entrepreneurs.”
"Like many entrepreneurs, Noel saw a problem, and he set out to solve it. What sets him apart is that he didn't just have a big idea – he has put in the work! In my first conversation with Noel, I could tell he was frustrated. I could also tell he was determined. Thankfully, he kept at it, and his resolve and persistence have brought him to the point he's at today – supporting a cohort of 8 Black and Latinx leaders through his social impact incubator for Spring '21. It's been an honor to get to know Noel, witness his progress, and be an occasional sounding board for his innovative and important ideas."
- Danee Pye, President of Common People United
What’s in store for Represented Foundation?
In September 2020, Represented Foundation launched the 3rd cohort, and next year Noel plans to expand their corporate sponsorship program to locations outside of NYC. Noel also won Sky’s the Limit’s August Friends and Family grant. He plans to use the funds to hire two new employees – a development coordinator and a program coordinator– as well as to assist in rental space for session training. His goal is to grow his team and run cohorts of social impact incubators in every major US city for Black and Latinx entrepreneurs. He is striving for equal representation in leadership in the social impact field for people of color, and we believe that he and his thriving organization will do just that.
“By the time people of color represent 50% of the US population in 2045, I want 50% of social impact leaders to be people of color.”