In a tent next to Norfolk, Va.’s MacArthur Center, brands, financial experts, marketing leaders, entrepreneurs and students gathered to identify and conceptualize an inclusive, fairer future for business and creativity.
The Mighty Dream Forum is the first official flagship event hosted by the newly formed creative advocacy agency founded by Grammy-winning producer and entrepreneur Pharrell Williams and Edelman. Billed as a continuation of last year’s Elephant in the Room event, the three-day conference spanned eight different stages in Downtown Norfolk and brought together business, art, music and culture. 166 speakers from around the world offer insights into the future of DEI, investment, technology, building new businesses and innovation within the branding space.
From Nov. 1-3, programming includes panels, pitch workshops, culinary experiences, block parties supporting local vendors and live shows from Grammy-winning artists Thundercat and Kaytranada. Pusha T, Hannibal Burress, SpringHill Company co-founder Maverick Carter and a recorded conversation with Lewis Hamilton also added to the forum’s star power.
The goal of the organizers is to connect today’s biggest names in business with the founders and industry stars of tomorrow, all sharing a focus on progress and celebrating the contributions of business to marginalized communities.
“It’s a whole movement,” Sarah Fetter, executive producer of programming for the Mighty Dream Forum, told Adweek. “Pharrell sits at the intersection of many brands, geographies and political ideologies. Mighty Dream is this embodiment of Pharrell sitting at [these intersections].”
While the forum has countless views, here are five big takeaways from the week.
Big brands are buying
Fetter says that at last year’s Elephant in the Room event, participating brand leaders represented $13 trillion in assets. This year’s forum brings together top leaders from Boeing, LVMH, H&M Group, Richemont, BNY Mellon, Loop Capital, Netflix, Walton Family Foundation and more, all coming together and being heard to support Mighty Dream’s mission for on a more fair trade route.
Overall, Fetter estimates that the dollar value of represented assets has more than quadrupled this year, reaching “north of $56 trillion.” Some of the participating brands, such as Chanel, Cisco and the Rockefeller Foundation, are already active partners with other non-profit organizations of Williams Yellow and Black Ambition.
But not all brands in attendance have previous ties to the event, according to the producer.
“One of these brands is new [to Mighty Dream],” he said. “I’d say maybe half of the brands on stage this year were new to the movement and just showed incredible enthusiasm to be involved.”
The local is as important as the global
From health and financial equity to DEI, international industry experts flew to Norfolk to offer a global perspective on how conversations surrounding equity and inclusion are evolving.
Figures such as The Emergence Network founder Bayo Akomolafe and Annie Wu, H&M Group’s chief diversity officer and global head of inclusion and diversity, arrived from India and Stockholm, respectively, to offer unique perspective through keynote speeches that put a more universal understanding of diversity at the center. Wu later joined LVMH’s head of diversity and inclusion for North America, Corey Smith, and Doug Melville, Richemont’s global head of DEI, for a discussion on how businesses can confidently prepare for an industry that became more culturally inclusive at a rapid pace.
But whether attendees are taking a break to enjoy catering by Three Ships Coffee and Sonny’s Heart Bakery, or witness Williams announce the surprise 2023 return of Virginia Beach’s Something in the Water festival with city officials, there’s a different priorities in Virginia’s local economy. .
Recruitment has been revised
In a Day 2 fireside chat between ICONIQ partner Michael Anders and Recognize co-founder and managing partner Charles Phillips, recruitment was a big talking point.
Phillips offers several suggestions for companies that are serious about diversifying their pool of hires, from looking beyond limiting college degree requirements to hiring specifically in hiring data instead of mistakenly lumping all diverse employees together as “anyone who isn’t white. .”
Later, during a session featuring the Google Tech Equity Collective initiative, panelists were careful to inform an audience full of college-age students that a professional path in tech does not necessarily require the creation of actual technology. Those interested in marketing, communications, writing and other disciplines not normally associated with technology can still find their place here.
We cannot forget the old tools
While advising young professionals to become active on a site that calls itself “the world’s largest professional network” may not immediately register as revolutionary, it’s still a popular suggestion among panelists who aims to manage those seeking their dream position or appointment.
Melville, Smith, Danny Robertson of The Martin Agency and Nataki Williams of the event’s media partner The Guardian are among the many who point to the platform as an effective recruitment tool and a way to make important connections.
Another platform that has emerged as a potentially unexpected tool for equity: Yelp.
In a panel titled “Buying Black: Where Does the Movement Go Next,” panelist and Yelp’s vp of community expansion and trends Tara Lewis encouraged the audience to guide Black entrepreneurs to Yelp, where they have access to organic marketing tools and users eager to patronize Black-owned businesses. The potential for a new wave of support is huge: according to Lewis, Yelp has shown a 160% jump in searches for Black-owned businesses.
Mighty Dream invests in the future—literally
Over the course of the three-day forum, Black Ambition—which aims to address the wealth gap by investing in Black and Latinx entrepreneurship—awarded $2.5 million to 31 business founders, including a $1 million grand prize at Pound Cake Cosmetics.
“I am very honored to stand here as the CEO of Black Ambition.” said Felecia Hatcher in the initiative Dinner with a Purpose event. “In two years of Black Ambition, this will mark us with $6 million dollars that we have invested in Black, Latinx and HBCUs [entrepreneurs].”
“For the first time in this entire journey, I finally feel seen and heard,” Pound Cake founder Camille Bell said in a statement. “And that’s thanks to everyone at Black Ambition. I don’t know of any other programs out there like this — that really take the time and care to fully support all sides, black and brown traders.
Other recipients include SkiiMoo Tech, which received $250,000, and social app The Move, which won the HBCU grand prize of $200,000.