Apple takes big steps to boost diversity in tech

Apple has announced major investments in education, developer-focused business support, and more to boost diversity in tech for communities of color.

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Apple has taken a series of what should be major steps to help dismantle some of the barriers faced by communities of color as part of its $100 million Racial Equity and Justice Initiative.

Knowledge is power

Understanding that education — and access to it — is critical to empower access to opportunity and make communities more resilient, Apple has announced:

  • Investment in the Propel Center, a global innovation and learning hub for Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
  • The launch of an Apple Developer Academy to support coding and tech education for students in Detroit.
  • Venture capital funding for Black and Brown entrepreneurs. 

Apple announced its Racial Equity and Justice Initiative in June 2019, part of its corporate response to global protests against the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others.

The scheme is led by Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy and social Initiatives, and sits beside wider efforts to improve diversity and inclusion across the company.

Writing in a statement, Jackson said:

“Every individual deserves equal access to opportunity regardless of skin color or zip code. For too long, communities of color have faced gross injustices and institutional barriers to their pursuit of the American dream, and we are proud to lend our voices and resources to build new engines of opportunity that empower, inspire, and create meaningful change.”

What Apple CEO Tim Cook said

“We are all accountable to the urgent work of building a more just, more equitable world - and these new projects send a clear signal of Apple’s enduring commitment,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook “We’re launching REJI’s latest initiatives with partners across a broad range of industries and backgrounds — from students to teachers, developers to entrepreneurs, and community organizers to justice advocates — working together to empower communities that have borne the brunt of racism and discrimination for far too long. We are honored to help bring this vision to bear, and to match our words and actions to the values of equity and inclusion we have always prized at Apple.”

Later, in a Tweet, he explained:

What is the Propel Center?

The Propel Center is an innovation and learning hub for the HBCU community. Apple is working alongside stakeholders and the Southern Company to support the launch of the center, making a $25 million contribution to help it begin its work.

The company will help develop curricula and also intends to provide mentors, learning support and internship opportunities for students there.

The Center will comprise a campus at Atlanta University, a virtual platform, and will work on other campuses. The project aims to nurture a new generation of diverse leaders with learning resources, technology support, fellowships, and career opportunities.

Those attending the center will be able to learn across a range of diverse tech topics, including AI and machine learning, agricultural technologies, social justice, entertainment arts, app development, AR, design and creative arts, career preparation, and entrepreneurship.

Apple will also offer two Innovation Grants to support engineering programs and 100 scholarships to those from underrepresented communities

The Propel Center initiative builds upon Apple’s existing partnership with Ed Farm and the company’s work with three dozen HBCUs. “We’re thrilled to be partnering with Apple on this extraordinary project,” said Anthony Oni, Ed Farm’s founder and chairman of the board, and a vice president at Southern Company.

“The Propel Center will help cultivate leadership and drive innovation in tech and beyond, acting as a springboard for change in communities across America.”

Apple to open first U.S. developer academy in Detroit

Apple also confirmed that its first U.S. Apple Developer Academy will open in Detroit working with Michigan State University (MSU). MSU and Apple have been working together on efforts to provide new forms of transformative education for three years.

Apple hopes the academy will empower young Black entrepreneurs, creators, and coders to help them engage in the app economy.

The company selected Detroit because it has a strong Black entrepreneur and developer community, with more than 50,000 Black-owned businesses, according to US Census data, up from 32,000 in 2015. It also has an active tech scene.

Apple Developer Academy courses will be open to all learners across Detroit, regardless of their academic background or whether they have any previous coding experience.

Two programs will be available:

  • A 30-day introductory program.
  • A full 10- to 12-month academy program exploring coding, design, marketing and professional skills, made available to 1,000 students each year.

These schemes may prove to be invaluable to Detroit, which has been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and is experiencing major losses in employment.

In February, Apple will host the inaugural cohort of its first virtual Entrepreneur Camp for Black Founders and Developers, where students will gain access, mentorship and insight from Apple experts, leaders and engineers. The company began signing up participants to this scheme in October.

Putting money on the table

Apple recognizes that system barriers exist that mean Black and brown entrepreneurs face obstacles getting the funding they need to realize business ideas. It hopes to help address this with two multi-million dollar investments in venture capital and banking projects that aim to support such businesses.

This investment incudes $10 million with early-stage VC firm, Harlem Capital and $25 million in Siebert Williams Shank’s Clear Vision Impact Fund.

The latter supports SMBs wth a focus on minority-owned companies particularly in underserved markets; the former aims to support 1,000 companies across the next two decades, supporting these investments with mentorship and educational opportunity.

Community resilience

Apple’s big push also sees the company making a series of contributions to community colleges, nonprofit advocates, and local organizations.

It will make a making a contribution to The King Center, a living memorial to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to share his teachings and inspire new generations to carry forward his unfinished work.

Dr. Bernice A. King, King’s daughter and the CEO of The King Center, will next week call on young people to give back to their communities as part of Apple’s “Challenge for Change” series, which will comprise a set of conversation guides and learning-based challenges on issues related to race and inequality.

Apple has also contributed to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama.

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Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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