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Opportunity Leader Spotlight: Yulkendy Valdez

by Opportunity Nation   •  

This is a new feature that shines a light on the work of Opportunity Leaders. We welcome you to get to know more about Yulkendy Valdez, social entrepreneur, storyteller and global citizen. She is the co-founder of Project 99, which helps leading organizations engage, retain and advance diverse talent through peer-led and experiential workshops and events.

How did you get involved with Opportunity Nation?
I first heard about Opportunity Nation while I was participating in Bank of America’s Student Leaders Program. During our training in Washington, DC, Opportunity Nation presented the Opportunity Index, and I was so fascinated by the local and national data shared in the platform, as it pinpointed clearly the areas of improvements in each region. Ever since, I have been following and admiring the work of Opportunity Nation.

Why do you connect with Opportunity Nation’s mission?
Youth of all backgrounds should have access to a dignified life full of opportunity. We have a higher probability of solving the world’s problems when we leverage the power of diverse talent. The mission of Opportunity Nation is pivotal to the social and economic progress of the United States.

Tell us more about the background of Project 99.
Millennials of color should not just be getting an invitation to a seat at the table, but the opportunity to stay long-term and have a voice. Right now, young professionals of color are leaving their jobs at higher rates than their counterparts despite the potential for high salaries. Many are dropping out of school and their workplace, because they feel they do not belong.

Project99 exists to ensure all kinds of people feel like they belong and have access to leadership in the private and the public sector. It is important, because the country right now is 30 percent Black and Latino, yet only 3 percent in C-suite positions in Corporate America (according to Management Leadership for Tomorrow). For more information on Project 99, please check out their website and follow them on social media by searching Project99inc.

What is something you wish more people knew about your work?
I am in the space of what many call “Diversity and Inclusion.” It is a complicated space, because it is hard to measure progress and oftentimes organizations and individuals are looking for a painkiller, a remedy of sorts that would somehow magically fix the century-old systemic issues that persist in our society today around race. In reality, it is going to take time and a lot of investment. Our work with Project 99 is very long-term, but our theory of change is that if we can get the leading organizations in the world all talking about race and other aspects of our identities, we can create a ripple effect that can create tremendous cultural shifts in the way we do business.

What’s one of the most important things you’ve learned about being a leader?
A leader is often about being willing to have the conversation with folks who you do not agree with, while at the same time standing for everything that you believe in and doing so unapologetically.

What inspires you and/or drives you to continue to do what you do?
People keep me going. The story of my family is not unique and is reflected in the stories of millions of people. I come from a Dominican immigrant family in the search of a better life. My hope is that this country becomes one day the beautiful concoction it can be where anyone can have the opportunity to thrive and succeed however they see fit.

What is your favorite thing about what you do?
My favorite thing about being a social entrepreneur is that on a daily basis I get to meet new people and just listen; listen to their perspectives, their challenges and their vision. It keeps my life positive and feeds my love for humanity.

What do you do when you come across a problem or challenge?
I am a deep thinker and a strategist. To me, every problem or challenge is an opportunity for me to think through creative solutions. Having said that, sometimes it can be tiresome to encounter so many challenges at once, so I am not afraid to be vulnerable and ask for help when need be.

Can you tell a story demonstrating the power of young people?
This year, I was part of the planning committee of the 11th National Dominican Student Conference, an annual event convening 300+ Dominican students and allies to celebrate Dominican culture. Eleven years ago, it was started by a student at Yale University and now it is a 10+ year old movement happening at a different college every year. There is no doubt the power that young people have at their disposal, especially once given a chance.

How do you engage young people in Project 99?
Young people want to talk about their experiences around race, gender and the many societal inequities that exist. Through our work, we create experiential and peer-led workshops that allow people to come together to discuss and develop solutions to foster racial equity in their schools, workplaces and communities.

What is the 30by2030 Summit?
The 30by2030 Summit is the official launch of Project 99, taking place on October 18 in Boston — it’s a first of its kind event convening millennial professionals and students, business and nonprofit leaders, and the community at large to help advance Black and Latino professionals into senior leadership positions in Corporate America. Our objective is to provide underrepresented millennial talent the space to get the visibility and recognition they need to advance their careers.

The 30by2030 Summit aims to be an annual cross-sector event focused on breaking down this leadership gap. If you cannot attend the one in Boston, we are hosting a 30by2030 Summit in New York City in February.

What book would you recommend to others?
Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. It was amazing to read this book my senior year of high school. I often do not get to read books by Dominican authors.

Opportunity Nation Opportunity Nation is a bipartisan, national campaign comprised of more than 350 businesses, educational institutions, nonprofits and civic organizations working together to expand economic mobility and close the opportunity gap in America.

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