Skot Welch is a firm believer that inclusion is a business discipline that leads to stronger organizations and more powerful economies.
Welch seizes every opportunity he is given to create sustainable change underpinned by that belief — as president and founder of Grand Rapids-based Global Bridgebuilders, founder of the Mosaic Film Experience, managing partner of the New Community Transformation Fund, and an inclusion consultant on downtown Grand Rapids’ riverfront development project, to name a few of the many hats he wears.
Founded in 2006, Global Bridgebuilders is a management consulting firm with clients in the U.S. and seven other countries. The firm’s motto is “innovation through inclusion,” and it focuses on designing and building profitable workplace communities through organizational development, cultural transformation and inclusion.
The firm uses a five-phase process: quantitative organizational, which applies a proprietary, metric-based tool to assess an organization’s culture and diversity and inclusion framework; qualitative individual, which leverages dialogue circles to determine how people are feeling within the organization; professional workshops; creating action councils that will work through the metrics of the assessment; and then finally reevaluating the organization within 18 to 24 months to gauge its progress.
“The power of it is that it’s grounded in metrics, it holds organizations accountable, and it empowers their employees to get the work done,” Welch said. “It engages the entire organization, not just one diversity champion.”
Locally, Welch said clients have included Founders Brewing Co. and the law firm Warner Norcross + Judd. He said Founders — which faced a reckoning after being sued by an employee for racial discrimination in 2018 and settling the suit in 2019 — has embraced the work resolutely.
“They’re doing an amazing job and really dialing in our processes into their business, and they’re not just barely doing it. They are doing it wholeheartedly. So, I think they’re a wonderful example,” Welch said.
Warner Norcross, Welch said, has been building on DEI work it has been doing for years by adding the metric-based framework and focusing subcommittees around certain competency areas that were needed to move forward.
Welch said the ideal end result of the five-phase process is that the clients improve — creating better talent attraction and retention strategies, a more diverse employee and leadership team, and incorporating DEI into the supply chain, purchasing habits and decision-making — but also that the client becomes a teacher and an example to other organizations.
“We don’t need another diversity program,” Welch said. “We need diversity, equity and inclusion processes that are sustainable and that are long-term.”
While Global Bridgebuilders focuses mainly on organizational development consulting, Welch’s other projects extend those principles out into the community to build a more inclusive economic ecosystem.
Mosaic Film Experience
Ten years ago, Welch heard about the need for talent pipeline development among young people, so he founded the Mosaic Film Experience, a film and interactive media experience for high school- and college-age youths focusing on the four C’s: creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and career preparedness, using the platform of mobile filmmaking.
Mosaic has engaged over 3,000 young people in West Michigan since its inception, and because everything went virtual in 2020, it was able to expand to five other states, as well.
“Our young people, we believe that they are excellent, that they have way more capacity than we give them credit for, and we believe in investing in them,” Welch said.
He started the program not just to offer specific skills for a career in media and film, but to equip them with innovative, creative thinking and leadership abilities, and to do it in a diverse setting where kids can see others who look like them succeeding.
“We have some folks who have gone on to get full-ride scholarships to Columbia Film School … but my interest is really in helping give them the problem-solving abilities that they need to be successful in whatever area they end up in,” he said. “That’s tied to the Global Bridgebuilders work because our motto is innovation through inclusion.”
New Community Transformation Fund
Welch said while Global Bridgebuilders connects companies to their employees and to the community, and Mosaic Film Experience connects kids to creativity and the marketplace, another project he is working on will create upward mobility for entrepreneurs who have not previously been given a chance.
As the Business Journal has previously reported, Welch and the former president and CEO of The Right Place, Birgit Klohs, in 2018 together came up with the idea for a fund that would connect business founders and entrepreneurs of color to capital in order to create a more diverse economy and build wealth. They sought out and secured seed funding and leadership support from Bank of America and Consumers Energy, and in January 2020, the New Community Transformation Fund was born.
Further investment commitments have been secured from notable local businesses, and the fund is well on its way to hitting its $10 million goal, after which point it can begin making investments — hopefully by this spring or summer.
Grand Action 2.0 riverfront project
The business-based, private economic development nonprofit Grand Action 2.0 commissioned a Venue & Attraction study by Convention, Sports and Leisure (CSL) International to explore possible riverfront developments that will make Grand Rapids a destination for more events, tourism and a higher quality of life for its residents.
As part of the process, the international urban design and planning firm Populous, based in Kansas City, Missouri, was hired to create a conceptual plan for development of the 201 Market Ave. SW property along the Grand River south of Fulton Street, in partnership with Grand Rapids-based architectural firm Progressive AE.
The process was led and funded by Grand Action 2.0 working together with the city of Grand Rapids. It began in October 2020 with a public engagement period that included 26 one-on-one interviews with community groups, foundations, elected officials and a variety of other downtown stakeholders.
The group also partnered with Global Bridgebuilders to conduct four, community-only virtual focus groups, each engaging 15 to 20 participants from diverse backgrounds.
Welch said being hired to conduct these sessions gave him the opportunity not only to help shape the thinking of what should go on the riverfront, as far as venues and attractions, but who should benefit from a business standpoint.
“In order for it to be successful, we’re going to have to allow communities of color to participate in the business that is generated as a result of putting something on the river,” he said. “Our job was to engage those various constituents and get their voices heard, because we want to make sure they feel included, and they stay included. That’s where the whole idea of welcoming versus belonging is a big deal. I tell people that welcoming can happen through a sign but belonging can only happen through human beings. The goal of these conversations is to help communities of color feel like they belong and can participate, not just socially, but financially.”
Welch said all of the endeavors he is working on — the organizational consulting, the film and media experience, the New Community Transformation Fund and the riverfront development project — are rooms he wants to walk into and find them ethnically diverse.
“This is about creating an ecosystem in West Michigan where everybody can see themselves doing well and generating wealth for their families and for their legacy,” Welch said. “That’s the focus.”
More information about Skot Welch and Global Bridgebuilders is at globalbridgebuilders.com.