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Boosting black MBAs

New local chapter president seeks membership increase

Boosting black MBAs
Darla Pires DeGrace became president of the Boston chapter of the National Black MBA Association in January. (Photo: Photo: Courtesy of Darla Pires DeGrace)

Like any new leader, Darla Pires DeGrace, president and CEO of the Boston chapter of the National Black MBA Association, is using her early time on the job to assess her organization and figure out how to best serve her constituents — in this case the group’s several hundred members.

“As the premier organization for black professionals in Boston, it is our responsibility to ensure members are getting what they pay dues for and more,” said DeGrace.

Another main focus is helping the association’s corporate and education partners diversify their talent pool, as well as making a concerted effort to build stronger connections to the local community.

In an organization that has been around for over four decades, there is strong value in new leadership taking a fresh look at how things are done, as embodied by DeGrace’s efforts since taking over in January.

The Boston chapter is one of 46 chapters of the National Black MBA Association, which was started in 1970 as a nonprofit organization of minority MBA graduates and students, business professionals, entrepreneurs and community leaders.

The national association has more than 9,000 members across its chapters and works with 300 corporate partners. It has also dished out $5 million in scholarships to youth and minority students in an effort to increase access to graduate and business education.

By the numbers

9,000 The number of members across chapters of the National Black MBA Association.

300 The number of corporate partners working with the National Black MBA Association.

$5 million: The amount of scholarship money dispersed to youth and minority students.

8,000 The National Black MBA Association’s Leaders of Tomorrow program has served 8,000 students since 1991.

95 percent: The amount of LOT participants that go on to college.

$3.5 million: The amount of money in scholarships handed out by the LOT program.

25 percent: DeGrace will work to support the Boston chapter’s commitment to grow membership by a minimum of 25 percent in 2016.

18 percent: The leadership team is on track to surpass the 25 percent goal in the first quarter of the year, achieving 18 percent growth more this year than during the same time period last year.

Growth targets

DeGrace will work to support the Boston chapter’s commitment to grow membership by a minimum of 25 percent in 2016 while retaining existing members. The leadership team is already on track to surpass that goal in the first quarter of the year, achieving 18 percent growth more this year than during the same time period last year.

With nearly 200 paid members and thousands of prospective members on its mailing list, the association is not only converting new members but also seeing a bump in retention which speaks directly to the perceived value of membership, according to DeGrace.

She is eager to survey members, corporate and community partners to ensure the chapter is meeting expectation.

“We have to continue raising the bar of what we offer not only for our members but for our partners as well,” she said.

The Boston chapter hosts a series of professional development, leadership and networking programming meetings throughout the year. Members are served through six channels of engagement: career, community, education, entrepreneurship, leadership and lifestyle. They also have access to a national network of diverse businessmen and businesswomen across the country.

It all sounds good on paper, but DeGrace said members and potential members have to feel it is worth the $150 price tag for professional members and $75 for student members.

DeGrace would love to be able to expand the reach of her organization, not just for growing members but also engaging more young students and young professionals.

Leaders program

The national association does have a stalwart offering in this regard in its Leaders of Tomorrow program. The Boston chapter is one of 30 chapters that run a LOT program, which provides academic enrichment, leadership development and scholarships to high school students. All told, the LOT program has served 8,000 students since 1991, with 95 percent of its participants going on to college and $3.5 million in scholarships handed out.

In honor of the 25th anniversary of LOT, the Boston chapter has launched a $25,000 fund-raising campaign to generate scholarship money for program alumni in Massachusetts. The aim is to reach the target by the end of this year.

“The goal is to give out more than we have given out in the past,” DeGrace said. Typically, LOT scholarships have been in the $500 to $1,500 range, which she believes can be increased by the fund raising.

And while $25K for the 25th anniversary of the program has nice symmetry for this year, DeGrace said the association does not want to stop there. “We want to keep raising more money year after year and set aside scholarship funds for our future MBAs,” she added.

The LOT program can also serve as the future lifeblood of the association as the students involved can go on to college and be student members and then be supported on through to MBAs.

The Boston chapter has a great success story in this regard. The president before DeGrace, Gary Morton, was the first LOT program graduate to head up the chapter.

Like Morton, DeGrace also has a history with the National Black MBA Association, having served on the advisory board, as director of university relations and most recently as vice president of administration before earning the presidency.

Committed to diversity

DeGrace juggles her volunteer work on the Boston chapter board with her full-time role at City Year as director of national diversity recruitment and strategic partnerships. She spent the majority of her 16-year career in the higher education sector, helping schools to diversify their student bodies. In addition, she is a licensed esthetician and entrepreneur who successfully launched the Brow and Lash Boutique on Newbury Street in Boston.

A native of Cambridge, she has business administration and management degrees from Emmanuel College and Simmons College.

DeGrace has seen the value of being part of the National Black MBA Association — she credits her involvement with helping her get her current job at City Year — and ultimately her goal as president is to make sure many more see the value as well.

“The networking and what people do for you and how they vouch for you and help you grow and learn is so valuable,” she said.