Opinion: Learning about state has broad benefits

Since the Georgia Forward Young Gamechangers’ inaugural class in 2012, I have been inspired by the consistency of leadership in action demonstrated by bright and talented professionals from across all sectors of our great state of Georgia.

I count it an honor to now be a part of this legacy as a member of the Fall 2017 Young Gamechangers class, especially as the program embarks upon its five-year anniversary. You see, numerologists believe the number five symbolizes humanity, making positive life decisions and learning lessons through experience.

This symbolism appropriately describes the Young Gamechangers five-year year milestone as my classmates and I discover the benevolent spirit of Milledgeville/Baldwin County, collaborate to develop innovative ideas that lead to community prosperity through positively impacting real challenges, and also leverage the experiences of Milledgeville/Baldwin County’s unique past to help reframe its story and reimagine how to capitalize upon its rich resources.

For six months, my classmates and I will work to generate big ideas and recommendations in response to challenge questions for Milledgeville/Baldwin County relative to education, an aging population, community branding, and economic development.

To truly understand the challenges presented, our class is immersed in a fact-finding expedition that includes a history lesson by a Georgia College and State University professor, bus tours throughout the county narrated by leaders of the Development Authority and other civic organizations. That’s supplemented by community roundtable discussions with local business leaders, the school board superintendent, community advocates and elected officials, to name a few.

In this milestone year for the Young Gamechangers program, my class was also able to glean invaluable insights from esteemed state leaders at the Georgia Forward Forum. For example, the forum’s keynote speaker, Wendy Stewart, Atlanta Market President for Bank of America, gave a thought-provoking presentation exploring “What does prosperity mean for Georgia?”. Her keynote address helped forum participants evaluate why economic mobility is important if prosperity is truly an underlying objective for our state’s future.

Stewart stressed the need for continual investment in innovative leadership from Young Gamechangers, who serve as a critical lever for exposing untapped potential in underrepresented parts of Georgia. She concluded with a charge to all in attendance to engage in deep reflection of the question: What am I going to do to make Georgia more prosperous?

Stewart’s question inspired me to internalize my Milledgeville/Baldwin County experience by reframing my own personal story and reimagining how I could capitalize upon resources unique to Young Gamechangers. First, I committed to making a career change that affords me the opportunity to be an advocate and champion for people at my company and in the communities in which we serve, like Milledgeville/Baldwin County.

As a result, I recently accepted a role to lead diversity and inclusion efforts for Cox Automotive, reporting to Nicole Ashe, senior vice president of talent, diversity and culture. At Cox, we believe diversity is not only the right thing to do, but it is also one of our company’s core values and a strategic business imperative for driving community prosperity.

Additionally, I have collaborated with my Young Gamechanger classmates to dig deeper into the root causes of challenges facing Milledgeville/Baldwin County so we can identify sustainable solutions for its long-term prosperity in collaboration with the community.

Although I’m only halfway through my Young Gamechanger experience, these represent the greatest rewards to date. My classmates and I are optimistic the big ideas we are fine-tuning to present to Milledgeville/Baldwin County in December will set in motion a game-changing community strategic plan, as well as underscore the legacy of leadership in action for Young Gamechangers in years to come.

Kimberly Adams is the leader of diversity and inclusion for Cox Automotive, a unit of Cox Enterprises Inc., which owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She is an alumna of both the University of Georgia and Georgia State University and lives in Atlanta.