Leadership RI Receives Largest Grant in the Organization’s 40-Year History to Support Leaders of Color

Bolstered by a substantial five-year grant from the new Papitto Opportunity Connection, Leadership Rhode Island (LRI) will expand access and opportunities for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) leaders to engage in its nationally-recognized leadership programs and strengths-based development training.

The grant, LRI’s largest ever, provides tuition assistance that will make it possible for more leaders of color to participate in LRI’s 10-month Core Program for emerging and established leaders. It also provides sponsorship support for LRI’s academic year program for college students.

Ting Barnard, who went through the Core Program in 2015, credits LRI for helping her amplify her voice as a Southeast Asian woman and leader. Barnard, who is now on the LRI Board of Directors and an advisor for the Papitto Opportunity Connection, says the foundation’s investment in LRI strengthens the state because it offers a path for communities of color to be represented in more leadership positions.

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In a special partnership with the Papitto Opportunity Connection, LRI will also offer strengths training, free of charge, to grantees and scholarship recipients of the private foundation, a list that includes nonprofit organizations, and BIPOC-owned businesses and individuals. Gallup has called the strengths training offered by LRI’s social enterprise arm “an inspiration for the global strengths movement.”

“At the very core of strengths-based development is building a culture of inclusion, where everyone can put their innate talents into practice every day to reach their highest potential,” says Michelle Carr, LRI Deputy Director and primary author of the POC grant.

Rhode Island’s increasingly diverse workforce is more likely to thrive, Carr says, if employers reimagine their workplaces to enable employees to use their identified strengths. “Ensuring that employers can advance BIPOC employees to senior leadership levels by leveraging their innate talents is a game changer,” Carr says.

Achieving diversity in its Core Program classes has been an LRI goal since its founding in 1981, but the efforts have not been robust enough “to move the needle,” says Mike Ritz, executive director. Two developments in 2014 prompted LRI to double down: the hiring of Carr, a Cuban-American with expertise and experience in diversity, equity and inclusion, and the guidance – and prodding – of LRI alumnus Donald King, who served as Program Co-Chair that year.

“LRI was doing this work when nobody was looking, but in 2014 I witnessed their efforts to re-examine and expand the very meaning of ‘leader’ and ‘leadership’ while also actively engaging broader participation in its programs,’ says Donald King, who, as founder of The Providence Black Repertory Company, graduated from the Core Program in 2002.

The Papitto Opportunity Connection is a private foundation dedicated “to having a tremendous, positive and measurable impact on the lives” of the state’s BIPOC population.


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