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In a passionate discussion at the Aspen Ideas Festival, success stories shine light on the importance of Prudential’s work to support opportunity youth. 

By Ron Varrial

June 27, 2019

It started with a rap and crescendoed with a Golden Gloves boxing champion delivering lumps …  to throats in the crowd.

“I started to feel my life changing,” Anthony Pegues said, his voice cracking, a bit staggered.

The champ gathered himself, like he’d shaken off a big right hook.

“I thought … I thought I’m really changing my life.”

Pegues had just taken the Aspen Ideas Festival crowd at “The Future of Work—Opportunity Youth at the Center” panel through his winding history: From a broken home ravaged by domestic violence and drug abuse to his decision to drop out of community college and try to make a go of it working in construction, fast food and then as a janitor.

“I asked, why am I limiting myself to this? I’m bigger than this,” he said with conviction. “I’m better than this.”

He devoted himself to boxing and excelled, winning two amateur titles at Madison Square Garden. But that didn’t allow him to hang up his mop.

Pegues set out to teach himself computer programming. That path led him to the IT training program Per Scholas and eventually to graduate valedictorian of his class at the technology focused General Assembly. Those are two of the programs Prudential is working with as part of its $180 million investment in opportunity youth—the 350 million young people around the world who lack access to school, training or regular jobs. Pegues is now working for a digital women’s apparel company.

Don’t leave talent on the sidelines

He was one of three Aspen Scholars—a diverse group of leaders invited to the festival based on their work, accomplishments and ability to transform ideas into action—to tell their stories during the panel discussion that included Lata Reddy, Prudential’s senior vice president of Diversity, Inclusion and Impact, and Melody Barnes, domestic policy advisor in the Obama Administration.

“Talent is everywhere, but opportunities are afforded to certain ZIP codes,” said Barnes. “Instead of viewing opportunity youth as lacking something, think of what they’re bringing: intelligence, savvy, work ethic, grit.”

Reddy agreed.

“We’ve left so much talent on the sidelines,” she said. “Without question, there’s a business need to tap that talent as we build the workforce of the future.”

Leveling the playing field

“Every time we experience an industrial revolution—and we’re seeing one now with the rise of data and artificial intelligence—there’s an opportunity for newcomers. That’s because there’s no legacy, there’s no institutional knowledge, it’s new for everyone,” said Prudential Vice Chairman Rob Falzon while attending the festival. “That is a very good situation for companies, including Prudential, on the inclusion and diversity front.”

Falzon pointed to a recent collaboration between Rutgers University, Prudential and Braven, an accelerator that offers a career readiness course for first generation college students. It’s an example of stackable institutions, or partnerships among corporations, non-profits, government entities and academic institutions.

In this case, Rutgers developed an honors collegiate program in Newark, New Jersey, for students focused on math. Prudential provided $10 million to fund full-ride scholarships for Newark residents, while Braven will offer mentoring and job placement.

To speak to Rob about the future of work and how companies like Prudential can address the skills gap, contact Laura Burke. To speak to Lata about investing in opportunity youth, contact Discretion Winter.