The world is always changing, but it seems to have changed a bit faster than usual over the past couple of years. Social issues have been exposed like never before, while others have come to life for the first time due to surrounding changes. Some issues can be fixed with a few quick adjustments, while others take much more time and investment.

The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Alliance of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia (we’ll call them the DEI Alliance for short) came to United Way of East TN Highlands looking for a $10,000 Social Innovation Grant to keep their efforts alive. What is their goal? Make our region a magnet for people who will make our communities thrive and prosper. Probably not exactly what you may have thought the goal here would be…but let me explain further.

With a mission do advocate within the regional community for the principles and the practice of diversity, equity and inclusion, the DEI Alliance believes that the regional community can improve its trajectory by becoming a region where diversity, equity and inclusion are better understood, accepted and practiced. As a result, we hope to see an increase in attracting and retaining younger, more diverse, and entrepreneurial-minded individuals living and working within our regional communities.

Multiple studies show that diversity spurs economic development, while homogeneity (the opposite of diversity), slows economic progress and growth. Many of our neighboring regions in the southeast with greater economic growth also have significantly greater diversity. Asheville, North Carolina has a minority population of 22.3% and Greenville, South Carolina has a minority population of 38.4%, while Johnson City carries a minority population of 15.8%. This is linked so strongly to economic development that the DEI Alliance has been operating under the existing 501(c)3 status of the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership (also known as NeTREP), the regional organization that works to ensure business retention and expansion, attraction of new business, workforce development

In 2021, the DEI Alliance was a winner of that $10,000 grant, and today they’re working on their goals of making our region a more prosperous place for us all (and all of those who join us here), they’ve applied for their official 501(c)3 status with the state and remain optimistic of a positive response, their new website is nearly finished, and they have plans to continue their targeted marketing and communication efforts to company leaders, HR departments, elected officials, private and public school leaders and nonprofit leaders throughout the area.

Strengthening our regional economy takes time and investment, but it also has the ability to produce more financially stable homes.


About United Way of East TN Highlands
Serving Washington, Carter, Johnson and Southern Sullivan Counties, our goal is to break the cycle of poverty by uniting people and resources to strengthen the health, education and financial stability of every person in our community. Our vision is to be a community united to empower every person and organization to reach their full potential and achieve more.


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