About
Rich Lesser

Global Chair, Boston Consulting Group (BCG)

Rich Lesser in a black suit jacket, white collared shirt and maroon patterned tie wearing glasses and smiling.

Rich Lesser is the Global Chair of Boston Consulting Group (BCG). He previously served as CEO from 2013-2021, a period of exceptional growth for the firm across all regions and practice areas, fueled by investments in new offices, digital and analytics and capabilities to drive innovation, transformation and impact. As CEO, he initiated BCG’s pledge to reach net zero climate impact by 2030.

Rich currently serves as Chief Advisor to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, as co-chair of the Council for Inclusive Capitalism, on the board of directors for the Centre for Public Impact and as a member of other leading organizations, including Southern Communities Initiative and the EDISON Alliance. He previously led the CEO COVID-19 Task Force and served on the Board of Directors for the Business Roundtable. He accelerated BCG’s strong investments in social impact through its partnerships, including the World Food Programme, the World Wildlife Fund and Save the Children, along with many other global health and environment initiatives.

Join Us and Get Involved!

If you’re interested in becoming a partner with Southern Communities Initiative or want to get involved with volunteering, we invite you to explore the different ways you can engage. 

Charlotte, North Carolina

Racial Equity Priorities

Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) Entrepreneurship and Supplier Diversity

Creating and Scaling Black-owned Businesses

Southern Communities Initiative focuses on increasing the number and value of MBEs in the region. Southern Communities Initiative specifically aims at raising the economic weight of Black-owned businesses from 2% to 6% of the aggregated value of all businesses in the region.  

Additionally, small businesses in primarily Black communities tend to have lower profit margins and concentrate in industries with less potential for growth.

Black entrepreneurs often face many barriers, including a lack of access to capital, technical assistance, procurement opportunities and more.

Creating and scaling a greater number of Black-owned businesses is crucial to generating employment opportunities for people of color and increasing wealth in the community and economy.

A Black barber adjusts a smock on a young Black boy sitting in a barber chair.

OUR AMBITION

Offer In-Kind FTEs for Supplier Diversity:

Offer 2-5 FTEs to Charlotte Regional Business Alliance (CRBA) over 5 years to convene corporate partners, assess their MBE spend, develop pipeline to increase MBE spend to 5-10%+.

Offer Technical Assistance Expertise:

Partner with CRBA to advise/mentor ~200 MBEs on capital/loan access to help them scale from <$10M to $50M+.

Commit to Supplier Diversity:

Increase MBE spend to 5-10%+.

Estimated Impact (Of All Initiatives): 3X Increase in MBE Value and ~13K New Jobs, Boosting Black Community’s Net Worth by ~$2B+.

Charlotte, North Carolina

Racial Equity Priorities

Digital Access

Increasing Access, Affordability and Adoption to Broadband

Digital access is vital for any community to thrive in today’s world. Southern Communities Initiative’s ambition is to increase access to high-speed internet and its affordability for underserved communities. Currently 10% of households in the Charlotte area are without Internet access.

An African American man sits beside a young Black boy while sitting at a table and doing schoolwork.

OUR AMBITION

Support Center for Digital Equity – $25M:

Secure $25M over 4 years for Center for Digital Equity’s longitudinal project on digital access to enhance health efficacy and agency in the health experience lifecycle.

Raise Community Awareness and Adoption of Emergency Broadband Benefit:

Increase door-to-door and community outreach in low-income neighborhoods to get households onto EBB to help connect ~35K unconnected households.

Drive Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) Adoption:

Secure $1-3M (donations or in kind) to drive door to door and community outreach in low income focus zip codes to get ~12K households onto Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) subsidies in Charlotte.

Provide Digital Access and Technical Assistance for Charlotte Households:

Provide 20K laptops, internet subs and broadband for ~35K households + grant writing support and internet adoption centers.

Support Efforts to Increase Digital Access:

Secure $2.2M for ~4K routers, switches and internet backhaul connections for ~80 bldgs.

Estimated Impact (Of All Initiatives): ~35K Households Get Connected to High-Speed Internet to Unlock ~$700M in Economic Potential for Charlotte.

Charlotte, North Carolina

Racial Equity Priorities

HBCU and Workforce Development

Increasing Bachelors Degrees and Reducing Student Debt

Increasing education quality and minority representation in top job positions can have a positive effect on communities. Southern Communities Initiative aims at increasing Black empowerment and representation in the workforce. In Charlotte, Southern Communities Initiative supports the Mayor’s plan to make of JCSU a top 10 university in the US. Southern Communities Initiative is also planning to help increase the percentage of Black Charlotteans owning college degrees to 59%, and improve the representation of Black/Brown in executive positions to 30%.

Many of those who do graduate from HBCUs, where students are 1.4 times more likely than non-HBCU students to take out student loans and borrow 20% more on average.

Studies have found that taking on student debt can negatively affect academic performance, graduation rates and long-term wealth accumulation.

That is why it is critical to address issues in both enrollment and student loan debt, thus allowing students and graduates to access high-paying job opportunities and build their wealth.

A young African American man smiles while wearing a black graduation cap and gown.

OUR AMBITION

Fund Student Freedom Initiative Program:

$10M to HELPS program and support ~1.5K+ students per year at 3 HBCUs with emergency expenses – e.g., health.

Provide In-Kind Staff:

Offer 2-5 FTEs to Charlotte Regional Business Alliance over 5 years to track and help increase Black-/Brown-exec representation from 10% to 30%+.

Estimated Impact (Of All Initiatives): 2.5K+ Additional College Graduates and 2.5K Workers With High-Paying Wages to Drive ~$0.2B in Economic Growth.

Charlotte, North Carolina

Racial Equity Priorities

Access to Capital (CDFIs/MDI)

Modernizing and Building Capacity for Local CDFIs & MDIs

In Charlotte, 40 percent of Black households are unbanked or underbanked.

Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) and Minority Depository Institutions (MDI) are often viewed as the backbone of community lending and offer favorable terms for low-to-moderate income communities.

However, in order to scale their operations and economic impact, corporations and foundations have a key role in addressing common challenges for CDFIs and MDIs:

  • Outdated systems and technology infrastructure 
  • A lack of talent and workforce development tools
  • Other barriers to enhancing their capacity


Ensuring access to capital for individuals and businesses can spur economic growth and set a strong foundation for wealth accumulation.

An African American woman puts a check into an envelope.

OUR AMBITION

Fund Modernization and Capacity-Building and Provide In-Kind Subject Matter Experts:

$30M to help 4-5 CDFIs over 5 years modernize core systems, hire and train staff, expand marketing and leverage SWAT teams to conduct needs diagnostic, implement tech solution and give technical assistance, enabling an add’l $330M/yr in capital deployed to ~30K MBEs.

* CDFIs/MDIs being considered (examples and not exhaustive): Security Federal Bank, Institute / North Carolina Community Development Initiative, Sequoyah Fund Inc, Self-Help Credit Union, BEFCOR, Aspire Community Capital, etc.

  • Systems and technology modernization – $10M-15M: Add/upgrade core banking systems, hardware and productivity tools, train frontline workforce on new systems and technology and hire engineering specialists to support customization and news systems rollout – over 5 years
  • Talent and workforce – $10M: hire and train additional frontline lending staff and invest in recruiting, training, compensation and benefits and retention to increase in-house expertise and loan capacity – over 5 years
  • Other capacity-building and outreach – $8M: hire additional staff to increase custom borrower and technical assistance (e.g., credit building, MBE financing options, etc.) and increase community outreach to drive regional awareness and new pipeline projects – over 5 years
    • * In partnership with National Bankers Association and Appalachian Community Capital; CDFIs/MDIs being considered include: Security Federal Bank, Institute / North Carolina Community Development Initiative, Sequoyah Fund Inc, etc.

Estimated Impact (Of All Initiatives): ~$330M in Additional Loans per Year to Support ~30K MBEs.

Houston, Texas

Racial Equity Priorities

Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) Entrepreneurship and Supplier Diversity

Creating and Scaling Black-owned Businesses

Black people make up 17% of the population but Black businesses only represent approximately 4% of businesses and approximately 2% of revenues.

Additionally, small businesses in primarily Black communities tend to have lower profit margins and concentrate in industries with less potential for growth.

Black entrepreneurs often face many barriers, including a lack of access to capital, technical assistance, procurement opportunities and more.

Creating and scaling a greater number of Black-owned businesses is crucial to generating employment opportunities for people of color and increasing wealth in the community and economy.

A Black barber adjusts a smock on a young Black boy sitting in a barber chair.

OUR AMBITION

Scale Supplier Diversity Team:

$3M to hire 3-4 FTEs over 5 years for One Houston Partnership to help companies increase MBE spend from ~2% to 5-10%+ as well as advance BIPOC talent and representation.

Increase MBE Certification and Scale Technical Assistance – ~$2M:

Partner with One Houston Together and the Houston Minority Supplier Development Council (HSMDC) to certify additional MBEs, develop Minority Business Finder database tool and provide resources and services to help local MBEs scale and participate in Pathways to Excellence program.

Commit to Increase Racial Diversity in Supply Chain and Procurement:

Increase MBE spend in Greater Houston region to 5-10%+

Estimated Impact (Of All Initiatives): 2.5X Increase in MBE Value and ~55K New Jobs, Boosting Black Community’s Net Worth by ~$12B.

Houston, Texas

Racial Equity Priorities

Digital Access

Increasing Access, Affordability and Adoption to Broadband

About 10% of all Houston area households are without internet access. Ensuring access to high-speed internet is critical to accessing telehealth, remote work and education opportunities.

An African American man sits beside a young Black boy while sitting at a table and doing schoolwork.

OUR AMBITION

Accelerate Southern Communities Initiative’s Digital Access Initiatives – Up to $80M in Donations or In-Kind:

Invest in setting up internet connections/hotspots, offer laptops/Chromebooks and support adoption (through government subsidy technical assistance and digital literacy) to connect ~145K homes to high-speed internet in the Houston region.

Raise Community Awareness and Adoption of Emergency Broadband Benefit:

Increase door-to-door and community outreach in low-income neighborhoods to get households onto EBB to help connect ~145K unconnected households.

Establish Center for Digital Equity:

Help establish Center for Digital Equity (5-10 FTEs over 5 years) to work with ISP partners, school districts and community organizations to exchange data, map household connectivity, help connect households.

Support Efforts to Increase Digital Access:

Install broadband backhaul at ~30 buildings with ~1.5K routers, switches and internet backhaul connections.

Fund the City of Houston’s Digital Equity Services Project:

Support City of Houston’s Digital Equity Services Project to implement self-sustaining telecommunication infrastructure to provide affordable broadband and digital connectivity in Complete Communities.

Support Collaborative for Children’s Efforts in Houston:

Provide broadband access (hotspots for teachers and parents) to support the Collaborative for Children’s efforts to bring quality early childhood education to the Greater Houston area;  Contribute learning manipulatives to improve school readiness and 21st Century STEM skills through Collaborative for Children.

Drive Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) Design and Adoption:

Support the design of an Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) in areas of the city with residents that qualify for the program.

Establish Digital Equity Fund:

Support the creation of a digital equity fund to provide funding for digital inclusion initiatives.

Estimated Impact (Of All Initiatives): ~145K Households Connected to High-Speed Internet to Unlock ~$3B in Economic Potential.

Houston, Texas

Racial Equity Priorities

HBCU and Workforce Development

Increasing Bachelors Degrees and Reducing Student Debt

Black people are about 1.5 times less likely as white people to hold a college degree and Black households earn approximately 57% of what white households earn. 

Many of those who do graduate from HBCUs are 1.4 times more likely than non-HBCU students to take out student loans and borrow 20% more on average.

Studies have found that taking on student debt can negatively affect academic performance, graduation rates and long-term wealth accumulation.

That is why it is critical to address issues in both enrollment and student loan debt, thus allowing students and graduates to access high-paying job opportunities and build their wealth.

A young African American man smiles while wearing a black graduation cap and gown.

OUR AMBITION

Fund Student Freedom Initiative Program:

~$120M : fund the Income Contingent Alternative to Parent Plus to support ~1.2K Black STEM students per year forever at 7 HBCUs.

  • ** Minority Serving Institutions / HBCUs with STEM programs being considered: Texas Southern University, University of Houston, Prairie View A&M University, Houston Baptist University, University of Houston-Clear Lake, University of Houston-Downtown, University of St Thomas.  

Estimated Impact (Of All Initiatives): 5K+ Additional College Grads and ~600 Workers With Senior Exec Positions / High-Paying Wages to Drive ~$0.2B in Economic Growth.

Houston, Texas

Racial Equity Priorities

Access to Capital (CDFIs/MDI)

Modernizing and Building Capacity for Local CDFIs and MDIs

In Houston, 41% of Black households are unbanked or underbanked.

Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) and Minority Depository Institutions (MDI) are often viewed as the backbone of community lending and offer favorable terms for low-to-moderate income communities.

However, in order to scale their operations and economic impact, corporations and foundations have a key role in addressing common challenges for CDFIs and MDIs:

  • Outdated systems and technology infrastructure 
  • A lack of talent and workforce development tools
  • Other barriers to enhancing their capacity


Ensuring access to capital for individuals and businesses can spur economic growth and set a strong foundation for wealth accumulation.

An African American woman puts a check into an envelope.

OUR AMBITION

Fund Modernization and Capacity-Building and Provide In-Kind Subject Matter Experts¹:

$30M to help 4-5 CDFIs over 5 years modernize core systems, hire and train staff, expand marketing and leverage SWAT teams to conduct needs diagnostic, implement tech solution and give technical assistance, enabling an add’l $330M/yr in capital deployed to ~30K MBEs.

  • Systems and technology modernization – $10M-15M: Add/upgrade core banking systems, hardware and productivity tools, train frontline workforce on new systems and technology and hire engineering specialists to support customization and news systems rollout – over 5 years
  • Talent and workforce – $10M: Hire and train additional frontline lending staff and invest in recruiting, training, compensation and benefits and retention to increase in-house expertise and loan capacity – over five years
  • Other capacity-building and outreach – $8M: Hire additional staff to increase custom borrower and technical assistance (e.g., credit building, MBE financing options, etc.) and increase community outreach to drive regional awareness and new pipeline projects – over five years

* In partnership with National Bankers Association and Appalachian Community Capital; CDFIs/MDIs being considered include: Unity National Bank, Texas National Bank, Unity Bank of Texas, LiftFund, PeopleFund, First Light Federal Credit Union, etc.

Estimated Impact (Of All Initiatives): ~$330M in Additional Loans per Year to Support ~30K MBEs.

Memphis, Tennessee

Racial Equity Priorities

Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) Entrepreneurship and Supplier Diversity

Creating and Scaling Black-owned Businesses

Black businesses only represent approximately 7% of businesses and approximately 2% of revenues.

Additionally, small businesses in primarily Black communities tend to have lower profit margins and concentrate in industries with less potential for growth.

Black entrepreneurs often face many barriers, including a lack of access to capital, technical assistance, procurement opportunities and more.

Creating and scaling a greater number of Black-owned businesses is crucial to generating employment opportunities for people of color and increasing wealth in the community and economy.

A Black barber adjusts a smock on a young Black boy sitting in a barber chair.

OUR AMBITION

Scale Technical Assistance – $15M:

Fund to expand technical assistance through business coaches and wrap-around services for 500+ MBEs over 5 years to help them scale from <$1M to $5M+ in annual revenue.

Standup MBE Fund – $15M:

Standup/scale MBE fund* to offer more flexible access to capital arrangements 400-500 MBEs over 5 years.

* Lead organization: The Collective Blueprint; Contributing local organizations for community strategy include (but not limited to): Community Unlimited, Women’s Business Center South, Epicenter and others.

Estimated Impact (Of All Initiatives): 2.3X Increase in MBE Value and 20K+ New Jobs, Boosting Black Community’s Net Worth by ~$3B+.

Memphis, Tennessee

Racial Equity Priorities

Digital Access

Increasing Access, Affordability and Adoption to Broadband

17% of Black households in Memphis are without Internet access. Ensuring access to high-speed internet is critical to accessing telehealth, remote work and education opportunities.

An African American man sits beside a young Black boy while sitting at a table and doing schoolwork.

OUR AMBITION

Accelerate Digital Access Initiatives – $75M:

Partner with local organizations* to invest in setting up internet connections/installing hotspots, offering laptops and supporting adoption (through government subsidy technical assistance and digital literacy) to connect ~135K homes to high-speed internet in the Memphis region.

Raise Community Awareness and Adoption of Emergency Broadband Benefit:

Increase door-to-door and community outreach in low-income neighborhoods to get households onto EBB to help connect ~135K unconnected households.

Support CodeCrew’s Digital Equity Initiatives:

Scale team of 5-10 FTEs at CodeCrew over 5 years to work with local ISP partners, school districts and community orgs to exchange data and map connectivity by household.

Support Efforts to Increase Digital Access:

Install broadband backhaul at ~25 buildings with ~1.2K routers, switches and internet backhaul connections.

Build Education-To-Career Pathways:

Commit to building 500 internal education-to-career pathways (including but not limited to STEM) for young adults ages 18-30 and/or apprenticeships, incorporating digital training programs where possible.

Drive Affordable Connectivity Program (Acp) Adoption:

Stand up call centers to provide technical assistance and support to ~135K households with Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) subsidy application.

Increase Digital Awareness and Enrollment Support:

Develop internet adoption support programming including digital literacy and digital skills training for ~27K with digital literacy training (assumes ~20-25% of households will require training).

* Lead organization: The Collective Blueprint; Contributing local organizations for community strategy include (but not limited to): CodeCrew

Estimated Impact (Of All Initiatives): ~135K Households Connected to High-Speed Internet to Unlock ~$2B+ in Economic Potential.

Memphis, Tennessee

Racial Equity Priorities

HBCU and Workforce Development

Increasing Bachelors Degrees and Reducing Student Debt

In Memphis, Black people are about 2.6 times less likely as white people to be unemployed and half as likely to hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Many of those who do graduate from HBCUs, where students are 1.4 times more likely than non-HBCU students to take out student loans and borrow 20% more on average.

Studies have found that taking on student debt can negatively affect academic performance, graduation rates and long-term wealth accumulation.

That is why it is critical to address issues in both enrollment and student loan debt, thus allowing students and graduates to access high-paying job opportunities and build their wealth.

A young African American man smiles while wearing a black graduation cap and gown.

OUR AMBITION

Standup Training Hub – $30M:

Fund* the establishment a world-class training hub that offers certificate-granting STEM and innovation programs in advanced manufacturing, health care, etc. to 10K+ youths.

Fund Student Freedom Initiative Program – $7M:

Fund the Student Freedom Initiative’s Income Contingent Alternative to Parent Plus to support ~15 Black STEM students per year forever at 4 HBCUs.**

* Lead organization: The Collective Blueprint; Contributing local organizations for community strategy include (but not limited to): Greater Memphis Chamber and Workforce Midsouth

** Minority Serving Institutions / HBCUs with STEM programs being considered: Le Moyne-Owen, Baptist Memorial, University of Memphis, Rust College

Estimated Impact (Of All Initiatives): 8K+ Additional College Graduates and 10K Workers With High-Paying Wages to Drive ~$1B+ in Economic Growth.

Memphis, Tennessee

Racial Equity Priorities

Access to Capital (CDFIs/MDI)

Modernizing and Building Capacity for Local CDFIs and MDIs

In Memphis, 43% of Black households are unbanked or underbanked. 

Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) and Minority Depository Institutions (MDI) are often viewed as the backbone of community lending and offer favorable terms for low-to-moderate income communities.

However, in order to scale their operations and economic impact, corporations and foundations have a key role in addressing common challenges for CDFIs and MDIs:

  • Outdated systems and technology infrastructure 
  • A lack of talent and workforce development tools
  • Other barriers to enhancing their capacity


Ensuring access to capital for individuals and businesses can spur economic growth and set a strong foundation for wealth accumulation.

An African American woman puts a check into an envelope.

OUR AMBITION

To start or scale businesses, Black entrepreneurs often cite access to capital as one of their greatest challenges.

Provide Loan Guarantees – $15M:

Create a fund* to provide 80% loan guarantees over 5 years to encourage lender participation and inject more capital into the community.

Conduct Advocacy:

Ask US Treasury and Tennessee State to allow Tennessee CDFIs/MDIs to retain SSBCI capital and offer loan guarantees to boost loan issuance.

Fund Modernization and Capacity-Building and Provide In-Kind Subject Matter Experts:

$30M to help 4-5 CDFIs over 5 years modernize core systems, hire and train staff, expand marketing and leverage SWAT teams to conduct needs diagnostic, implement tech solution and give technical assistance, enabling an additional $330M/yr in capital deployed to ~30K MBEs.

  • Systems and technology modernization – $10M-15M: Add/upgrade core banking systems, hardware and productivity tools, train frontline workforce on new systems and technology and hire engineering specialists to support customization and news systems rollout – over 5 years
  • Talent and workforce – $10M: hire and train additional frontline lending staff and invest in recruiting, training, compensation and benefits and retention to increase in-house expertise and loan capacity – over 5 years
  • Other capacity-building and outreach – $8M: hire additional staff to increase custom borrower and technical assistance (e.g., credit building, MBE financing options, etc.) and increase community outreach to drive regional awareness and new pipeline projects – over 5 years

* Leading organizations for community strategy include (but not limited to): Community LIFT, Memphis CDFI Network, etc.

* In partnership with National Bankers Association and Appalachian Community Capital; CDFIs/MDIs being considered include: HOPE Credit Union, River City Capital, Park Community Credit Union, Liberty Bank, M&F Bank, etc.

Estimated Impact (Of All Initiatives): ~$330M in Additional Loans per Year to Support ~30K MBEs.

Birmingham, Alabama

Racial Equity Priorities

Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) Entrepreneurship and Supplier Diversity

Creating and Scaling Black-owned Businesses

Black people make up 30% of the population but Black businesses only represent approximately 4% of businesses and approximately 2% of revenues.

Additionally, small businesses in primarily Black communities tend to have lower profit margins and concentrate in industries with less potential for growth.

Black entrepreneurs often face many barriers, including a lack of access to capital, technical assistance, procurement opportunities and more.

Creating and scaling a greater number of Black-owned businesses is crucial to generating employment opportunities for people of color and increasing wealth in the community and economy.

A Black barber adjusts a smock on a young Black boy sitting in a barber chair.

OUR AMBITION

Fund Startups and Give Access to Investor Network – $70M:

Grow the Prosper Health Tech Fund – powered by Gener8tor – and offer venture capital technical assistance to scale 50+ startups from <$1M to $5M+ in annual revenue; near-term priority is to secure $4M in venture investment by end of May 2022.

Fund Technical Assistance – $25M:

Fund Prosper Birmingham, Magic City Match, and Birmingham Business Alliance to establish/expand business advisory programs, renovate and subsidize retail/office space for MBEs and scale coaches and support services (e.g., digital footprint, B2C platforms, accounting and bookkeeping, recruitment, etc.) to help 100+ MBEs scale from <$1M to $5M+ in annual revenue.

Estimated Impact (Of All Initiatives): 3X Increase in Annual MBE Revenue and 8K+ New Jobs, Boosting Black Community’s Net Worth by ~$2B+.

Birmingham, Alabama

Racial Equity Priorities