Atlanta’s workforce under 40 is growing both in size and influence. By 2020, projections indicate that 75 percent of the workforce will be comprised of Gen X and millennials (in fact, Atlanta earned the number two spot on Money.com’s Best Cities for Millennials). And these rising leaders are just as focused on helping the city thrive as they are about climbing the corporate ladder.
ATLeaders is the Metro Atlanta Chamber‘s first council dedicated solely to business professionals under 40. The group aims to merge civic engagement and business acumen by helping members get involved in causes they care about, as well as providing educational opportunities. No stuffy networking events — just meaningful connections via panels with CEOs, cocktail hours and social impact opportunities with local leaders in the focus areas of transit and food securities.
“This is a huge need,” says Fred Roselli, senior director of communications for Boys & Girls Clubs of America and ATLeaders chair. “We can take the first step in addressing that from a young professionals perspective, because there’s nobody that offers the access to what goes on at the Chamber and what drives the engine of Atlanta forward. We’re offering young professionals a place to meet their peers and make an impact on the city.”
Launched last May at a kickoff party at Ponce City Market (500+ attended) and now, over 1,500 Instagram followers later, the council has built a strong community of young, civic-minded professionals.
The council is chaired by Roselli and co-chaired by Jennifer Hall, environmental affairs general manager at Georgia Power. The 25-member steering committee was open to all MAC members under 40.
We talked to Roselli and Hall about the successes ATLeaders has seen in the past year (the policy efforts to pass the recent MARTA referenda is one of them), what young pros can gain by joining, and what they plan to tackle this year.
What makes ATLeaders stand out as the first council for young professionals?
Roselli: We didn’t want to be a networking group. We didn’t want to be a philanthropic organization. There are a lot of people who have access to the business community, but there was nobody who tied those three things together. We felt that there was an opportunity to help young professional Atlantans find their mark and make a mark on the city.
What I think makes this council so unique is that you have the power and the kind of big picture vision of the Chamber to be able to open doors for what we want to get into. It’s really driven at the core by the needs of the business community and the community of Atlanta. The Chamber’s goal is to drive the economic engine of the city forward, and they take that vision and help us reach those goals that we set as a council.The direction comes from us, but the Chamber is supportive in driving those things forward.
Transit and food insecurities have immeasurable economic impact on our region and that’s something we were successful last year in the passage of the transit and transportation referenda. That was one of our biggest missions that we’re so proud of.
What kind of feedback have you received from the community so far?
Roselli: The biggest thing we heard was, “how can I get more engaged?” I think a lot of people came to that first event and saw people that looked like them, people that didn’t look like them, people who thought like them, people who they knew from work, people who they saw at the gym. All of a sudden, there was this community of people who were like, we’re all here, let’s do something with that. We got a really great pop of interest from the launch party, but then our work really started from that point on.
We have a quarterly meeting, so our first meeting was around the launch. We had a meeting around food insecurities. We brought in a panel of experts working with our social impact partners, and talked through, what does that look like to an urban farmer, to someone who’s trying to change policy, to an organic company. The different perspectives brought into focus what food insecurity can mean. We did the same thing with transit. For us, it was a stated goal for us to be able to get that MARTA referenda passed. We wanted nothing more than to play our part in helping the city prepare for the future.
As a young professional, why I should be joining to ATLeaders?
Hall: It’s just a great opportunity for a diverse group of people to get together and have their voice be heard in the business community. Connecting the people who may not typically have that opportunity to be as involved with an organization like the Chamber, or big business, or small business. Having a diverse group that can really make influence and increase engagement. People who love the city and have a passion about it. I think if we come together in this community we can make a difference. Those are the types of people we’ve attracted and that’s what we’re seeing with the group of people we’ve attracted so far.
Roselli: I don’t think it’s unique to Atlanta, but I think a lot of people who have been out of school for a few years are finding themselves in a city wanting to do more. They believe that there’s a bigger purpose for whatever it is they’re doing. That can be volunteering on the weekends or take their career to the next step. I think the biggest, hardest part of that is finding where to go.
There’s a lot of great stuff to do, but ATLeaders helps bring that all together. Whatever you’re looking to do, let us help you do that, and help us tell the word. I think that’s one of the biggest things I feel like ATLeaders offers is that access to do something that you’ve wanted to do but just didn’t know where to start.
Last year you focused on food security and transit issues. Will you continue your work in those areas?
Roselli: We are definitely continuing to see what we can do from a regional transportation perspective. We’ve done a really great job, and the city’s on the way to start working from the referenda.
Food security for us is going to be really around how we can start to influence policy as much as we can. Just make our voice heard a bit more, like we did with the transportation side of things last year. Those will be our two big focus areas from a social impact side.
Then we’ve got our young professional influence. That’s networking events, getting us out in the community. Also, how can we start to drive leadership opportunities from a diverse and inclusive nature? How do we get people involved that maybe don’t know about us, and getting them more engaged not just in coming to a meeting here and there, but then, really making an impact and getting involved on a more committed level.