25 Years of NAMIC: Diversity Advocacy Group Celebrates Growth, Success

Nov 28, 2005  •  Post A Comment

By Lee Hall

Special to TelevisionWeek

As the National Association for Multi-ethnicity in Communications celebrates its silver anniversary, the organization is undergoing an accelerated evolution, driven by a deluge of new money from the Walter Kaitz Foundation, an expanded slate of programs and additional staff.

NAMIC’s 25th Anniversary Gala is set for Dec. 1 at the Marriott Marquis in New York. The event’s theme, “Opening Minds, Cultivating Leaders,” commemorates NAMIC’s 2½ decades of work to promote diversity in the communications industry. It also shines the light of acknowledgement on NAMIC members and the companies they represent.

This year, NAMIC is honoring Brian Roberts, chairman and CEO of Comcast Corp., for his longtime support of diversity.

Founded by a small group of African American leaders in 1980, NAMIC was headquartered in Costa Mesa, Calif., until early this year, when the offices were relocated to New York.

“Being in California caused a lot of back-and-forth travel for the very small staff that was here. When you look at the industry and the major players here on the East Coast, it made sense to move to New York,” said Jenny Alonzo, a senior VP with Lifetime Entertainment Services and NAMIC’s immediate past president.

NAMIC receives the bulk of its financial backing from the Kaitz Foundation, which contributed more than $1 million this year. The funding has allowed NAMIC to triple its staff to nine and develop a number of new programs.

“It’s really a good-news story,” said Mae Douglas, a senior VP and chief people officer at Cox Communications in Atlanta and VP of NAMIC. “We were operating on a shoestring budget, with a tiny staff trying to manage a big organization. That meant we as board members were often serving as staff and really getting too involved in day-to-day operations.”

Ms. Douglas wondered how NAMIC would have been able to pull off the transition without the Kaitz largesse.

Expanding Programs

One of the organization’s more recent initiatives is the Executive Leadership Development Program, developed in conjunction with the Anderson Graduate School of Management at UCLA. Originally designed for senior-level executives, the program is being expanded to midlevel managers starting next month, when about 30 people will gather in Atlanta for a two-day course.

“It’s better when you can come into the local market, because many of our members don’t have the ability to go to New York or Los Angeles. Our plan is to develop additional road shows so that members can take advantage of what we have to offer,” Ms. Douglas said.

Attention to the needs of the individual remains one of NAMIC’s core missions. The L. Patrick Mellon Mentorship Program pairs top-level industry executives with NAMIC members to help them develop positive career strategies.

NAMIC President Manish Jha said the new programs will help counter the oft-heard statements that qualified people of color are difficult to find for key jobs.

“We feel that the mentorship and executive leadership programs will expose people in the industry to a lot of really high-performance-caliber people of color so that they can tap into the vast executive pipeline,” said Mr. Jha, a senior VP at ESPN Mobile.

NAMIC has undergone a rebranding process and a name change. The organization once known as the National Association of Minorities in Cable has taken on a new focus.

“We realized that at the end of the day, we were really about ethnicity, not the whole gamut of minorities. We have organizations in the industry focused on women, such as [Women in Cable and Telecommunications], so we needed to focus on our area of strength and expertise,” Ms. Alonzo said.

Acting Locally

Although NAMIC is national in scope, its 17 local chapters are the organization’s heart and soul. Chapters work closely with the national office on a number of common projects. A Digital Bridge Initiative links a local chapter with a community organization. NAMIC members raise money and provide support to bring Internet access and computer technology to people who would otherwise go without. Many chapters host an annual technology day to help educate local communities on the importance and impact technology has on people’s lives.

Several chapters have developed their own local mentoring programs to match aspiring young people with industry veterans.

“We have taken that one step further and have built a college relationship program with Atlanta University Center,” said Vicki Hamilton, president of NAMIC Atlanta. “We are building programs to help college students understand the cable industry. We are mentoring the future leaders of tomorrow.”

While NAMIC’s programs are escalating, its membership base is not keeping up. The organization claims fewer than 2,000 members, a number Ms. Alonzo hopes to increase substantially. She cited a couple of reasons for the sluggish growth.

One is that people are often shy about asking their companies to subsidize membership in organizations.

“And some folks for whatever reason may feel that they don’t want to belong to an organization that pigeonholes them or categorizes them as a minority,” she said. “That has held us back a bit.”

The NAMIC board also faces a longer-term challenge: It must secure additional revenue sources to supplement the Kaitz funding.

“We don’t want to forever rely on Kaitz, but we believe that as long as we continue to do good work, that Kaitz and other institutions will support us,” Mr. Jha said.

NAMIC must also broaden its membership base, which in the past was heavily represented by people in the sales and marketing areas. New programs aiming to attract more creative and programming professionals are beginning to pay off, and NAMIC launched a creative summit and career fair last spring in conjunction with the annual Vision Awards ceremony in Los Angeles.

“We have to expand into other functional areas and show how we can create value for those people who are not in sales and marketing,” Mr. Jha said.

Ms. Alonzo believes the new NAMIC is laying a foundation for growth and a bright future.

“It is really the only organization out there that is focused on the ethnic professional from a development perspective,” she said. “NAMIC is unique.”

NAMIC’s 25th Anniversary Celebration

When: Dec. 1

Where: Marriott Marquis, New York

Theme: “Opening Minds, Cultivating Leaders”

Honoree: Brian Roberts, chairman and CEO, Comcast Corp.

Cost: Individual tickets $1,000. Tables (10 tickets) $10,000. Sponsor packages up to $50,000. All include mentions in the program and a commemorative journal.

Program: 6 p.m., reception and silent auction; 7 p.m., dinner and program; 9:30 p.m., after-party. All events are black tie.