Giving Back and Leveling the Playing Field: A Q&A with 360i Chairman Bryan Wiener

Seven years ago we formed a partnership with Harlem Children’s Zone, a pioneering nonprofit with the goal of ending generational poverty in Central Harlem that has made an indelible impact on our agency and thousands of deserving students in Harlem. Each year we lend our expertise in digital marketing by hosting seminars, workshops, and mentorship programs for students of all ages as well as awarding a four-year scholarship to Syracuse University Newhouse School of Communications to a deserving HCZ high school senior. We sat down with 360i Chairman Bryan Wiener to learn more about how this partnership began and where it’s headed in 2018.
 

360i: Tell us how the partnership with Harlem Children’s Zone came to be. How did you find out about the organization, and what drew you to them?

Bryan Wiener: In 2010 I went to a conference called Google Zeitgeist, a series of intimate gatherings of top global thinkers and leaders that explores some of the big ideas that have the potential to change our world. Geoff Canada, HCZ’s President and CEO at the time, spoke about the crisis in education in underprivileged neighborhoods and how we weren’t doing enough as a country to invest in the future of our youth. The whole conference was incredibly inspirational, but he far and away stole the show. When I boarded my flight later that afternoon, by fate, he was sitting in the seat next to me. I learned so much more about Harlem Children’s Zone, and he learned more about what we do here at 360i. His feeling was that education is a mechanism, it’s not an end game; it’s a means to go get high earning jobs that then change the fate for underprivileged families. It dawned on me that there was untapped opportunity in the advertising and digital marketing space to do just that. I felt like, through exposure and training, 360i could play a meaningful role in helping HCZ get closer to its goal of ending generational poverty. And we got started immediately, brainstorming with HCZ how we could be most helpful, and it has expanded every year since.

360i: 360i has been partnering with HCZ for 7 years. How has the partnership taken shape? What programs are offered?

BW: We’ve been able to offer educational seminars, training sessions, mentor programs, internships, and even a college scholarship to The S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. During the holiday season we also help wrap holiday gifts for young children in the community so that they have something to open on the holidays. It’s a ton of fun and it’s become somewhat of a tradition here at 360i. My hope is that all of these efforts will allow us to create a real legacy for an expanding group of students at HCZ that will lead to long careers in marketing and communications. This is a long term play – the only way to really make an impact when we’re talking about high school students.

360i: You mentioned that 360i provides a college scholarship to a deserving HCZ student each year. Tell us a little bit about how this part of the program began, and the impact it’s had.

BW: As an organization, we recognized that we can’t change the world for everyone – we don’t have the means or the scale. But we can do our part in bringing more opportunity to groups of kids who have grown up without access to a lot of resources. We felt a college scholarship was the ultimate educational opportunity. Each year, we select an HCZ student who has demonstrated excellence inside and outside the classroom, and we send them to one of the best communications school in the country with a four-year scholarship. The reality is that many students who go to college will have immense debt hanging around them like an anchor, and we wanted to ease that burden. Along with the scholarship, they’re able to leverage 360i’s connections to help them access internships during their college career. At the end of the day, the scholarship, and really all of our work with HCZ, is about leveling the playing field.

360i: What’s been a particularly memorable moment or personal experience you’ve had while working with HCZ?

BW: A few years ago I went to HCZ Promise Academy, which is one of their two charter schools, to see the first class that entered as kindergarteners graduate high school. What really made this a shining moment for me was that these kids had a 100% college acceptance rate. Amazing! The joy in that room was hard to describe – these students and their families were celebrating a tremendous accomplishment. My own son is graduating high school this year, and I’m so proud, but graduation and advancing to college was always a given for him, we never questioned it. But the students from HCZ’s Promise Academy were fighting against the odds and many never saw graduation as something they were entitled to or guaranteed. And for many of these students, they became the first in their family to even get to college. Standing in that room that day, I felt a whole new level of gratitude that was incomparable to any graduation I’ve ever been to.

360i: How do you see the partnership evolving in 2018 and beyond?

BW: Towards the end of 2017 we piloted a mentorship program that we plan to launch again this fall. We pair 360i employees with current college students that have been through the various HCZ programs, and we work with them on everything from interview skills, personal and professional branding, and anything else they might need as they begin exploring the professional world. We’ve gotten amazing feedback from our 360i mentors and their students, so we’re making that program a priority in 2018. As far as the future goes, we want to level the playing field as much as possible, so we’re in it for the long haul and we’ll continue supporting these students for many years to come.

Feeling inspired? Check out this video on our partnership with HCZ or visit hcz.org for more information.

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