Last December, Pharrell Williams announced a contest called Black Ambition, “a non-profit initiative that will provide a bridge to success for Black and Latinx entrepreneurs,” and French luxury retailer Chanel was named as one of the venture’s backers. Chanel has now launched a two-part program for semifinalists to connect with mentors and learn how they maneuvered to become movers and shakers in the business.
Last Friday’s Women Who Lead was the first part of this program, and it was a one-hour discussion of women luminaries exploring the concept of leadership through their lens, some of the challenges they faced along the way, and some of the difficulties they still encounter nonetheless. “It’s important to have recognizable faces,” Williams said, “and faces that represent brands that they build.” Harper’s Bazaar’s Editor-in-Chief Samira Nasr moderated the conversation, and the list of panelists included actress Tracee Ellis Ross, Imaginary Ventures co-founder and partner Natalie Massenet, Medley co-founder Edith Cooper, and Good American CEO Emma Grede.
“Mentorship, though, is a truly two-way relationship. In my experience as a mentor, I imagine I’ve learned as much, if not more, from my mentees as they’ve learned from me,” Cooper said to WWD. “Being a mentor can have a powerful impact on your own growth. For example, I was once asked by a mentee at a new hire event, ‘Do you bring your whole self to work?’ After I answered the question, it occurred to me that I didn’t fully appreciate the significance of what I’d been asked.”
The second part of the mentorship program will test the finalists’ ability to move beyond ideation and provide them with hands-on exposure to the operational side of things. Chanel’s leadership community will connect with the finalists over the course of interactive workshops and educate them on what is necessary to run a brand in today’s climate. “Even when you have a great business plan, you might not find the right operators,” Pharrell told Vanity Fair. “[The mentorship program] teaches you all of those things. Success really does have a lot of authors.”
Lastly, Black Ambition finalists will present their results on “National Demo Day,” currently scheduled for July 15, and the sum of all the prize money totals $1 million. “We’re not into feeding as much as we are into teaching how to fish,” Williams said. “And I’m excited about that because there will be a lot more fishermen in our culture.”