Jill Johnson, co-founder and CEO of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership in Newark, described the challenge to foster a more equitable business community this way:
“There is a lot of potential among many different populations, but what they often don’t have is the capital and the connections to achieve the entrepreneurial success and create wealth,” she said.
Johnson, who co-founded the nonprofit IFEL in 2002 to help people of color access the knowledge, network and capital required for entrepreneurial success and wealth creation, was speaking earlier this month at the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce’s 2022 Alice H. Parker Women Leaders in Innovation Awards.
Johnson, who was the awardee for innovation in finance and social advancement, told the audience how her group aims to correct these issues.
“Our work at the Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership is about eradicating barriers at a systemic level,” she said. “My goal is that, 20 years from now, our organization doesn’t need to exist because we are able to participate fully in the entrepreneurial ecosystem and reap the rewards of the American Dream.
“It’s through that, that we will create more jobs, better social outcomes, better health and a whole lot of ‘betters’ that right now are just not possible because we are not fully included.”
Johnson was one of two honorees.
DeAnna Minus-Vincent, executive vice president, chief social justice and accountability officer at RWJBarnabas Health, was the awardee for innovation in health care and social justice.
The two were honored for their efforts to fight systemic barriers and make New Jersey a better and more equitable place to live.
Johnson appreciated the honor.
“To me, this recognizes the work we do day in and day out,” she said. “It is important that organizations like the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce recognize people that don’t often get recognized.”
Minus-Vincent drove the point home in her acceptance speech.
“Social justice work is innovation,” she said. “It takes work — every day.”
Here’s a look at why they both were recognized for using desire, hard work and innovative programs to create economic opportunities for historically marginalized New Jerseyans.
Minus-Vincent: Her primary responsibility at RWJBarnabas Health calls for pursuing an “intentionally antiracist, equitable culture” within its walls and in its communities.
She praised RJWBarnabas Health for taking on inequality in a real way.
“While other companies decreed and pledged, they put their money where their mouth is,” she said. “It takes courage for a system to look at themselves and change things we didn’t like.”
Minus-Vincent leads RWJBarnabas Health’s “Ending Racism Together” program and other initiatives that improve health outcomes and promote health equity. Overall, she is responsible for ensuring all RWJBarnabas Health patients and employees are afforded an equitable environment, free of discrimination.
Most recently, Minus-Vincent co-designed and launched RWJBarnabas Health’s “Health Beyond the Hospital” initiative, which allows physicians to identify social factors contributing to their patients’ health and streamline the process of connecting the patients to resources.
Minus-Vincent, born and raised in Trenton, received a Master of Public Administration from Rutgers University, and a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from Morgan State University.
Johnson: She has been a driving force in creating a number of IFEL programs, including:
- “Women of Color Connecting,” which leverages the power of relationship capital;
- “Making of Black Angels,” designed to increase number of black angel investors;
- “Small Business Needs Us,” a volunteer corps of business professionals ready to help small businesses.
“This work is hard, and it often takes a lot of effort,” she said. “You may not be paid as much as you would in some other big position, but it is work that is necessary, and I figure, ‘If not me, then who?’
“It’s up to each one of us to make a difference any way we can.”
Johnson earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard University.