Mira-Mini | Akilah W. Darden, The Darden Group: Community Impact Award (Individual)
Gerry Dick: Well, this year's Community Impact Award winner is Akilah Darden, the Founder and President of the Darden Group. Akilah, thanks for joining us backstage here at the Mira Awards and congratulations.
Akilah Darden: Thank you so much.
Gerry Dick: Hey, I mean, you just formed your company less than two years ago, right? And you are on a rocket ship in terms of the impact that you are making, the projects you're dealing with. I thought it was interesting. Building dreams and exceeding expectations is the mantra for the Darden Group. What's that all about?
Akilah Darden: Yeah, so we're a construction management firm and we deal with large, complex commercial projects. And in the$ 2 billion of building, we've exceeded all goals and expectations. So, we don't only just build the physical buildings, but we also build people, we educate people, we help the diverse workforce, and we help people to just think outside the box.
Gerry Dick: So specifically, you are focused on the construction industry, which is typically a white male dominated industry. How do you that? How do you meet those diversity goals? What tactics do you use?
Akilah Darden: What they see is what they'll be. And if I can get out there and show people that I am a Black female in construction with 23 years and four kids and a husband, by the way, I like to thank my husband and my kids and my mom. It was just if they could see me and see what I've done, that they can do it. And not only that, I created a construction management masterclass. So, if you don't know everything, you can get it, and then you can present yourself well at the job site with all the tools to be successful.
Gerry Dick: You again, made a very quick and immediate impact after forming your business. Your first major project, Bloomington Based Cook Group, building a manufacturing facility on the city's near northeast side. And you were tasked with essentially ensuring there's 100% diversity when it comes to all of the contracts and things associated with that. First of all, talk about the project because I think it's one of the most unique and interesting projects around for the goals that it has and those types of things. Talk about that project.
Akilah Darden: Yeah. So, the project is a 50,000 square foot manufacturing facility. It was built by Cook Medical, run by Goodwill. We were able to get the community involved. We were building to and with the community, or I'm sorry, with the community and for the community and not to. So we engaged the community. We had 97% of color owning businesses. We had anywhere from 35% to 75% of the individuals who built the project from the community and of color. We also have three generations, and it took 45 days, that's all we had. So, what we did was we grassroots, who is in the community, who do we know, and let's get them out there and tell them what the goals are and to see how they could come alongside of us and get it done. And we were able to get that done and just impact the community and give people jobs who didn't have them. And we also gave them free construction certifications and safety certifications along the way.
Gerry Dick: Yeah, I know there's the manufacturing facility, grocery store, other things in that area, all part of that project that are really putting those people in the neighborhood back to work. And you have really used that project to get additional projects. You've got a big project with IU Health now, I understand.
Akilah Darden: Absolutely. So, because of the success of the manufacturing facility, also Goodwill is hiring and they're hiring individuals to work full- time, or get paid full- time and go to school part- time all the way up to a master's degree. So, because of the success of that, I was hired by IU Health as a directory of diversity and inclusion within design and construction. So, now we went from a$ 16 million facility to a multi- billion dollar facility with a goals of almost a billion dollars in diverse spend over five years. So, we're looking for diverse people to build. We're looking for companies to grow and even start just like mine. And people are starting businesses because of the Darden Group and because I went to IU Health, I was able to hire five, and they happen to be women to run the Darden Group while I'm at IU Health.
Gerry Dick: Very good. Akilah Darden is the Founder, the President of the Darden Group. This year's winner of the Community Impact Award. Akilah, congratulations on the award and on the success. We look forward to hearing more from you in the future.
Akilah Darden: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
Gerry Dick: You bet.
The Indianapolis business leader has accomplished on the construction job site what few if any, others have: 100% diverse participation. What’s more, she did it for Cook Medical’s new 38th Street and Sheridan Ave. manufacturing facility (a forward-thinking, community-based project in its own right) in a tight labor market by meeting people “where they are” on Instagram, creating an animated video to promote her project, and offering onsite interviews with diverse construction professionals to allow the community to “see what they could be” in construction. She also created an e-course to help construction professionals with construction core competencies go from technical hands-on construction professionals to managerial professionals teaching operational and administrative strategies.