How Project Destined is changing the face of commercial real estate

January 05, 2023
Project Destined students and team members gather during their November visit to the U.S. Bank headquarters. U.S. Bank team members pictured: Zack Boyers, Kristy Carstensen, Greg Cunningham, Troy Remington.

U.S. Bank continues to grow its support of the social impact platform through its Affordable Housing Bridge program.

Cedric Bobo knew from a young age the pride that comes from owning property. He learned it through the family stories that focused on his great-grandfather Tony Edmunds, who was Black and a landowner in the 1890s in northern Mississippi.

“My grandmother would tell me how he framed himself as an important member of his community, someone who was an entrepreneur and his participation as an owner,” said Bobo. “I was deeply inspired by these stories.”

Although the stories from his family history conveyed the importance, Bobo didn’t learn how to become a landowner. “It would have helped a lot if I had a network,” he added.

So, after a 20-year career as an investor, including more than 10 years at The Carlyle Group, he founded Project Destined, a social impact platform focused on teaching real estate to high school and college students of color. The organization’s name was inspired by the 2016 movie called “Destined.” Project Destined exposes students not only to a network of real estate professionals, but they also receive a stipend to attend classes about real estate and access to mentors who guide them during the program. Students learn about financing, property evaluation, market value and how to plan for renovations, among other topics. At the same time, industry professionals get to know a talented pool of young professionals of color.

Bobo’s mission is to create a new generation of real estate owners, like Jagpar Bhupal, of Indian descent. He was part of the program’s 2021 cohort and graduated from the University of North Carolina, in Charlotte, in May 2022.

“At Project Destined, I learned the ability to talk about and understand key real estate concepts and how to apply them in real life,” said Bhupal, who’s now a commercial real estate credit analyst at U.S. Bank and continues to mentor Project Destined participants. “This program gave me the tools I needed to prepare for my job interview and role at U.S. Bank.”

Bobo’s partnership with U.S. Bank started in May 2022, when they teamed up with the WNBA to launch She’s Invested: Supporting Emerging Female Leaders, the first all-female program for the organization that provides mentorship and financial education to women of color from Historically Black Colleges and Universities and universities in Southern California.

Soon after, U.S. Bank’s tax credit and community investment subsidiary, U.S. Bancorp Development Corporation (USBCDC) – alongside the Bank’s Commercial Real Estate division and their Credit Risk Management partners, worked with Bobo to offer mentorship and internships to 10 undergraduate students in Charlotte, as well as in-person convening and networking opportunities.

“When we learned about Project Destined, we knew that we wanted to build a partnership,” said Claire Schell, vice president of employee experience at USBCDC, who serves as a member of U.S. Bank’s Project Destined program steering committee, along with Dhiren Patel, Karla Kirkwood and Sarah Clabaugh. “We are absolutely aligned in our passion around creating access to opportunities – and the pathways created by this collaborative program are such an important way to demonstrate our commitment to racial equity outside of our four walls.”

In October 2022, USBCDC also contributed $25,000 to Project Destined’s Affordable Housing Bridge Program, an eight-week fellowship that exposes alumni to potential career paths by connecting them with nonprofit and for-profit affordable housing leaders and practitioners. This program is managed by USBCDC’s long term partners Eden Housing, Beacon Communities, and the Housing Partnership Network.

“We see enormous potential in this program, and we look forward to seeing it grow and succeed,” said Lisa Gutierrez, director of business development at USBCDC. “Programs like these help students find career pathways that enable them to make a difference in their communities.”

Thirty-nine student fellows were selected from a pool of over 160 Project Destined alumni. Almost half of the fellows selected have themselves lived in affordable housing at one time. The Bridge program offers more than 40 hours of first-hand exposure to mentors and careers in affordable housing, as well as specialized workshops and career development and coaching sessions.

“Project Destined’s relationship with U.S. Bank is unprecedented,” said Bobo. “I’m proud of where we started and I’m looking forward to where we will go together.”

Since 2016, Project Destined has trained more than 4,500 students across the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Bobo’s goal is to take the organization to “new heights” by focusing on what the students need in their lives and careers to succeed as well as increase their exposure to commercial real estate, an industry that lacks representation of people of color.

“It makes me proud to see how this industry is supporting us and helping lots of kids’ lives change,” said Bobo. “I want the students to see themselves as part of the local economy and as leaders; I want them to have access to the opportunities that will help them achieve what they deeply desire.”

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