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Intern’s question sparks plan to help underrepresented businesses

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A Butler student is behind a bank initiative to help underrepresented businesses.

The idea came to life shortly after George Floyd’s death. Victor Aguilar’s story shows that no matter how small your role, you can light the spark for change.

The world around us has a way of guiding our steps. And for Butler University senior and former Old National Bank Center intern Victor Aguilar, the unrest following George Floyd’s death ordered him to act.

He stepped up to ask his supervisor, Butler’s Old National Bank Center for Business Excellence executive director Mark McFatridge, a question: Would they be releasing a statement about Floyd’s death and ongoing social injustice?

“I thought about it a lot because, again, I was just an intern at the time. I was just transitioning into the peer mentor role. But still it was who am I to kind of try to dictate this organization or push this on an organization to do something so drastic. To do something so public. So that was mainly the biggest hurdle. Just I am a young professional. I don’t really have a ton of experience or no leverage in terms of the my place in the hierarchy.”

“All these issues that we are talking about are human issues. If you’re a human being, you should have a conversation, you can ask questions and try to learn. Just to take your question a little bit further, but what I was really hoping for was that any company can try to address these issues; they don’t have to go so far away from their core service,” said Aguilar. “Because at the Old National Bank Center we’re not really changing what we do, we’re just changing our direction or who we target or purposefully. But you know, any company can really put forth some kind of initiative or some kind of effort to address particular situations.”

From that question, the agency is doing more than issuing a statement. Over the next 12 months, they are placing a specific focus on underrepresented businesses.

Old National Bank Center for Business Excellence is a Butler University program funded by Old National Bank. It’ll will help with business assessment, company-specific road maps to reach business goals and more. Phase 1 has already started and will focus on Black-owned businesses; Phase 2 on all racial minority groups; Phase 3 on women and LGBTQ+ owned businesses; and Phase 4 on business owners who are veterans and those who have disabilities.

“So first and foremost, we want to help those companies achieve their goals but hopefully and secondarily and a big part of this initiative is to help play a role in closing the wealth gap that exists in underrepresented groups. We think we can do that by helping these companies become more successful and achieve their goals, increase their profitability and then help them understand what role they can play in reinvesting those profits back into these underrepresented communities and groups and really help to build wealth,” said McFatridge.

He said it’s taken a lot of people to roll out this initiative, and the whole process and been a teachable moment.

“It’s been a huge educational and personal development piece. For one of the first times in my life, I’ve actually taken a step back and listened and try to hear things that I’ve never learned before or heard. Probably just never been aware of. So we were really fortunate to have a great number of people involved in this, that is, initiative. I just had to stay out of the way and it really took on a life of its own and continue to grow,” McFatridge said. “It’s just been this whole great big group of wonderful people that have helped me grow personally but really with the focus on how can we get out and how can we help privately owned companies be successful and especially be more intentional on the recruitment of those owned by underrepresented groups.”

As far as speaking up, even from his role as an intern, Aguilar encourages people to have those conversations, no matter where they stand in an organization.

“Take that step; see what happens. Yeah, especially with something like this, we’re trying to address not only racial injustice but, personally, I’ve been thinking a lot more about diversity, equity and inclusion. Those types of topics, those conversations are really long overdue, so even if you feel like you are at the bottom of the totem pole or less in the hierarchy, I don’t have that much power, just bringing it up to show the people in power, to show those managers or supervisors that you want to have that conversation,” Aguilar said. “Because they may want to have that conversation, too, and they are hesitant to have that conversation, so you can’t especially, with something like this where it’s very long overdue, you can’t really hesitate I’ll be afraid to speak up,” Aguilar said.

“What was cool through all these discussions was if we just did what we did, what we do, we could be successful. What we really need to do is become more intentional on the recruitment of underrepresented firms in groups,” said McFatridge.

“If you, when I travel back in time and you told me the end result of that question and that quick conversation with Marc, I would have not believed you. The level of impact that we can have with this initiative and the amount of resources we’d be able to put together and people we’ve met along the way, who have voiced enthusiastic support, it’s mind-blowing. When we had the first conversation, it wasn’t anything too incredible. It was maybe a 15 or 20 minute conversation, but to know that that started this initiative, it has resulted in this initiative, is really incredible,” Aguilar said.