Buildings and Places, Equity Diversity & Inclusion, Los Angeles, Social Infrastructure, Social Value, Transforming Los Angeles

In this Transforming Los Angeles blog series, we’re delving into the people, projects and initiatives that are shaping the future of Los Angeles. Learn more about the intricacies of creating interconnected infrastructure that delivers social value for a more cohesive, inclusive, and sustainable urban environment.

Ken Billups is the vice president of economic inclusion and social impact based in Los Angeles, California, where he is currently leading inclusion and community engagement for Intuit Dome. His strategic approach of actively engaging with the community to prioritize education, empower local businesses and foster transparent communication results in meaningful contributions to the city of Inglewood.

  1. Tell us a bit about yourself – your role and career journey   

My journey began in my hometown of Los Angeles, where I was born and raised in a town called Inglewood. After completing my education, where I majored in business at Florida A&M University, a renowned historically black college and university, I returned to Los Angeles to embark on my career in the nonprofit sector. I started as a community organizer and leader, landing my first role overseeing the business inclusion and workforce development program for the Inglewood Unified School District (IUSD).

Subsequently, I transitioned into the private sector, focusing on inclusion initiatives in the construction and infrastructure sector.  Around two and a half years ago, I joined AECOM Hunt to lead inclusion and community engagement initiatives for the Intuit Dome in my hometown of Inglewood, California and now as Vice President of Economic Inclusion and Social Impact for the LA Metro and Southern California area.

2. Talk to us about your work in the City of Inglewood, how have some of these projects and initiatives responded to the challenges and issues faced by the local communities there?

For our work in the City of Inglewood to be impactful, we first had to deeply understand the challenges, barriers, and needs of the local community. This involved active listening and learning in order to be responsive in our development and deployment of a business inclusion and workforce development strategy and ensure we really engaged with key stakeholders and community members. We prioritized education and youth support, to make sure our projects had a positive impact on future generations.

Our approach was highly strategic and inclusive, particularly in the empowerment of minority and local businesses. We made deliberate efforts to prioritize local residents, offering opportunities in the building trades and careers in construction. Open and transparent communication with the nearby community was vital to minimize construction-related disruptions. We also got actively involved in the community by supporting local block clubs that we call the ‘Good Neighbor’ program, which incentivizes and supports local neighbors, developed the first ever pre-apprenticeship program for IUSD — providing a starting point for local residents to enter skilled construction jobs, and supported the Inglewood Unified School District, by actively participating in after-school programs focused on architecture, construction, and engineering.

Our approach, emphasizing inclusion and community impact, was well-received by the local community. We continue to do great work, both within the projects we undertake and within the broader community. These efforts are instrumental in shaping a positive work culture in the communities we serve, aligning seamlessly with our commitment to ESG.

3. Community and stakeholder engagement is a vital part of urban renewal and regeneration, can you share any specific examples of successful community engagement strategies and their impact?

Successful community and stakeholder engagement starts with active listening and learning. At Intuit Dome, we organized various formal and informal events to understand the surrounding communities and cultures better. This insight influenced our decisions, including design choices and construction schedules that pertain to the sensitivity of the project that’s in the middle of the urban community.

Additionally, we were dedicated to being responsive to the needs and commitments that we had to the community. This included commitments to minority and local businesses, as well as ensuring the active participation of women in the trades related to our project. Our responsiveness extended to collaborating closely with key stakeholders, including faith-based organizations, city leaders, local businesses, and neighborhood block clubs, all of which contribute to the success of the project.

4. Business inclusion, workforce development and leadership are 3 vital ingredients in improving social equity. What are some of the best examples of these that you’ve seen across the industry?

At AECOM, we take pride in our approach to business inclusion, workforce development and leadership. We’ve found ways to minimize barriers and maximize opportunities. We go a step further by investing in the marketplace and building capacity. When it comes to workforce development, we’ve identified strategic partners to collaboratively build opportunities for careers in construction. We focus on exposing the youth to various career paths within our industry and developing the future workforce.  We’ve also been very strategic about how we engage key stakeholders to ensure that they’re part of the success of the project.  

5. In your experience, what are some of the key elements in establishing successful strategic partnerships to advance equity, diversity and inclusion within a community?

We always say equity is a verb, but it starts with our leadership. Effective leadership is not only a commitment but an action. At Intuit Dome, we have a great leadership team that has embraced these commitments and ensured that our trade partners also adhere to these principles. So, equity is very much a part of leadership commitment.

Secondly, strategic partnerships are crucial. Equity is a team sport — it cannot thrive in isolation. It’s about leveraging expertise and resources to be able to identify the right trade partners that can work on the project because in this space, innovation happens through collaboration. The key elements — strong and accountable leadership coupled with strategic partnerships — create a framework where social equity can advance, leaving a lasting impact on projects and communities alike.

Originally published Jan 29, 2024

Author: Ken Billups