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Washtenaw United: Recapping UWWC's Summer 2021 Equity Challenge

Rich Chang

The fourth and latest 21-Day Equity Challenge in Washtenaw County is complete. The challenge seeks to create awareness about inequity, injustice, and both overt and systemic racism. Rich Chang is CEO of the Ann Arbor-based software firm NewFoundry and serves as Board Chair of the United Way of Washtenaw County. He joined WEMU's David Fair to recap the latest challenge and the future it seeks to build.  

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw County to explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area.  And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services.  It is a community voice.  It is 'Washtenaw United.'




Rich Chang is CEO and co-founder at NewFoundry. We are an 8 year old firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan comprised of strategists, designers, and engineers that focus on making thoughtfully designed custom software that find their homes on web based, mobile based, and automotive based interfaces across any industry with recent focus in healthcare, automotive, and fintech.. These solutions include data interpretation, process automation, technology R&D and proof-of-concept, and consumer facing sales enabling tools.

Rich is a strong believer in volunteering and giving back to the community and has various initiatives focused around workforce pipeline. He is currently on the boards of: the Ann Arbor Ypsilanti Chamber, Michigan Works Southeast, United Methodist Retirement Communities Foundation, Michigan League of Public Policy, Ann Arbor Hands on Museum, the Awesome Foundation, the Ann Arbor Area Transit Authority, Washtenaw Community College Foundation, and is the current board chair of the United Way of Washtenaw County.



UWWC 21-Day Equity Challenge


United Way of Washtenaw County (UWWC) hosted its first 21-Day Equity Challenge in January 2020 to:

  1. build our community’s awareness  of the ways that bias, prejudice, privilege, and oppression show up in our work and lives
  2. increase the number of  people in our community who, instead of asking “what will someone else do?” ask “what must I do?”
  3. advance our vision that by 2030, your zip code will no longer predict your opportunity in life.

The Challenge is a virtual self-guided learning journey over 21 days that examines the history and impacts of racism and how it shapes our lived experiences in Washtenaw County. Each morning, participants receive an email "prompt" with readings, videos and/or podcasts. They are encouraged to take ten to fifteen minutes each day with the material, and also receive examples and tools on how to undo racism and build racial equity and justice.
UWWC launched a Washtenaw Edition of the Challenge in January of 2020, followed by a COVID-19 Edition of the Challenge in May and a Michigan Edition of the Challenge in August.

  • The 2021 Equity Challenge was launched intentionally on  June 19, 2021 to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved African-American, also known as Juneteenth.
  • This is the 4th edition of United Way of Washtenaw County’s Equity Challenge.
  • Over 2,000 people and 91 community partners participated in this edition of the Equity Challenge
  • Content in the Challenge was adapted in response to how our world has changed over the past year, including days focused on Asian American Pacific Islander discrimination, the criminal justice system, and how to talk with children about race and racism.
  • Content was adapted to meet people where they are in their equity journey-- e.g. we offered both introductory and more advanced content.
  • Connecting with others to reflect, share and take action is an additional experience of the Challenge.  In lieu of in-person gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UWWC partnered with Nonprofit Enterprise at Work to host three virtual gatherings for participants.  Nearly 100 people joined these conversations and made new connections with Washtenaw County people who share a commitment to addressing inequity.

Challenge pre- and post-survey results highlighted the following anecdotal data:

  • Respondents reported learning more about themselves and their community as a result of engaging with the 21 Day Equity Challenge
  • Respondents learned how to get involved with advocacy and making changes in their community as a result of engaging with the 21 Day Equity Challenge
  • Survey respondents indicated Day 13, Talking to Children about Race, was the most powerful day of the Challenge
  • Respondents represented 124 different zip codes and five states.  UWWC was the first United Way to launch an equity challenge.  We have inspired more than 20 United Ways and United Way Worldwide to host their own Challenges.

How it began

The Equity Challenge was originally developed by Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr., Dr. Marguerite Penick-Parks, and Debby Irving and was adapted by Food Solutions New England. From there, it was made available to other organizations. The United Way of Washtenaw County committed to adapt the Equity Challenge with our community partners as an important part of broader efforts to build an equitable community for all. 

UWWC is exploring the ways in which it might continue to create gathering spaces for people to grapple with race, identity and privilege to create more equitable environments for us to live, work, and play in Washtenaw County.


David Fair: [00:00:00] This is 89 one WEMU, and I have a question for you. How many of you took the opportunity to participate in the recent equity challenge put forth by the United Way of Washtenaw County? I'm David Fair, and the aim of these ongoing challenges is to help us examine history and the impacts of racism and how it continues to shape our lives right here in Washtenaw County. Our guest today is deeply involved and a participant. Rich Chang is the CEO of New Foundry in Ann Arbor. And Mr. Chang is also the chairman of the board of the United Way of Washtenaw County. Thank you for being here.

Rich Chang: [00:00:34] Thanks, David, for giving me the opportunity to be on.

David Fair: [00:00:38] This was the fourth equity challenge put forth since 2020. There was the initial challenge in January of 2020, a COVID edition of the challenge in May of that year. There was this spring's Juneteenth Equity Challenge and now this. Did you personally participate in all four?

Rich Chang: [00:00:54] I actually did. I've only been on the board for a little short time, and I actually participated in that challenge before I think even came onto the board.

David Fair: [00:01:03] These are programs designed to help participants learn and confront some of the implicit bias we may carry and to become more aware of how and what to do about it, to create a more equitable and compassionate community. What did you learn about yourself through this process?

Rich Chang: [00:01:18] Oh, my gosh. There's just so much to learn from going through this process, not just about ourselves, but also how we can actually contribute and work as a community. The big thing for me, one, was awareness, which I think is one of the key components of what all these different exercises do, because it affects you at home and affects you at work, and it also affects you at a community level. And so, for me personally, the awareness was key, the fact that it's self-guided. And, every year that they've done this, they actually adjust the content based on the times, right? And some of the topics that it covers is education and providing tools, which is a big key differentiator between the United Way of Washtenaw County's equity challenge versus the other ones that are out there. And then also the other pieces that we need to become more informed and aware around, like housing privilege, segregation, and other policies that are out there that affect the ability for us to be a truly equitable community.

David Fair: [00:02:15] In this latest equity challenge, there was a focus on discrimination against Asian-American and Pacific Islanders. Have you or members of your family been subjected to any of that?

Rich Chang: [00:02:26] I do have friends that have and then some relatives that are out on the West Coast have also seen this. But, I mean, that's one of the amazing things. Like when I first started this most recent challenge, I was going to the contents and I was like, "Oh, my goodness. There's a whole section here on what you described around the Asian-American Pacific Islanders discrimination." And that shows the amazing efforts and awareness that Pam, Bridget, and the rest of the team at United Way really want to make sure that everything's current and content and can meet people where they're at, whether they are brand new to that equity challenge or, like me, where I've done the prior two equity challenges, there's always something new that I can learn.

David Fair: [00:03:07] More than 2,000 individuals and 90 community partners participated in the challenge this time around. Through this process of self-examination and consideration and increased awareness in the feedback you're getting from those who did take part, are you hearing solutions to inequity and injustice?

Rich Chang: [00:03:27] Somewhat. I think, right now, our big goal is more awareness. And then, once there's a more comprehensive awareness, then we can actually start working toward solutions, because we can always count on solutions. But if folks don't really understand what those solutions are supposed to do and why the solutions that come about, which is where the awareness comes in, the impact and the ability for solutions to actually succeed, I think, is diminished. We know that folks are wanting to be more involved in advocacy and making changes in their community. So, that's like a huge step forward. And then after that, I just had to be the implementation. I think there's definitely a lot of ideas about how we can do that, but we have to get a more comprehensive group of folks. But, I think one of the key data points is that nationally, internationally, they're approaching over 100,000 people that are participating in various equity challenges.

David Fair: [00:04:18] Washtenaw United and our conversation about the recently concluded equity challenge with United Way of Washtenaw County Board Chair Rich Chang continues on Eighty-Nine one WEMU. In addition to your role with the United Way, you are, as I mentioned, CEO of New Foundry. It's an eight year-old software firm in Ann Arbor. And your website says, "We make thoughtfully designed custom software that solves real problems." Now, there is no software yet that will eliminate racism and/or discrimination. How many of your staff decided to participate and increase their awareness?

Rich Chang: [00:04:52] Yeah, actually, so our staff--we don't direct them. We just ask them to participate if they can. And I don't really follow up with them because it's more of self-reflection and then to meet them where they're at in their journey of really interesting activity. Luckily, we have a very diverse crew and, actually to go a little bit further on a comment you just made around software can't eliminate inequality issues, in reality, it can. And sometimes that actually caused this. So, we're getting more and more heavily relying on artificial intelligence. Well, that is code, and we can actually implicitly sometimes code in bias. So, it's something that we talk with our team about being very aware when they're having to make versus decision trees. What primers they use to actually calculate to make those decisions. Because the last thing you want to do is to have software that is biased against one particular group than another.

David Fair: [00:05:44] Outside of the software component of it, Mr. Chang, meritocracy. It's vital to the success of any business. It's simply that all too often the opportunity for a more diverse workforce and worker perspective is lacking. Sometimes unintentionally, but more often than not, with a systemic bias in place. So, with what you were learning, is it going to change your approach at how you go about business at New Foundry?

Rich Chang: [00:06:08] Not for us in particular, because for me, I'm a minority. So, I already have kind of that lens. And we're a very diverse team. My partners are on board for that. But I guess a lot of times folks want to know data, and there's actually a McKinsey 2020 report where they show that just gender diverse businesses, they do 25 percent better in profit than non-gender diverse. And then if you bring ethnicity into it, when there are ethnic diversity versus 36 percent better in profits.

David Fair: [00:06:37] Why is this being shouted from the top of buildings?

Rich Chang: [00:06:40] Yeah, I know, right? It definitely should be. And you're hearing it more and more. Like, I know that I've been at presentations where they talked about this. I've also end up bringing up in presentations too, because the bottom line is what drives a lot of business decisions are when they see that, they go, "Oh, OK." And it's unfortunate that it takes money talks in that case. But, if it promotes figuring out how they're actually going to be more diverse and equitable, I'm all for it.

David Fair: [00:07:07] Once again, this is Washtenaw United on Eighty-Nine one WEMU. And we're talking with Rich Chang, the board chairman of the United Way of Washtenaw County. I know you were deeply involved in a number of things. What role can volunteerism play in moving us closer to that goal down the road of more equity and ultimately equality?

Rich Chang: [00:07:28] Yeah, so, I'm an exception. I'm on about 10 different boards right now, and they're all volunteer. But for me, it's really rooted and helped to me, to my core, feel better that I'm actually contributing to my human rights. So, for me, it's to try and give back to the community, do my part, and try and make the best community we can be. But also, for me with my volunteerism, it's around trying to facilitate an initiative that the different organizations can partner on, especially if they can share resources and kind of stay in their lane of like where their areas of expertise. There's a great anecdote of the mother of some very famous folks out in the Silicon Valley, and she said one of the challenges--or exciting things that she's seen--is that there's a lot of folks that are very wealthy out there that they really don't understand who they are or what community is because they don't do any volunteering. And it's something that's been instilled in me since I was young for my family. And I hope that more folks will pick up the flag and also volunteer more in this community, too.

David Fair: [00:08:30] Well, as you mentioned, serving on the boards as a volunteer for 10 different boards. That includes the United Way, Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Chamber, Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, the Awesome Foundation, The Ride, Washtenaw Community College Foundation, and several others. First of all, when do you find time to eat or sleep?

Rich Chang: [00:08:49] Yeah, I'm very fortunate with my team, my partners. The community effort is actually part of our business plan, because us being out there actually drives our involvement in the community. And, in the end, a lot is really focused for us too, around the workforce pipeline, which we view as a key component for the survival of any community. So, we believe and look local, build local, hire and buy local. But, for us to get that, we have to be involved to make sure that we are doing our best to build that viable workforce, which, in the end, enables the workforce pipeline.

David Fair: [00:09:24] As we take a look at, board positions are one of privilege, voluntary or not. What are you learning through the equity challenge and in the work itself about how to make sure that that privilege is shared and becomes more accessible to all?

Rich Chang: [00:09:39] Oh, yeah. I mean, privilege is, one, is understanding what privilege is, right? And I think that is where the awareness of going to this equity challenge where we go, "Oh my goodness. Like, there's single white privilege, and it does exist." And I think it opens the door to dialog. And from that dialog, I think we'll actually be able to better handle conflict resolution, because we're not all going to have the same views. We're not necessarily going to change someone's view right now. Maybe that discussion that you had now will click within five, 10 years from now. So, for me, it's around just really trying to build a true community, because everyone who wants to succeed is supported and can, from individuals to companies, large and small, which then leads to community resiliency, which is the result of--what I mentioned before--around a workforce pipeline built from a community. And until we get to a point that people aren't discriminated against and there aren't policies that are causing certain groups to be marginalized, and so we identify we're more aware and able to identify and also solutions, we're really never going to be kind of get out of there. And, right now, we're climbing out of it. But I think there's still quite a bit of work to do.

David Fair: [00:10:52] I would like to thank you for taking the time and sharing your perspective today, Rich.

Rich Chang: [00:10:55] I appreciate it. David. Thanks so much.

David Fair: [00:10:58] That is Rich Chang, CEO of New Foundry in Ann Arbor and board chairman of the United Way of Washtenaw County. To find more information about the equity challenge and all the informational links you'll need to learn more, visit our website at WEMU dot org. Washtenaw United is produced in partnership with the United Way of Washtenaw County. And you hear it every Monday. I'm David Fair, and this is Eighty-Nine one WEMU FM and WEMU HD one Ypsilanti.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him atdfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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