Shape Tomorrow with Diversity, Education, and Tech with Cordell Carter

Reading Time: 18 Minutes

In this episode, Cordell Carter shares how belonging can shape a more inclusive society.

Takeaways We Learned from Cordell…

Listen Twice, Speak Once

There’s a good reason most of us have two ears, one mouth, we’re supposed to listen twice as much as we speak.” In leadership and in life, active listening is a superpower that fosters understanding and connection. Practice truly hearing others to unlock valuable insights and build stronger relationships.

Embrace Our Differences as Superpowers

We are different. And those differences are our superpower. Diversity isn’t just about tolerance; it’s about recognizing the unique strengths and perspectives that each individual brings to the table. Embrace diversity to fuel innovation and create a more inclusive society.

Find a Place for Everybody

Society should be like a wall where every stone has a place.” In a world that celebrates individual success, true progress comes from creating environments where everyone can thrive. Build inclusive communities where every person feels valued and supported.

Interconnected Success

We are all connected. My success is attributed to you, and your success is attributed to me.” Recognize the interconnectedness of our lives and strive to create environments where everyone has the opportunity to succeed. Elevating others uplifts us all.

Shift from Self-Focus to Collective Thriving

Stop being so self-focused and narcissistic. Understand why our collective futures are intertwined.” Shift your mindset from individual gain to collective prosperity. When we prioritize the well-being of all, we create a more sustainable and equitable future.

Model Humane Engagement

Practice listening to understand rather than respond. It’s not a debating society; it’s a learning society.” Foster civil discourse and respectful dialogue in your interactions. Prioritize understanding over winning arguments to cultivate deeper connections and meaningful change.

Transformative Conversations

Engage in three-part conversations: with others, with texts, and with yourself.” Approach conversations with curiosity and openness. Reflect on diverse perspectives and challenge your own assumptions to drive personal growth and transformation.

Technology as a Force for Good

Use tech to tackle the world’s problems, not just for profit.” Harness the power of technology to address pressing global challenges, from environmental conservation to social equity. Ensure diverse representation in tech design to mitigate bias and maximize impact.

Prioritize Humanity Over Innovation

Ask ‘should we?’ before ‘can we?’ when developing technology.” Consider the ethical and societal implications of technological advancements. Prioritize solutions that prioritize human well-being and promote a more sustainable future.

Celebrate Our Shared Humanity

Let’s celebrate that we’re all just people here, trying to make something out of nothing.” Embrace our shared humanity and recognize that, despite our differences, we are all striving for fulfillment and purpose. Foster empathy, compassion, and inclusivity in all that you do.

About Cordell Carter

Cordell Carter has helped 10K+ worldwide professionals, executives, and investors through his leadership at the Aspen Institute Socrates Program, Project on Belonging, and Festival of the Diaspora.

These international programs offer educational forums and opportunities for leaders to learn from each other, create important partnerships, and equip themselves to promote equitable opportunities and belonging for everyone.

Cordell has achieved $6M+ in philanthropic and private support since 2016 and has held leadership roles with the TechTown Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, IBM Corporation, and National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

In June 2021, President Joe Biden appointed him as Commissioner to the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships.

Read the Transcript

Allison: Welcome to the Deliberate Leaders podcast. I am your host and executive business coach Allison Dunn. Our topic today is belonging and beyond shaping tomorrow through diversity, education and tech. Our guest is Cordell Carter. He is the executive director for the Aspen Institute Socrates program, which is a leading global organization Education Forum for leaders learning from leaders. He is the founding director of the Aspen Institute project on belonging, which clip equips leaders to create society where everyone belongs and enjoys equitable opportunities to thrive. Cordell, thank you so much for joining us here today.

Cordell: Thank you.

Allison: It’s off with a deliberate conversation. What would be your number one leadership tip for our listeners today?


There’s a good reason most of us have two ears, one mouth, we’re supposed to listen twice as much as we speak. So listen.

Allison: I share this consistently on the podcast when listening comes up. I feel like that’s my superpower is the ability to listen. And I just really feel that leaders don’t necessarily do it. All of that well. So outstanding tip, thank you for that. Um, Cordell, your, your topic today is around the concept of belonging. And I think you’ve even positioned it as the next phase of the nation’s conversation on diversity, equity and inclusion. So I just want to teed up to kind of open it up. And then I have some specific questions around that.

Cordell: Yeah, I believe we’re in a need of a new national narrative. We’ve created a political and social culture, where the way we behave online is showing up in life, you know, real life.

We’re forgetting our humanity. We’re trolling each other, we’re so coarse in our dialogue, and we’ve forgotten our magic sauce. And that is that we are different. And that those differences are our superpower.

I think back to visiting the Delphi Oracle in Greece a couple of years ago. And looking at the Temple of Apollo and looking at the wall, the foundation wall, 3500 years old, the very first version of the wall, those original architects there was there was look like mosaic, okay. You look at the Roman version, you can see the Roman cement.

And then you see the Christian version, all the stones are exactly the same with a cross on them. Well, in places of great tectonic activity, anything unstable is going to fall. So it didn’t really matter how much grout you had in a Christian wall, it fell. Doesn’t matter how strong the room the Roman cement is it film, the only wall is still remains as the original wall, no adhesives, no grout, no cement, but they found a place for every stone. Okay, that’s what society should be. Finding a place for everybody you’re thriving is different from my thriving, but we both belong. That’s the point. And that is what I’m pushing this new national narrative on belonging. I call it a sermon on the Civic mount, and call it a what? Specific mount sermon on civic mount. Okay. And I am finding that is resonating with a lot of audiences.

Allison: What a beautiful, like visual that you just gave regarding the wall and the idea that you know, finding a place for every stone, what do you think needs to happen in order for our society to embrace that.


We have to think about our lives like a balloon that you fill with air and you squeeze one side, the air doesn’t escape, it just goes to the other side and makes the other side harder. We are all connected, my success is attributed to you and your success is attributed to me.

I’m not saying that you’re going to give me something. I’m merely saying I don’t want to live in a world where only I thrive and you don’t, okay, that’s not good for anyone that’s not good for GDP. It’s not good for our national standing. And once we understand that, creating an environment where everyone has opportunities to thrive is a good thing for me, and stop being so self focus and narcissistic and selfish, then we’ll get it, then we’ll understand why our collective futures are intertwined.

And so I I’m trying to get us back to kindergarten like rules. You know, we remember the Rafi song is mine, but you can have some with you. I’d like to share it because if I shared with you, you’ll have some to he was talking about cake. But I’m talking about this national enterprise we call the United States of America is so much here. There’s so much opportunity but we can’t Keep playing zero sum games. They don’t exist, they don’t really exist. They only exist in our minds. And we’re destroying a great thing. This the United States of America is tremendous. I think there’s a land of unlimited opportunity, and we’re blowing it, we are blowing it. And there’s no external force making us do that just us losing our humanity.

Allison: In your introduction, I know I shared the fact that you bring leaders from all over the world together, like give me some insight into the depth of those conversations. And what do you think is possible in this in this coming?

Cordell: Few years like that you will see as a change in our humanity, you know, the asking the suit was started in 1949, by some extraordinarily wealthy men, trying to find a common humanity. Right. So they would, they would go far away from their normal homes in Chicago, in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and we got in the woods of Aspen and put on togas, and do Antigone, and they would hunt and they would fish and they would just hang out together in a non competitive space, and then go back home, feeling much better. Having cultivated relationships, that same ethos reigns, in all 80 of the programs at the Aspen Institute, the Socrates program being one of the closer derivatives of that original experience, because we’re doing text based dialogue on a variety of topics. For instance, last week, last month in Poland, we were talking about the future of the EU and the transatlantic accord.

Now, whether you’re Polish Hungarian or American, that if that impacts you. And you’re thinking about like, do I want to start a company, its environment where Russia is literally 300 kilometers over there, you know, shooting at people? Do I feel safe? Do I feel secure? These are relevant conversations to today’s moment. And so whether it’s cybersecurity, the Transatlantic accord, the future of AI, the future of labor, those are the type of really intimate conversations that we’re having. And I think one of the unique facets of that is that these are closed doors. There’s only 25 people in the room. And we have really simple rules. Yeah, Chatham House rule was said here stays here, if you’re going to repeat it outside, don’t attribute to anyone, okay. And secondly, mutual respect, I’m going to let you finish before us, I’m going to listen to you first. So we’re actually practicing. We’re practicing that age old art of being humane to each other, of listening before we speak, and listening to understand rather than respond. This is not a debating society, it’s a learning society. And that is what we’re hoping to model like getting these leaders to model that in their companies, it’s my hope, that, you know, every leader is, is curating an upwardly mobile experience for the people that purposely avail themselves to their leadership, like, it is my job to make sure my people are smarter.

Because I lead them, they’re here, like, I want to add value, whether they’re here for eight months or eight years, I want to add value to them. And you’ll find that that sentiment is pretty common. They’re taking the readings with them and saying, you know, what, I’m going to use this on my team when I get back to Chicago or wherever I’m going. And so these are some really robust dialogues, they, you know, I’ve curated 200 of them over the last seven years. And so much so that I’m forgetting like, which one is which and how did I meet you? Was it Chicago? Was it Where did we meet again, I just know that we know each other because we’re on LinkedIn at some time. And so I find it to be absolutely exhilarating. I wish that everyone could experience what I get to experience about 30 times a year around the world.

Allison: I know that from a corporate setting, you know, obviously programs that address diversity, inclusion, equality. Is there a better way that we could go about it, too, that’s obvious to you or that is being discussed inside of your arms?

Cordell: The issue with DNI is that it started off as a very simple question during the next administration. Tell us about who works for your company. You’re doing business with the government, the government wants to know who works there. It became a de facto standard, people started getting points on the procurement scale out of 100. As you respond to RFPs, if you were presenting this data, and the whole industry was built around, one tactic, one strategy, a strategy doesn’t have a destination. That’s the problem with DNI as I see it. It’s not attached to anything. And so people you get to confer whatever you want upon it. It’s compliance is reverse racism is all these different things you can say because it’s not tied to anything. This is why I talk about belonging, because belonging is the outcome we’re trying to achieve. DNI is a strategy to get there not the strategy. I am completely open to other strategies.

In fact, everyone should be, but as long as we sequence it properly, belonging is a conversation that your executive leaders have with each other and you’re organization DNI. It’s just a strategy that inside the organization, they tried to achieve an environment where people belong and thrive. But DNI is not the is not the outcome. It’s a method. And we’ve made the method, the thing, and no wonder people are disturbed by it. So I’m not surprised. It’s a sequencing issue. And, frankly, a lack of forethought, as this industry has developed over the last 4550 years, just took a life of his own. And, you know, if you were to look at the different definitions of DNI, it would look like a scatter map, like somebody shot a shotgun and the target just beads everywhere. It’s just all over the place. And it really shouldn’t be that way. So I think that’s one of the primary problems that it’s not tied to an outcome. And so I’m trying to re sequence it, and tie it to an outcome and let people know, this is a method just come up with a different one, I’m fine with that. As long as we’re trying to create an environment where people belong, and opportunities to thrive, we’re seeing the same thing.

Allison: What’s fascinating is I’m a I’ve worked for engineering and architecture firms for several decades prior to doing what I do today. And I guess I personally didn’t realize that, you know, we weren’t at a disadvantaged, and MBE DBE WV like all the things that HUBZone Yes, we would like create teaming agreements around and go win contracts to do. I didn’t realize that that was the start of this. So that’s their Yes. thing to me.

Cordell: Yeah, the federal government is responsible for between 1/5 and 1/4 of GDP. Every fortune 1000 company, their biggest customer is the federal government. Don’t you find it? Well, odd that people like I don’t want to pay taxes really? Well? How do we pay you my friend? Just a question. I don’t know. I’m just wondering.

Allison: Yeah. So I find that fascinating. If, in your wisdom and experience, if you were to say that was created without a specific income, end game, or validation point, like what would that be?

Cordell: Well, the validation point is a more equitable distribution of resources. You know, if this is a government, for the people, by the people of the people, what does that look like? From an economic standpoint, you certainly can’t have all of the benefits of the vast majority accrue to a small set of people. That doesn’t make sense. You also have to contend with history, we have a hit a lot of bad facts in this amazing experiment we call the United States of America. So how do you contend with what I call those extra constitutional methods that have actually kept certain parts of our population out of an economy they’ve helped create? How you must contend with that? Otherwise, you’ll always have animus and concern and cries of unfairness, you have to contend with history as well. So how do you do that in a fair way, is to question. And so what the federal procurement officers and city procurement officers have done is say, Okay, we’re going to have set asides, to ensure that certain companies that are created by women of color women and men, men and women of color, have a conscious chest for them as they seek to build and grow as others have. That is, again, a method. I don’t know about other methods, but I am completely open to other methods of getting us to a place where people feel like they have an equal opportunity, and, you know, the economic largesse of this country.

Allison: I, I deeply appreciate the idea that it’s not a DNI, DNI conversation but a belonging conversation. So I’m going to hand you my proverbial pen magic wand. Do you accept it?

Cordell: I do. Thank you.

Allison: What would you do with the magic wand?

Cordell: That magic one, we give everyone a lobotomy. Allah give us a national body literally, like, I’m trying to make the movie where you men and black where you flashed the light at them, and you can reprogram them. And that reprogramming would be the following.

We are all equal. On this earth. We all have an equal shot at success, whether you use it to the benefit or your detriment that’s on you. But I am personally not going to prevent anyone from achieving what they want to achieve.

I’m going to do my best for me and my family and hope that others do the best for them and their families. That alone resets the game. It gets rid of tribalism. othering, all of that stuff. When did you come to this country? How did you come to this country? You know, are you legitimate, illegitimate? No, get rid of all of that. And let’s celebrate Yes, people were just people here for a very limited amount of time trying to make something out of nothing. That’s all we are.

Allison: Thank you. That’s beautiful. I like your magic wand. I’ll take it back. I need it for later. Um, In my one of my like a thought processes is how can civil discourse and leadership can mean to create transformative outcome in the context of diversity and inclusion? And I’d love your insights on that.

Cordell: You know, civil discourse is a loss art, there used to be debating societies used to be a lot before we have, you know, handheld devices with supercomputers in our hands, we actually have to talk to each other. I was looking at a grunge fest from 1999. It was a summer before smartphones took over. And I saw everyone dancing. It was shocking. I was trying to explain to my daughter who’s 17, who’s never live in a world where we actually had a phone inside our home that was attached to a wall. Okay, think about that for a second. Now, that long cord down the hall so you can have privacy, right? And she just can’t imagine like, they just dance like, yeah, no one’s checking the news. No one’s looking at Reddit. And so the reason I love civil discourse, especially the way we do it at the Aspen Institute, is that the phones are left outside, you know, if you’re waiting for a transplant, you probably shouldn’t be up in the mountains with us anyway. And so there’s nothing super important as pressing on your sick relative, just leave the phone outside, and less engage each other. And you’ll find that people calm down, you know, all your vitals calm, you just, you’re just much more relaxed, and you’re engage, and he actually tires you out.

Because the brain isn’t used to working like that anymore. We’ve rewired ourselves. And so how does that get us to transformational results when you truly listen to others? Because to me, it’s a three part conversation. You’re, you’re convening and engaging the ancients or the texts, if you will, you’re engaging each other, and then you’re engaging yourself. Alright, that that’s a three part conversation. And so if you’re truly engaged in a three part conversation, you can’t help but be transformed. When I first did Socrates in 2011, as a participant, I was a lobbyist for a certain business association. And I left that weekend, under the absolute belief and conviction that I was part of the problem. I was part of the problem and why we can’t move forward as a society. And I stopped seeing the world through my LinkedIn view, like this looks good for the CV, this is going to look good on LinkedIn and like, like, are my values and my time aligning? And I couldn’t say the answer was yes. And so I had to do something different. And so that’s what the conclusion we want everyone to come to like, this isn’t just learning for learnings sake. This is learning for your sake, are you how are you being transformed by this information about what you’re hearing from others and how one person reads the same document as you and comes with a completely different perspective you’ve never heard of.

Okay. And so, I’ve seen dramatic change. I’ve seen companies being created on the fly, in the middle of conversations, people stop talking, start writing things down, leave the room and create companies. Okay, we have several dozen examples of that. I’ve seen relationships form permanent relationships, marriages formed out of conversation. Like she’s super smart, I think I need to get to know her, that type of thing. And so I’ve also seen people break up. We are not aligned values. Those values collision cannot stand. And so it’s a loss or there’s a good reason we can communicate so well, there’s a good reason we have 1000s and 1000s of words and vocabulary, we are supposed to use them, not typed them out, we pose a speak to each other, we’re supposed to engage each other. And I’m finding as we come back to the real basics of humanity, transformation follows soon after.

Allison: That kind of a topic that we gave today’s podcast is belonging and beyond shaping tomorrow through diversity, education and technology. You’ve brought up technology several times in this conversation and how it’s helped us and maybe even how it’s hurt us. So what role does technology play in bridging the gap for, you know, your perception of this greater version of belonging?

Cordell: Yeah, you know, Tech is a could be a great equalizer. It’s also can be a gap Sustainer, if you will, we have only asked a question Can tech. And I’m saying we should probably ask Should tech viewed you know, 30 years ago, as China was developing, there were millions of low wage, low skilled jobs available. And so you could put people to work building things and they became in this became this great exporter that built the second largest economy in the world. Now comes the continent of Africa. That’s going to have 2.5 billion people in the next 30 to 40. yours with an extra 500 million people between the ages of 16 and 35. coming online in the next 15 to 20 years, the tech jobs that would have been avail I’m sorry, that low skilled low wage jobs would have been available for them just as China was developing, just 20 years ago, will not exist because of AI. We’ve automated those tasks. Okay, so what happens when you can’t employ people who want to be employed, bad things happen? Okay?

The same dynamic we’re seeing in the US, I should say, we’ve seen in the US, when NAFTA comes along, and you’re getting low wage, obviously, low cost shipping, the Midwest, essentially fell upon itself and those factories, those jobs went south, we didn’t have a great solution.

For those displaced workers, we basically said, that’s the cost of development. This is called Creative Destruction. Well, that’s not very pleasant to hear, if you don’t want being destroyed, we have to come up with a better answer.

So I think just focusing on tech without its implications, and a remedy for its implications on people is highly problematic. And hopefully, we’ve learned from our paths, it’s what I’m thinking 94, forward. 1994, when NAFTA came in, that we won’t do that to each other, again, I’m especially concerned, but the African continent, place it is known a lot of violence and revolution, especially over the last 30 years. What could happen when you have all of a sudden, you know, 500 extra million people, that’s a lot of people to employ, and to feed, clothe and to house? And so we have we, as a global community, have to be a little more thoughtful with our innovation to ensure that we’re asking the should question first rather than the can?

Allison: Well, obviously, AI has its here. Right? And what should we be thinking about? In a more global perspective, which I appreciate? You know, like, when, when I think about AI, I think about how to streamline things, not does it leave people jobless? Right, yeah, surely? What should we be considering?

Cordell: You know, what are the things that truly makes our life better? You know, I make a lot of fun of dating apps, because I had to date before you had to actually risk rejection, you know, and I tell the stories about you know, you, you ask someone to dance at a club, she’s already dancing, by the way. And she says, No thanks. And you pick your face up and you go, you ask someone else, right? Your buddies laugh at you, but it’s okay. Like you built the emotional must clutter to contend with rejection. And what tech has done over the last 25 years is bubble wrapped us all.

This is why people are so out of control emotionally, they just adults can’t control themselves. When something negative happens, they don’t know how to behave. This is no swipe right or left type of situation.

And so I think in many ways, we have just innovated for innovative innovation purposes, and not really thought about implications. So with that lens of like, what does this mean for humanity, we should start to listing the things that we would love humanity to not have to deal with, I think some of our environmental degradation, if there is a way that AI can help clean up rivers clean up water sources, generate clouds to lower the temperature of the Earth, so we wouldn’t have so much ice melt, we should be using AI to tackle the world’s problems, not to make more money.

Okay? We need humans to make money so they can buy things. Okay, that’s important for our economy. But we’re only we only have one use case, how can I get more profit per hour, for the next widget being made? I’m saying at some point you run out of people to purchase the things you save all this money building, like worried your macroeconomic brain as you reflect upon these things. And I think this this is a call for more diversity when it comes to algorithm design. And I’m going to talk about ethnic diversity. I’m talking about experiential diversity within logical diversity, a geographic diversity, people that have seen the world from different places, they need to be part of the design team. Because if you design it, right, you won’t have built in bias for instance, for a while, you know, I travel internationally a lot as a dark complicated person. The facial recognition wasn’t working on global injury. It just never worked for me that change after a big lawsuit couple years ago. So now no problem they have to just adjust the design of the AI of the algorithm inside the machine to pick up pigment. It’s pigmented skin are people that heavily melanated. So you can imagine how frustrating that is when the vast majority of the world’s travelers look like me. Okay, so if they look like me who the hell design it. People who didn’t look like me. Right? Right. Like who you building it for exactly. And so I think that who, who is this for? And is this a good thing should we do it should be your first design questions after you figure out what is the issue that’s going to make humanity better, and it will not be dating, it will not be construction of widgets, it’s going to be much bigger issues that our brains alone can’t solve.

Allison: I’m going to send us episode two, who should we send it to, to have them put AI on creating our waterways and rivers and oceans?

Cordell: I’m sure there’s someone, some folks at MIT. But you know, you start thinking about like super computing power. And you think of all the different possibilities that can actually get you to a solution set. That’s the perfect use for AI. You know, like, hey, there may be 15,000 possible scenarios to solve this environmental issue. You know, who can think no, humans can’t do that that fast. But, you know, an AI powered machine could let them quit sick it on that these big, intractable issues that are politically challenging to solve because, you know, humans are involved. Let’s take the humans out of tough things. Let’s do that. And I’m not talking about dating. Ask her to dance. It’s okay.

Allison: Absolutely. Cordell I have really appreciated our conversation, the refreshing perspective around humanity and belonging and just deeply appreciate the work you do. And you can borrow my magic wand anytime. Just let me know when you need it.

Cordell: Okay. Thank you so much.

Allison: Thank you.

I'm Allison Dunn,

Your Business Executive Coach

Join our list for exclusive tips, content and a welcome gift – our ebook on how to engage your team and boost profits.