Q&A with Cedric Bobo, Co-Founder and CEO of Project Destined
December 15, 2022
Cedric Bobo is the co-founder and CEO of Project Destined, a leading social impact platform that partners with schools, corporations and nonprofits to train underserved students in financial literacy, entrepreneurship and real estate.
This year, the organization joined forces with Eden Housing, National Intermediary Housing Partnership Network (HPN) and Beacon Communities to host an Affordable Housing Bridge Program that cultivates young talent in the affordable housing sector. The eight-week fellowship exposes Project Destined alumni to potential career paths by connecting them virtually and in-person with affordable housing leaders and practitioners in the nonprofit and for-profit spaces.
Cedric has more than 20 years of experience as an investment banker, including 10 years at The Carlyle Group, where he committed over $2 billion of equity capital. We sat down with Cedric to learn more about Project Destined, the Affordable Housing Bridge Program, and his plans for the organization’s future.
Q: You spent over 20 years as an investment banker dealing with billions of dollars in equity capital. So why Project Destined?
I had an incredible career in investment banking and private equity, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I also had aspirations of someday becoming an entrepreneur. So I dedicated the first part of my career to building financial stability in order to take care of my family and begin my career as an entrepreneur on stronger footing.
As way of background, I’m from a family in northern Mississippi where my great grandfather bought a small hundred-acre farm in the 1890s. I grew up wanting to be like him – owning a home and a business. I didn’t know how to do it at the time, but investment banking and private equity eventually taught me how. Then two events led to my current career path. First, when I moved to London, I saw my father-in-law, who was a surgeon, buying apartment buildings to supplement his income. I was shocked that he could use business financing to buy apartments in neighborhoods where people looked like us and shared our values.
Then in 2016, I saw a movie about Detroit. I was quite impressed by the fact that this city was undergoing such tremendous change and seeing significant investment in real estate. However, the caveat was there were so many people who wanted to become homeowners but felt more like victims of change than participants. They had the desire, but not the tools or the relationships.
I saw this as an opportunity — I had decent tools from my career as an investment banker and was fortunate to have built many relationships through my time at Harvard Business School and working at several firms. I think so much of entrepreneurship is trying to find a problem and then being able to identify a solution you can scale. When I saw the movie about the situation in Detroit, I thought, “This is it.”
Originally, I intended to go to Detroit, buy a plot of land to develop, and build a playground next door, thinking that would be my contribution to helping the people of that city. I spent a lot of time talking to the locals in Detroit, and they noted that I make my money by investing in buildings and then one day selling or refinancing them, and suggested I teach Detroit students how to do that. That was the beginning of Project Destined, which focuses on teaching students important topics like how to invest. We would give them live deals to analyze, and they would have to pitch them just like I did at The Carlyle Group. That movie showed me an opportunity, but speaking to people in Detroit helped me understand what they really needed, not just what I thought I could give.
It became clear that I was successful at working with people on the path to ownership. So, I set out to build a global apprenticeship program. I wanted to teach people in various markets across the world how to become owners in their city through apprenticeship style. And that’s what we’ve been building. It matches my desires to be an entrepreneur and help others approach ownership, and it enables me to use both a financial toolkit and teaching tools to engage young and old people alike.
Q: Project Destined is a social impact investment platform. What type of social impact are you looking to make?
A lot of what we do is educating and training people to become investors and participants in the neighborhood. I want people to be aware of how to participate in the economics of their community. Part of that is teaching them that they deserve to become owners. I think so much of being successful is believing you deserve it. I also want to teach folks how to explore career opportunities in real estate and related businesses because there’s such a broad range of job opportunities and so many incredible jobs, like broker, developer, banker, property manager and asset manager, to name a few.
Sometimes companies in real estate do a lot of lateral hiring and hire only people who are already in the industry. I’m trying to provide tools where they can acquire talent whom we’ve trained in the skillsets they need to be effective. Since we launched Project Destined in 2016, we’ve trained over 4,500 students across 350 different high schools and universities in 35 markets in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom and Europe. This year, we added the Affordable Housing Program as we didn’t have anything that connected our students with affordable housing.
We partnered with HPN, Eden Housing and Beacon Communities and thought about the demands of students and employers. From there we built an eight-week bridge program where students get a chance to hear about the top career opportunities, learn the skills that are required and really get to know their communities.
The selected students got to fly out and visit an affordable housing community, bringing to life the benefits of having a successful career while doing good. Sometimes when you get into these communities, you realize that maybe your view of what affordable housing is might be old and dated, and biased to some degree. Lots of our students assume all affordable housing is Section 8 housing. They had no idea the ways affordable housing impacts communities. And when they got on site, I think they were in shock because the buildings were incredible; the people were deeply impacted by this work; and it’s intellectually stimulating. The best part of all of this is that we had 180 applications for 30 slots, and 40% of our applicants had lived in affordable housing themselves. They understand these communities deeply, and now they can have a chance to help create and operate them.
Q: What benefit do participants receive from taking part in the program? Do you have a success story you would like to share?
There’s a couple of them. The most rewarding thing to me is when you achieve an outcome that’s based in lending a hand up rather than a handout. Sometimes people get lost in feeling sorry for folks versus creating opportunities for them. That’s what my listening tour in Detroit taught me.
One especially rewarding moment came when we ran an email campaign to highlight some career opportunities at Eden Housing, and we got 200 applications in just a couple of days. They had great jobs that students hadn’t been aware of, and we were able to match them with qualified talent.
One of the kids we work with who is part of our Boston program goes to University of Massachusetts and has lived in Section 8 housing his entire life. Going through our Eden program was life-changing for him as he had his first internship this summer, with a second one lined up next summer at a private equity firm. The number of kids going from Section 8 housing to private equity firms is not a large, highly correlated set. For him to use our programs to create opportunity for himself is quite magical.
Q: What’s next for Project Destined?
We trained 35 to 40 students this fall, and our goal is 500 students in 2023. We’ll grow the program more than tenfold across the year. We’re increasing the number of talent acquisition tools that are available to our partners because they want to hire full-time from the internships. One key tool is a community platform that looks like LinkedIn and is easy for all of our students to access, and we’re building email campaigns for our corporate partners. So, you’ll see more students go through the program and more tools will be available to them, like our upcoming Human Resources speaker series which will feature HR leaders sharing insight on the talent acquisition process.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
I’ve been incredibly inspired by Eden’s approach to storytelling. Their ability to help our students understand the communities, the role, and the impact of the work is really unsurpassed. It’s been impressive to see their pride in their work and their pride in telling a story about the work so students better understand it. I’m really proud of that and grateful for this partnership.