September 13, 2021

Meet the ConnextMSP Managing Director: Ieesha McKinzie Collins

Ieesha McKinzie Collins joined the GREATER MSP Partnership as the inaugural Managing Director of ConnextMSP in June, 2021. A transplant to MSP, Ieesha moved to the region in 2013 to pursue a career in brand marketing and communications with General Mills. Later, she led the education grants portfolio for the General Mills Foundation. Ieesha has built a purpose-driven career, balanced with a strong business sensibility. Prior roles with Teach for America, the Broad Residency, and KIPP Texas Public Schools have all deepened her knowledge in supporting young people on the path to college and career. Immediately prior to the GREATER MSP Partnership, Ieesha served as Managing Director of External Relations for Breakthrough Collaborative, a national education nonprofit based in Oakland, CA.

Ieesha brings a unique skill set that will help advance the goals and objectives of ConnextMSP. She is leading this GREATER MSP strategic initiative as we build strong cross-sector partnerships to identify solutions for advancing young professionals of color as they launch careers.

We asked Ieesha several questions to learn more about her passion and commitment to this work.

Why do you think now is the time to launch the ConnextMSP platform in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul region?

We have an increasingly diverse talent pipeline, yet major gaps in employment and wages for people of color in our region. If our region hopes to continue growing and competing on the global stage, we must make immediate changes in our own backyard. It’s critically important to support those from our own communities as they seek to launch professional careers and access the economic prosperity we have in our region.

ConnextMSP is in a unique position, thanks to contributions from so many. We are right at the epicenter of having a creative and necessary strategic approach in a moment that is ripe for change. While young adults of color are struggling to get access to opportunity, our region has more than 37,000 entry-level job vacancies each year, and is struggling to meet labor demands. At the same time, business leaders have recognized that in our global economy, intercultural fluency brought by diverse talent is a huge asset to growth. 

Last year, many of our region’s business leaders made public commitments to increasing diversity and advancing equity. One of the levers we can pull to ensure those commitments are realized is through ConnextMSP’s growing pipeline of talented young professionals of color. These are the future leaders of our region, who are eager to lend their skills and build careers. But like all of us, they need support. They need to have some doors opened so they can secure those career-track jobs, and they need to have  inclusive workplaces where they can thrive and advance. Together, we can tackle systemic barriers and unlock more opportunities. This is a social, economic, and moral imperative for the growth of our region -- and for our future.

What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities in the growth of ConnextMSP?

This challenge is far too big for any single organization to solve alone. ConnextMSP is positioned to bring partners together to work on solutions. We are building an extensive network that connects our region’s colleges and universities, career readiness programs, top employers and young professionals of color who are poised to launch successful careers. Every partner has a role to play. 

By engaging leaders across organizations – recruiters, hiring managers, DEI leaders and executives – we are ensuring this work will have a lasting impact. The opportunity is tremendous, but the work ahead will require sustained focus and commitment. While offering support and a pipeline of talent, we will look to our region’s top employers to empower and motivate their hiring teams to engage with the ConnextMSP network of young professionals. We will also look to business leaders, at every level, to set an example for what an inclusive and supportive early-career environment looks like. 

Changing systems set in place over centuries is a slow and difficult process, but I know that together we can achieve impressive results. Together, we are making our region a leader in economic prosperity and advancing equity. I am excited to share the strategies for achieving these goals during our launch event in September.

Where would you like to see ConnextMSP in five years?

Five years from now, my goal is to see thousands of young professionals of color in MSP thriving. This will mean they are successfully matched to fruitful careers or career advancement opportunities with our region’s top employers. I hope to see our region’s leading businesses and corporations making significant changes to systems that previously perpetuated inequity or only opened doors to a select few. I envision companies actively engaged in the ConnextMSP network, meeting and building connections with talented young professionals. I also hope that young professionals will say that ConnextMSP offered them a welcoming and supportive network from which to launch careers, paved with fewer barriers and frustrations than those who came before them. 

While we can’t erase the challenges many faced in the past, we can play a huge role in how we shape our region’s future. For those involved with ConnextMSP, there’s an invitation to do just that.

How did your personal experience and professional background prepare you for this new role?

My own journey as a first-generation college graduate gives me a window into the road that lies ahead for many young adults of color in our region. As someone who had to learn how to navigate the professional landscape and build a network from the ground up, I know how daunting the process can be. But, I also know that our drive to succeed is unmatched.

It is not always an easy road, but with mentors, coaching, and support along the way, the path becomes more clear. I believe companies and employers in our region must play a critical role in creating inclusive work environments and advancing equity. I am honored to carry this important work forward alongside our team and coalition supporting our region's young professionals of color as they launch careers.

Who do you draw inspiration from as you embark on this new role?

I draw inspiration from the undeniable resilience and brilliance I see in this next generation of young adults in our community. Even in the face of adversity, there is no stopping their shine! I see them rising to the occasion, using their voices, and leading in ways that give me so much hope for our future.