Downtown Holland explores DEI with Hope College's Center For Leadership

Students from Hope College’s Center for Leadership will present the “business case” for diversity, equity, and inclusion at a downtown Holland event this month.

Downtown Holland has partnered with the college’s Center for Leadership to explore opportunities for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). The program’s students have spent hours collecting data and compiling a report on where the shopping and dining district stands on matters of DEI and what it can do to improve.

“The students have been very conscientious about not leaping to a conclusion if they don’t have data,” says Cheryl Edwards-Cannon, a consulting coach with Center for Leadership at Hope College. “The four students have just been extraordinary and laser focused as they look at the data.”

She hinted that the report may contain some surprising data.

The CFL students will host a final presentation to share their findings at 9 a.m. Monday, April 25, at the Holland Civic Center Place (150 E. Eighth St.) in the Market View room on the second floor. The public is invited to attend and no RSVP is necessary. Complimentary refreshments will be provided by downtown Holland. 

Holland is among the Lakeshore communities that have approved a social district.

Each semester interdisciplinary teams of Hope College students and professional project coach assist about 10 to 15 businesses and nonprofits with specific projects. The teams solve real-world problems for clients, while the experiential learning and mentoring helps the students to discern their calling as well as develop their critical-thinking, problem-solving, and team-building skills. The CFL is led by Doug Ruch, a former CEO with decades of business experience who joined Hope College in 2015.


“This is a true win-win project,” Ruch says. “It represents a wonderful opportunity for our students to learn experientially and hone skills they will need as leaders. And I am confident the team will provide excellent outcomes that will enhance an already amazing downtown Holland.”

As part of their work with downtown Holland, the CFL students are exploring the “business case” for DEI to better understand the financial benefits of a diverse customer base. The students have been working on the project under the guidance of project coach Cheryl Edwards-Cannon, along with subject matter expert Robyn Afrik, who is the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Director for Ottawa County.


“As Hope College’s neighbor, we were thrilled with the Center for Leadership’s support of our DEI efforts in downtown Holland and their willingness to take our project on because of the meaningful impact it will have,” says Downtown Holland Marketing Coordinator Kara de Alvare. “We’ve been nothing but impressed by the students’ efforts and professionalism throughout this entire project and we are looking forward to seeing the culmination of their work at their final presentation later this month.”

Downtown Holland has more than 100 locally owned boutiques, shops, and galleries, along with breweries, cafes, and restaurants. 

Since 2008, CFL Consulting has completed 225 real-world projects for a diverse collection of businesses and nonprofit organizations. Project topics have included human resources, marketing, sales, operations, procurement/logistics, IT, engineering, finance, and strategy.

“I’ve learned a lot as their coach,” Edwards-Cannon says, “but the joy comes from watching them and their self-discovery.”

Read more articles by Andrea Goodell.