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Supporting DBEs? Play the Long Game

By October 19, 2021November 17th, 2021Energy Rant
Supporting DBEs

We live in a world of instant gratification and making this quarter’s numbers, or at most, annual numbers, is the main goal – except, of course, for zero-carbon goals that no one knows how to solve. Too often, governors, mayors, legislatures, and companies throw goals out there 30 years or more down the road, making it someone else’s problem. Planning, setting critical milestones, and preparing for the next five or ten years, or even longer, requires discipline, but it is also where the big payoffs to success are born.

Not surprisingly, I learned the long game about taking on challenges from my parents. My dad’s universal tools were a pair of plyers, a stubby pencil, and his brain. He would do long math with the pencil on whatever was available – a bag of feed, seed corn, a wall, the side of a wagon, or a hunk of wood. He was hardcore on us for taking math and science rather than weenie courses. The weenie courses were necessary too, but kids would take them for an easy ride to nowhere.

Disadvantaged Business Enterprises

In case you don’t reply to requests for proposals, there is currently a surge in efforts to enroll women and minority-owned businesses that are successfully engaging with underserved and distressed communities. These businesses are frequently called disadvantaged business enterprises or DBEs.

There are many spectacularly successful DBEs in our industry of efficiency and demand management professionals. Interestingly, if a DBE is too successful, they lose the definition. But how do we engage trade allies and other professional service providers when they are few and far between? The long game.

A few years ago, I read an article about using leverage to be a force for good. For example, you can volunteer time at a food pantry or habitat for humanity. OR, you can use entrepreneurial creativity to develop and leverage something much bigger and more impactful using the same number of hours. There is a place for both.

Start Early

Similarly, you can pound the street to find and engage DBE service providers, or you can leverage the long game to have a much more substantial impact. We cannot hire what does not exist, so we must go far up the chain. Sound familiar?

The Zweig Letter, which I’ve read for years and is now free, wrote that girls interested in STEM[1] are passively falling out of STEM because of biases and self-image. This starts happening in fourth grade! Of course, STEM isn’t the only line of professions needed in this business. The point is, to make a substantial difference, we need to get upstream, way upstream from where most folks consider engaging with DBEs (fourth grade).

Support K-12 STEM programs, especially in those hard-to-reach and distressed communities. As the Zweig article says, kids need to “see it to be it.”


I get tired and sometimes scoff at the whining that we’re not making progress at this or that. Be objective and think like a scientist. Look at history with your own eyes, not what someone tells you.

I was in a junk store a few weeks ago in Southern Wisconsin. I love flipping through old books and magazines to find what it was like back in the day. I flipped through a 1940s yearbook from Iowa State University. Of course, I had to check out the engineering section – page after page of nothing but white men. No women. No diversity. It isn’t that way today! – but there’s always more to do.

[1] Science, technology, engineering, and math, sometimes called STEAM, where the A is architecture or arts.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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