Donnel Baird (left), speaks to the co-owner of Levels Barbershop in Harlem, about an air-conditioning unit. (Photo Credit: Andrew Hinderaker/The Wall Street Journal)
Our upbringings play an integral role in shaping the path that we choose to take in life. That rings true for Brooklyn-bred entrepreneur Donnel Baird. He has utilized his business as an avenue to create more jobs for people living in low-income communities and to spread awareness about environmental sustainability in neighborhoods like Harlem, the Bronx, Queens and his native Brooklyn.
Growing up in Brooklyn, Baird first-handedly experienced the perils of a community plagued by violence and drugs. Instead of falling into the negativity in his environment, his experiences inspired him to become an agent for change. Earlier this year he launched BlocPower, a start-up geared towards developing jobs and spreading awareness about the green movement in underprivileged communities throughout New York City.
“I think growing up there [in Brooklyn] I was afraid, but then at a certain point I decided that I wanted to do something about it. So that’s why I became a community organizer after college,” Baird told PBS. “I grew up in a really terrible community like that, but felt like I had a lot of resources and opportunities that many other kids, who were just as deserving, didn’t get. So I always wanted to give back.”
BlocPower, which Baird launched while finishing his studies at Columbia University’s business school, aids small-owned businesses and churches in finding ways to cut energy costs and increase energy efficiency. Baird assists these small businesses with financing and connects them to investors. In March, he conducted energy audits for businesses throughout the Harlem community. Since then he has expanded his outreach to Brooklyn, the South Bronx, Staten Island and Queens.
BlocPower also aims to create local jobs. Baird has joined forces with a Brooklyn-based organization called Green City Force, which trains young public housing residents on how to conduct energy efficiency evaluations. “We’re helping small businesses and nonprofits get access to funding for solar projects, while creating employment opportunities,” Baird said in an interview.