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Skot Welch: Ambassador and Advocate

Skot Welch, man of many talents.

Skot Welch, man of many talents.

 Man of the world, Skot Welch thrives on the ambitious mission to enhance cultural competency and foster diversity not only in the greater Grand Rapids area, but also across the globe through a myriad of ventures from the corporate to the creative. Welch is the founder and managing partner of Global Bridgebuilders, co-host of the weekly broadcast show Radio in Black and White, and founder of the Mosaic Film Experience. With each of these distinct projects, Welch focuses on providing a sounding board to a broad range of people through innovative ideas with community in mind.    
Welch's awareness of divergent cultures and passion for human connection began as a child and, notably, while living in Korea for two years. "I was the only kid from the United States in the entire city. My mom and dad made a conscious decision to live in the city instead of the military base," he says.
Living in Korea changed how Welch viewed the world, and living there was informative because he had to build relationships. "I learned just enough Korean to be dangerous," he jokes.
The experience led Welch to eventually seek to cultivate community on a broader scale. "I like to bring the mosaic of human kind together, not just people I feel comfortable with," he says. "I like rooms filled with people who are different than me, but we have some common themes that we can talk about. That's my heart right there. It happens to be what I do for a living."
Welch has been working in diversity management for over 20 years and in that time he created Global Bridgebuilders, which is a consultancy firm that focuses on inclusion and cultural competency across seven countries. "I'm always trying to bring people to together. (Through the company), we help to build bridges of relationships between human beings. Our motto is 'innovation through inclusion.' When I say innovation through inclusion, people tend to think about ethnicity or gender. What we're saying is that inclusive means all the voices in the organization… you want to see a demographic that reflects this changing world and get people involved who haven't been listened to.” From a business standpoint, Welch believes that this inclusion of voices from the bottom up is "much more competitive and much more profitable."
The innovation that Global Bridgebuilders helps to implement ranges from simply seeking decision making input from workers on the ground, to guiding company sales practices in countries that are culturally distinctive. For example, they examine questions like when a company intends to purchase new equipment, does the equipment operator have a voice in the process? Or, on a larger scale, how can a U.S.-based company effectively connect to customers in China or South Africa?
The question is, "how do you connect and serve your customers in a way that is effective, meaningful, and positive for your customers," says Welch. "In all the countries, we have people in those countries that work with us. It's important to have someone on the ground. I have a friend… based in China right now. He is African American, and has been in China for three years. He has three kids…when they say they really miss home, if you just look at them you probably think of somewhere in the U.S., but they really mean Shanghai. Cultural competency is something that a company never arrives at, but is always striving for."
Beyond helping companies create an inclusive and culturally savvy atmosphere, Welch works in other forms of media to promote a dialogue that focuses on these issues and challenges in a more local way. The weekly broadcast show "Radio in Black and White" co-hosted by Welch and Rick Wilson is billed as a positive conversation focused on race, class, gender, and age. "Basically, we talk about the whole ideas of multicultural America. We talk about news and stories and things and how it affects our lives -- in sports, or entertainment, or whatever that may be."
True to his mission of inclusion, Welch also looks to the younger segment of society. "I'm the founder of the Mosaic Film experience," he says. "It's a film festival that has its focus on showing the films of high school and college kids from around the world and more specifically those in Michigan. It provides a platform for our brilliant young people to show how they view the world and we want them to share their experiences."
The annual festival features films that are built around diversity and offer young people a way to share their stories. The event runs November 1-2 at the Wealthy Theater.
"The common thing for me is that all of these things are helping to create a more beautiful and excellent community," says Welch. "I went to school locally. I went to all Grand Rapids public schools. I'm a local product."
And while he thinks globally, he is directly invested in this state and focused on positive growth in the area. "In West Michigan, I would love to see a greater marriage between innovation as a practice, but also inclusion as a practice. The next step we can go to is model what an inclusive community can do in terms of innovation. I'm always pressing the envelope on that to have different voices at the table and different communities. The question we should ask is not who is at the table, but who is not at the table."
Audria Larsen is a freelance writer, entrepreneur, and professional entertainer. Her work has been published in Rapid Growth Media, Revue Magazine, Michigan Blue Magazine and Hooping.org. She is the founder of Audacious Hoops, Grand Rapids' original "hula" hoop company and produces a myriad of art and entertainment ventures. 

Photography by Adam Bird. 

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