How Brookfield, Westfield and A-Rod are Trying to Break Down CRE's Barriers to Entry

Anisha Pednekar couldn't imagine a career in real estate. She didn’t see many women or people of color in the business and didn’t think landing a mentor would be easy. She believes some communities, like those in the Bronx where she went to school, often see developers as the bad guys.

"Thinking about real estate, the first thing that comes to your mind is ‘developers are gentrifiers and they're changing places for the worse,’” she said. “And they're kicking people of color, minorities, out of the places they live so that they can’t afford to live there anymore.” Last year, Pednekar met Cedric Bobo at a summer program at Harvard Business School for students from underrepresented backgrounds. Bobo runs Project Destined, a nonprofit that provides real estate training for young people in underserved communities. The encounter immediately changed her employment trajectory.

Commercial real estate has long been a largely white, male-dominated industry  with a high barrier to entry that has often meant companies and properties are handed down from generation to generation. Project Destined, which launched in Detroit in 2016 and is now operating in four U.S. cities and London, aims to offer young people the training they need to break into the industry. The goal of the program — which provides online courses, offers training from industry members and puts students into teams to compete against each other on mock development deal pitches — is to demystify the world of development and generate a new pool of real estate talent.

With developers increasingly under pressure to tread carefully into the communities where they are building, some of the industry’s biggest names — Brookfield, Westfield, Cortland, Walker & Dunlop and former Yankee great Alex Rodriguez’s A-Rod Corp. among them — are backing the program with both financial support and executives’ time.