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Diversity Leaders Initiative (DLI)

About the South Carolina Diversity Leaders Initiative (DLI)

Carefully selected, established leaders from all sectors of South Carolina society, nominated by DLI alumni and invited to apply, take part in the Riley Institute at Furman’s Diversity Leaders Initiative (DLI), a unique, highly interactive, multi-award winning program. Participants learn to understand their diversity and inclusion “blind spots” and how to suspend assumptions. They come away with focused decision-making skills and deep knowledge of how to effectively manage and lead increasingly diverse workers, clients and constituents.

DLI participants are selected for their capacity to impact their organizations and communities. Numbering more than 2,300 in spring of 2021, the DLI alumni roster reads like a Who’s Who in South Carolina leadership. It includes CEOs of corporations, mayors, city and county council members, legislators, school superintendents, pastors and rabbis, non-profit heads, chamber of commerce directors, and community leaders.

DLI graduates become Riley Fellows, members of a powerful, cross-sector, statewide network. Riley Fellows differ greatly in many aspects of diversity, but are united in their commitment to progress in South Carolina. Fellows gather at OneSouthCarolina®, the statewide gathering of Riley Fellows, to examine issues critical to the state and how they can drive positive change.

Launched in 2003 in South Carolina’s Upstate, DLI now operates statewide, with classes in the South Carolina Upstate, Midlands and Lowcountry. Classes, limited to around 40 participants, are shaped to reflect the diverse demographic characteristics of South Carolina. Far from a traditional “diversity training class,” DLI brings everyone into the definition of diversity to consider how differences in race, gender, generation, sexual orientation, geographic orientation, culture, knowledge, experience, perception, etc., impact the lives of individuals and enterprises and how prepared leaders can leverage those differences in support of their missions. 

Designed and skillfully facilitated by Juan Johnson of Diversity Leadership in Action, DLI brings participants together one day a month for five months. Learning opportunities in the highly interactive curriculum include case studies, scenarios analyses and other experiential learning tools to maximize interaction and discussion among participants and facilitate productive relationships.

As part of the program, participants work in small groups to identify and develop real solutions for real issues facing their communities. These community action projects bond participants together and help build stronger communities throughout South Carolina.

DLI and its related programs have drawn considerable praise for their effectiveness in breaking down the barriers that have been obstacles to social and economic progress in South Carolina. They have won a variety of awards including the Greenville NAACP’s award for helping create an understanding of cultural differences for all people and the MLK Dream Weekend “Champion of Diversity” Award and garnered considerable media coverage.

For more information please call Megan Dodgens, Manager of Diversity Leadership Programs at 864.294.3253 or