by Mellissa Thomas
“There are a lot of organizations and things going on in Orlando, but nobody comes together. We need to come together.” That is the resounding complaint among many of Orlando’s community leaders and entrepreneurs, and even among disillusioned college students. Plus, there are only so many networking events burgeoning entrepreneurs can attend before they empty their accounts, since many of them are ticketed events. In addition to that, there is also the generational disparity between more senior businesspeople and younger neophytes, particularly millennials, which are now classified as “Generation Me”.
None of this has been lost on enterprising businesswoman Gigi Moorman; but instead of only making the complaint, she chose to do something about it.
Moorman founded Raise Your Glass Promotions, a company that produces two types of high quality ticketed events. “I tell people I produce social networking and personal development events,” she explained to FNN News Tuesday. “The UNITY Networking Mixers cater to professionals, and the DECADES House Parties are the social networking events. Raise Your Glass’s motto is CONNECT. DEVELOP. CELEBRATE.”
The quarterly UNITY Networking Mixers only launched two years ago, and are already successful because of the value attendees receive thanks in part to strategic corporate partnerships with Pepsi and BB&T. The events provide an opportunity for employee resource groups from major corporations in Orlando, professional and civic organizations, and local entrepreneurs to meet and be enriched through knowledgeable guest speakers and empowering panel discussions. “These organizations and groups do a great job networking among themselves, but don’t network together on a consistent basis,” Moorman noted. “There’s so much opportunity for synergy that they haven’t tapped into because they haven’t come together.”
So what about that generation gap?
Moorman has addressed that too. With the help of Pepsi’s North America Senior Vice President and General Manager Derek Lewis, she drafted a plan for intergenerational conversations and events in 2015 that includes a three-part UNITY panel discussion series, “Bridging the Next Generation.” The series explores the panelists’ transition to Orlando, “because many Orlando residents aren’t natives, they’re trans[plants].” The series explores how they are connecting with the next generation—do they have mentors or mentees, how they are working in the community. “Changes are important to see and discuss,” she passionately added. “There’s still value to be gained from hearing someone else’s story.”
Part I took place in February for Black History Month, which featured accomplished business minds Annetta Wilson and Bob Billingslea, and Chief Val Demings, moderated by STAR 94.5’s Monica May. All four shared their experiences in business, facing racism and sexism, how to survive in business despite adversity, and the importance of giving back to the community, especially through mentorship.
Wilson, who has moderated a past UNITY event and will be moderating the UNITY Millennials Rising panel discussion Thursday, May 21st at 6pm at the Abbey in Downtown Orlando, loves the events. “Anything Gigi asks, I’ll be there,” she told FNN News after the February panel discussion. “I believe in what she’s doing.”
Unity in the Community
Raise Your Glass is only one item in Moorman’s “portfolio.” She is also one of six women heading Space to Grow, a grassroots nonprofit in its tenth year that supports the community in various ways, including its partnership with WRCC, a transition home for abused women and children. Space to Grow’s support includes the annual “Baskets of Love” event, which involves putting gift baskets together for the residents. “We knew how lonely Valentine’s Day can be for single people, so we came up with a way to shower them with love,” she said. However, the group made sure the gifts, presented at a party held around Valentine’s Day, were practical: the gifts are shower baskets filled with toiletries.
Additionally, Space to Grow supports The Greatest Investment (TGI) Girls’ Empowerment Summer Camp, a free four-week camp which hosts twenty-five girls every July, aiming to shape the next generation of female leaders through exposure. The girls hear from inspiring guest speakers, are taken on college tours, take lessons in mind-sharpening activities such as golf, tennis, or sewing, and learn to journal, which opens their eyes by the program’s end. The camp is run by an all-volunteer staff and is donor-funded.
Unity is in the Blood
Moorman, who hails from Brooklyn, New York, has lived unity since childhood. The half-Haitian, half-Puerto Rican lived in a neighborhood with other nationalities, and everyone looked out for each other. She even recalled an example of one neighbor picking up all the children in the neighborhood and taking them to the ice cream shop to buy Italian ices.
As an adult, Moorman amassed twenty years of experience as an executive assistant, which cemented her perspective on unity and how essential it is in business. “An executive assistant has to have the ability to see the bigger picture,” she explained. “You learn to [foster] relationships, collaborations, and teamwork. It’s not just about what’s happening with your team, but the whole company.” She also shared that as executive assistant, she planned events as well, including team-builders, which formed her skill to produce her now successful events as an entrepreneur.
In fact, it was her ability to see the bigger picture that secured her partnerships with Pepsi and BB&T. At Orlando Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 awards ceremony three years ago, which BB&T sponsored, she met BB&T Regional President Tony Coley, who was relatively new to the Orlando area, and exchanged business cards. “I met up with him for lunch and told him about Raise Your Glass and my charity work. I have a strong network, so when he needed to meet people, I was happy to make introductions for him.”
For Pepsi, Moorman said Lewis was someone she wanted to meet, so when Raise Your Glass first launched she emailed him event invitations, which he would kindly decline. However, once she came up with the idea for the first UNITY Black History Month event, she reached out to him requesting his help in fleshing out the plan she felt would make good synergy for Pepsi. He met with her, and once she told him about Raise Your Glass, her charity work, and her desire to bring African American employee resource groups together, he came onboard, but agreed to sponsor the event on the condition that Coley co-sponsor as well. Once Moorman relayed the message to Coley, he too agreed to sponsor.
“After the first hour, Derek said they loved it,” Moorman recalled of the event. “He asked, ‘When’s the next one?’”
On the Horizon
The UNITY Millennials Rising panel discussion is the immediate item, happening Thursday, May 21, 2015 at the Abbey in Downtown Orlando, from 6 p.m.-9 p.m., including Stewart Moore of WESH-TV.
Moorman has no intention of slowing down, though. July is right around the corner, so she is already gearing up for this year’s TGI Camp.
With Raise Your Glass, Moorman has been working to unite the African American employee resource groups and business community across Orlando thus far because she saw there was a void. “Orlando’s a tough place to meet African American professionals because we don’t have a central hub. We’re segregated by location. People on the east side of town are less likely to attend an event happening on the west side.”
However, once she feels that work is complete, Raise Your Glass will progress to a multicultural focus because she feels diversity is key.
“Understanding other people’s cultures is fundamental. As a Caribbean person, I don’t see anything else.”