Johnathaan L. Pannell, President & CEO of District Partnerships

There is a need to be the best for success. Good grades, good character, and a good background to be successful. But there are those who persevere, make the most of what they’ve got, and create a path to success on their own. These are the ones who are truly successful. Working against all odds and understanding defeat to sharpen his skills, Jonathaan L Pannell makes it to the list of Most Inspiring Business Leaders in 2023.

Though there were times that he felt defeated by his non-black classmates and times when he didn’t understand how he would get where he wanted to be, Mr. Johnathaan worked diligently to ultimately became the President and CEO of District Partnerships and continues to prove his worth worldwide. Mr. Johnathaan attended Henry W. Draper Elementary, Charles Hart Junior High, and National Prep High School, all in the Ward 8 area of Washington, DC. He remembers what his third-grade teacher said and continues to live by it even today. She, Mrs. Etta Burt, said to 8-year-old Mr. Johnathaan, “John, all you have to do is believe, and the rest will work itself out.” “I thought she was just trying to get me to finish the English work I was doing, but I later realized that she was absolutely correct. All I needed to do was believe. Looking at my life today, I am only in this position because I believed,” says Mr. Johnathaan.

Realizing Eminent Success

With his teacher’s words in mind, Mr. Johnathaan has succeeded in his field. One of the milestones he shares was when he joined Ingenuity Prep PCS in Washington DC as their Talent & HR leader. Known for the difference they make in the black and brown community, Mr. Johnathaan knew he could make a difference at this institution that he had known about since its inception. On meeting the cofounder Will Stoezter before the launch of the school. The mission that he communicated was simply incredible. After going to college and working as an HR professional at another non-profit, Mr. Johnathaan was eager to apply when he saw the opening at the school. “It was there that I realized my true potential. I helped lead the school’s DEI and HR infrastructure. I was charged with analyzing existing policies through an equity and inclusion lens and often proposed solutions to enhance the existing policies, including the time I designed and implemented,” explains Mr. Johnathaan. The Progressive Discipline Policy (the first the school had) ensured all staff was treated equitably while having a chance to course-correct their performance. Mr. Johnathaan served as the diversity, equity, and inclusion leader working in partnership with various teams to design annual initiatives (e.g., Black History Month celebrations) while building a multi-year strategy for Ingenuity Prep as they continued their progression towards becoming an anti-racist organization.

Mr. Johnathaan was exposed to the effects of disproportionate resource allocation from a very young age. He saw firsthand how this impacted not only the social and economic well-being of children but also the mental well-being of families around the city. This adversely affected how Mr. Johnathaan studied in school and what he thought he could do as a student. But, he persevered and used those experiences to educate himself and others on the importance of advocacy and community engagement and development. “During my adolescent years, I was intentional about joining groups where I could make a meaningful impact on my community. Programs like Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s Youth Advisory Council and The YMCA Youth & Government Program. Both of these programs were instrumental in my development as a leader and activist,” shares Mr. Johnathaan.

Championing Equitability

As A Human Capital Leader, Mr. Johnathaan understands that it is his responsibility to advocate for equitable systems and processes within an organization. “The tough part is that sometimes organizations are not ready and committed to producing the change needed to enhance their Diversity, Equity & Inclusion infrastructure. Shifting an organizational culture is not easy, and it takes a great deal of commitment and patience,” explains Mr. Johnathaan. Along with organizational culture are morale and productivity; both are essential to recruiting and retaining high-quality talent. To overcome these challenges, Mr. Johnathaan believes we must take a deeper look into the organizational philosophy, what the organization is setting out to do, and how it can accomplish it. “Furthermore, organizations must have a results mentality and be open to introducing new and innovative ways to develop inclusive and equitable policies,” he adds.

District Partnerships (DPC) was founded in 2018 to help organizations take a deeper look at equity initiatives and have expert support to advance their mission. DPC initially started providing Diversity, Equity & Inclusion services to small businesses and expanded in its second year to give HR & Executive Search Services. District Partnerships also helps companies to determine the skills and knowledge required in a job role by analyzing the challenges unique to the role & the organization, establishing client priorities through the search process. DPC doesn’t just provide services but creates long-lasting relationships with clients. “We often check in with past clients about their work, offer pro-bono support, and engage in discussions with leaders afterward about ways they can develop equity expertise and support internally at their organization,” Mr. Johnathaan clarifies.

District Partnerships have helped dozens of organizations intentionally diagnose their shortfalls and create new and innovative ways to enhance their organization. What started as a firm providing DEI services to clients has evolved into a company that caters to HR and Executive search services. Mainly, DPC has provided over 100 hours of pro-bono support to organizations, especially during the pandemic, where they supported companies trying to survey staff, develop DEI initiatives, and conceptualize their internal policies.

Encouraging Growth and Responsibility

Motivation is important in any organization. Mr. Johnathaan understands that when the staff doesn’t feel motivated to do their best work, to speak up, and to challenge the hurtful narrative, they will simply show up, do their job, and say nothing. Furthermore, their morale and productivity will decline with motivation, leaving them feeling drained and overwhelmed at work. “At DPC, I encourage all of our staff members to stand up for what is right, even when that means conflict will arise. We must stand firm on denouncing toxic workplace cultures and find a way to drive engagement in our teams with motivating tools,” Mr. Johnanthaan explains. DPC realizes that motivation isn’t just about saying a good job or “you should do it.” It’s about setting clear expectations and targets, recognizing and rewarding great work, and lastly, making sure that everyone understands the “why” behind decisions the organization is making.

Maintaining a company culture is a challenging task. Sustainability is critical, and pushing through difficult times is a strong commitment business owners must take to succeed. “We’ve helped communities look at policies and staffing to develop plans of action that support a greater community within the organization. In 2022 there are many ways to change your culture, but most organizations are not successful at it because they lack the essential ingredients to do so,” opines Mr. Johnathaan. These ingredients include linking desired outcomes with data and problem-solving, capturing raw and transparent feedback from valued stakeholders, and taking it one step at a time. “To see an improvement in your culture, the first step is to link your desired outcomes to the data you have and to address the problems head-on. You must look at the problems, diagnose where they are coming from, and use data points (from surveys, suggestion boxes, etc.) Lastly, most organizations want to see a change overnight, when the real change does not happen for months, even years down the road,” he concludes.

For More Info:

Content Disclaimer

Related Articles