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D&I-Focused Internship Scheme Backed By Industry Heavyweights Expands To UK


A real estate internship, skills and education platform backed by some of the biggest names in the industry has expanded into the UK for the first time amid plans for a wider European rollout, Bisnow can reveal. 

Project Destined, the nonprofit organisation set up by former Carlyle executive Cedric Bobo, is running its first internship programme in the UK. A group of 39 university students are undertaking 10-week placements, gaining practical firsthand experience in the real estate industry. Three groups will undertake placements at CBRE Investment Management, Greystar and Invesco, respectively.

The programme is part of an increased focus by real estate generally on improving diversity and inclusion in a predominantly White and male sector.

Some of the Project Destined UK students.

The three companies have all partnered previously with Project Destined in the U.S. and are the foundational partners for the internship programme in the UK.

Bobo set up Project Destined with the aim of helping young people from underrepresented groups become real estate equity owners and decision-makers, so they could help shape their own communities and improve diversity in an industry that shapes the world.

Data is patchy, but a 2014 survey from the RICS and EY found that just 1.2% of people working in the UK built environment identified as being from a minority ethnic background. In 2019, 31% of the students qualifying into the real estate profession were female, the RICS said.

In the U.S., Project Destined has found success by setting up structured programs that give interns the opportunity to learn skills they will need to succeed in real estate. The organisation’s largest programme is in New York, and 80% of its students have received internships or jobs within a year of participating. 

Bobo told Bisnow that Project Destined’s model, which aims to tailor its programmes to each company with which it works, allows it to more easily roll out across different countries. 

“We have 39 students this year, and we’re aiming for more than 100 next year,” he said. “It’s not necessarily about the challenge of improving diversity in a particular country — every company is different and we can tweak the programme to suit their needs.”

Meet The Students

The students on the Project Destined Virtual Internship programme in the UK undertake three rotations with their allotted company, with each rotation covering different elements of the real estate world including location research, financial modelling, valuation and asset management. 

The students are given time with mentors and senior leadership from the companies, in a virtual format. They then work in teams to build an investment case for a property owned by the company and present their case in a Dragon’s Den/Shark Tank-style forum, and a panel of judges decides which presentation is the best.

Ria McCalla is a student on a four-year BA course studying business management at the University of Wolverhampton. In 2018 she co-founded a residential property management and lettings business with her husband, and she combines work and study with a young family. 

Her university flagged the Project Destined programme to her. She is undertaking her Project Destined placement with Invesco and has already secured an internship at CBRE IM.

“I’ve always believed property was the way forward in terms of assets,” McCalla said on a video call. “The company started off managing other people’s assets and the aim is to take the cashflow and buy our own.” 

Ria McCalla, one of the students on the Project Destined UK programme

McCalla said that her background is in residential property and her degree is a more general business course, so the opportunity to learn about the commercial market has been incredibly useful.

“The programme has been amazing, I’ve really enjoyed it,” she said. “It’s like a community, and the mentors at Invesco and Project Destined have been really committed. There are so many transferable skills you can take forward.”

McCalla even helped shape the application process for the programme, pointing out that UK students wouldn’t necessarily know what a GPA score was. 

Maddy Wallis is a student at the University of Exeter studying for a BSc in business, with a focus on sustainability. 

“There is only so much you can understand through studying, so that practical experience is great, and it is good to talk to people who are living their careers in real estate,” she said. “And Cedric is amazing, the contacts he has, and he is always happy to help.”

Wallis has two disabilities, dyslexia and auditory processing disorder, a condition that she describes as akin to super-sensitive hearing.

“It sounds like a superpower, but it means I can hear everything, and my brain sometimes can’t process the information it’s getting.”

The shift away from dedicated offices is a challenge for people with APD; Wallis said she sometimes has to head to the kitchen or break room to find quiet space. 

She said that schemes like Project Destined are incredibly important. 

“Having programmes that help people like that, or which treat women as equals, are great,” she said. “I’m a go-karter, so I’m used to being in male-dominated environments, but you can’t do it on your own, you need help to make sure that women and people with these conditions are treated equally.”

Wallis said she hopes to land a place on a graduate trainee scheme at a large real estate firm and eventually become a CEO and a mentor herself.

“There are more female CEOs in real estate, but still not enough,” she said. “I’d love to be able to be in a position to help other people and inspire them.”

Origin Story

Bobo founded Project Destined in 2016 in Detroit, and he said the organisation “reflects the needs I had,” as a high school and university student. Bobo grew up in a town of 2,000 people in north Mississippi and knew he wanted to be a real estate owner, but didn’t know how to do it.

He studied engineering at university and won a scholarship to Oxford in the UK. He played rugby there with a few people who were in investment banking, “and they were making much more money doing similar maths.” He came back to the U.S., went into investment banking and ended up in the private equity division of Salomon Brothers. He later joined Carlyle, where he worked for almost a decade. 

Maddy Wallis in go-karting mode

“Your pathway shouldn’t be about luck,” he said. “Project Destined is about removing luck from people’s pathway. For people who are willing to work hard and put in extra time, that pathway should be clear for them.”

Project Destined’s partners and Bobo himself say a big part of the organisation’s success comes from creating a structured programme for companies that might have laudable aims in the diversity and inclusion sphere but not have the bandwidth or infrastructure to achieve those ambitions. A programme that gives mentors and students a good amount of time with each other, but does not require companies to give up weeks on end of their staffs’ time allows both sides to achieve their aims. 

“People want to succeed as mentors, they don’t just want to be average,” Bobo said. “So you need to make sure you have a backup mentor if someone can’t make a session, things like that, so that the infrastructure is there.”

Heavyweight Partners 

All of the foundation partners for Project Destined in the UK and Europe have partnered with the organisation previously in the U.S., and all said they are doing so again across the Atlantic as part of a wider push to improve diversity and inclusion in their organisations. Other partners in the U.S. include Brookfield and A-Rod Corp., the investment firm of retired baseball star Alex Rodriguez.

The companies are hoping the scheme can change both the careers of the students on the programme and their companies. 

“We want the students to get a positive education and take away the view of what a career in real estate would look like, and that it is a path that is open to them,” CBRE IM Chief Investment Officer - Indirect Private Real Estate Achal Gandhi said. 

“But it is also about how it impacts our employees, about them getting involved and educating them about this area, alongside our wider DEI programme.”

In a very tight labour market, a programme that gives a company access to talented young people is especially valuable, said Charlie Smith, Greystar director for talent acquisition in Europe, APAC and South America. The company is looking to widen its diversity pool to ensure it is hiring the most talented people possible. 

It will also help the companies put in place more formalised structures for improving diversity.

“From our point of view, success is being able to roll the partnership out on a pan-European basis,” Invesco Real Estate Managing Director Andy Rofe said. “We have offices in eight different countries, and each has their own individual needs when it comes to diversity and inclusion. If this works for us in London we want to be able to do it Milan and Madrid and all of our real estate-focused offices. 

“And secondly, for a business like ours, we don't have a formal real estate internship programme, for instance. For us success would be taking on some of the students on the programme for internships or placements, to allow us to get access to talented young people, and perhaps use it as a basis to create a formal real estate internship programme.”