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Payne completes prestigious Diversity Leaders Initiative at Furman University

Jeff Payne, AgFirst’s vice president of human resources, recently joined a select group of South Carolinians who have completed the Riley Institute’s Diversity Leaders Initiative at Furman University. After completing the program in December, Payne brings a fresh perspective to promoting and celebrating diversity and inclusion across the Bank workforce and beyond.

Named for former S.C. Gov. and U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley, the institute was created in 1999 to drive social and economic progress across the Palmetto State. Its cornerstone program, the Diversity Leaders Initiative, brings together government, business and community leaders to consider how differences in race, gender, generation, sexual orientation, culture, knowledge, experience and perception impact the lives of S.C. residents. Program participants learn how to leverage those differences to better support their organizational missions.

Participants are selected through a rigorous application and interview process after being nominated by Riley Fellows, leaders who previously graduated from the program. Payne was one of 46 individuals to complete the fall 2020 course of study, which was conducted virtually due to the pandemic. 

Payne and fellow participants worked together over a four-month period to identify and understand their diversity and inclusion “blind spots.” They then formed small groups to develop awareness campaigns for five nonprofits: Appleseed Justice, Engaging Creative Minds, Family Connection, PASOs and United Ministries. Payne’s group focused on Family Connection, a Columbia-based nonprofit that provides support and resources to families of children with disabilities and special healthcare needs.

Payne said he came away from the program with a deeper knowledge of how to effectively manage and lead an increasingly diverse workforce. His Diversity Leaders Initiative experience also validated for him the direction AgFirst is taking as a company regarding diversity and inclusion.

“An organization can only be as good as its culture, and building a diverse and inclusive culture is more important now than ever before,” Payne said. “Organizations that strive to become more supportive and engaging places to work understand the perceptual, institutional and psychological processes that impact the ways people interact with one other. 

“I’m proud that our team – from senior leadership to first-line managers – has remained mindful of everyone who is part of the rich tapestry that makes up the Bank’s workforce, our Association partners, and the farmers and rural communities we serve.”

Jeff P