BALTIMORE — As the NAACP wrapped up its 108th national convention, the civil rights organization announced a "groundbreaking" partnership with Airbnb, one that follows a swirl of allegations that African-American guests have not always been welcomed by hosts of the global home-sharing service.
Under the new partnership, the NAACP will collaborate with Airbnb on a series of initiatives: jobs, community outreach, supplier diversity goals, and even revenue sharing.
"Economic development for African-Americans has long been a part of our mission," said Derrick Johnson, the newly designated interim president of the NAACP, in an interview with NBC News. "Airbnb wants to be a better corporate citizen. We see this as a way for African-Americans to have emerging opportunities with Silicon Valley. So it's mutually beneficial."
Under the agreement, Airbnb and the NAACP will conduct targeted outreach to its membership and communities of color, with an aim of helping people — say, seniors on fixed incomes — leverage their homes as assets to earn extra income.
The NAACP will also work to support Airbnb's efforts to boost diversity among both its suppliers and workforce; for instance, the company's stated goal is to increase the percentage of its U.S. employees who are from underrepresented populations to 11 percent by the end of 2017.
Moreover, the initiative includes a unique revenue sharing model: Airbnb will share 20 percent of the earnings it receives as a result of these new community outreach efforts with the NAACP. Officials didn't provide specifics of the arrangement (details will reportedly be made available in the coming weeks), but Johnson said it would not conflict with the organization's nonprofit status.
The collaboration of a civil rights group founded in the early 20th century and Airbnb, a tech innovator launched in 2008, comes after a series of discrimination complaints and at least one federal lawsuit in recent years that have dogged Airbnb. The company offers lodging and access to millions of houses, apartments and unique accommodations (i.e. castles and treehouses), in more than 65,000 cities and nearly 200 countries.
Despite its popularity in the sharing economy, some Airbnb hosts around the country have been accused of racial bias against African-American and other guests. The claims helped drive a social media campaign with the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack.
A 2015 study from Harvard Business School researchers revealed that guests with "distinctly" Black names were 16 percent less likely to be accepted by hosts than those with names perceived as White.
Airbnb officials said they have sought to address the controversies with a series of sweeping policy changes and moves. They include implementing anti-bias training for hosts and employees; creating a team whose sole purpose is to advance belonging and inclusion; and requiring everyone who uses Airbnb to sign the company's Community Commitment pledge, which mirrors federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, age, disability and so on.
The San Francisco-based company has also brought on high-profile African-American advisors. To wit, former Attorney General Eric Holder helped the company craft its anti-discrimination policy. Laura Murphy, well known in Washington, D.C., circles for her previous leadership of the ACLU's legislative office, authored a report that outlined solutions.
Janaye Ingram, who oversaw logistics for the massive Women's March in January, and previously held leadership roles with the National Action Network, was named the Director of National Partnerships for Airbnb in March.
Ingram delivered Wednesday's formal announcement before several hundred NAACP members, flanked by Johnson and National Board Chairman, Leon Russell. He asked the audience to remember that corporate backers such as JP Morgan Chase, UPS and other companies help make the organization's social justice mission possible.
"We look forward to a fruitful and positive partnership," Ingram said in brief remarks to the crowd. Earlier, she told NBC News that the collaboration happened "organically" following discussions between both organizations. "The company has addressed discrimination complaints on the platform and internally. And that work is continuing."
Belinda Johnson, Airbnb's Chief Business Affairs Officer, indicated the partnership will build on that progress, which dovetails with company trends. "Our fastest-growing communities across major U.S. cities are in communities of color and we've seen how home sharing is an economic lifeline for families," she said in a statement.
Airbnb now has competitors launched by African-American entrepreneurs, including Noirbnb and Innclusive. Asked about any future partnerships with home-sharing services owned by people of color, Johnson said the NAACP would be open to dialogue. "It's one of the first partnerships, but should not be the only one."
Founded in 1909, the NAACP is America's oldest and largest civil rights organization. This year's annual convention kicked off on July 22 and drew several thousand multi-generational attendees.
Sessions tackled voting rights, education, labor, policing and the new era of activism. Activities ran the gamut from a career fair and health screenings, to a retail expo and youth-focused activities.
While President Donald Trump declined an invitation to address the group, a host of politicos, entertainers and advocates including Danny Glover, Iyanla Vanzant, Sens. Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, former NAACP president Ben Jealous, activists Tamika Mallory and DeRay Mckesson, as well as U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, were among the speakers to name a few.
The NAACP's 109th convention is slated for July 2018 in San Antonio, Texas.