When asked about the state of diversity in health-focused PR, Lagrant Foundation chairman and CEO Kim Hunter said, “It sucks. It’s a disgrace from my perspective.”

W2O Group said Tuesday morning that it will fund a program with the Lagrant Foundation to increase ethnic diversity in healthcare communications.

The $50,000 commitment by W2O, to be dispersed over three years, will fund the Future Leaders in Healthcare Fellowship Program.

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W2O Group founder and CEO Jim Weiss hatched the idea for the fellowship along with Lagrant Foundation chairman and CEO Kim Hunter.

After being encouraged by a former colleague, a woman of color, to talk to Hunter, Weiss said he wanted to contribute to Lagrant’s mission to boost minority representation in the industry.

The result is the fellowship program, which will send two individuals a year on a 10-week paid fellowship in one of W2O’s offices in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Minneapolis, or Austin, Texas.

“Our feeling is [health communications] is a terrific career track, and we need more diversity in the industry to communicate to the broadest population,” Weiss said.

Hunter added that “at the end of the day, on the agency side of the issue, you have to have the right ream to provide the right counsel to clients.”

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“If you look at the shift in demographics, to run a 21st century operation, you need a staff to reflect that,” he said.

Highlighting the importance of diversity in healthcare communications, as well as the rising demand for it by both agencies and clients, Weiss noted some diseases disproportionately affect certain ethnic groups.

“Nothing is more important than your health,” Weiss commented. “It obviously impacts all races and creeds and not just one particular group.”

When asked about the state of diversity in health-focused PR, Hunter said, “It sucks. It’s a disgrace from my perspective.”

“This program is about taking that chatter and making it into something more substantive,” he added. “We can have a midday conference or seminar and talk about the lack of diversity — we all know it exists — but really what are we doing to move the needle? This program does just that.”

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Hunter said TLF has already identified three candidates for W2O to review for consideration, and it plans to submit as many qualified candidates as possible to build a “pipeline of talent” for W2O.

“It’s not a situation where everyone wins a trophy,” Weiss said. “They have to come and perform and do well. It’s a five-year commitment and hopefully, we’ll expand it.”

The Lagrant Foundation is a nonprofit that provides scholarships, career development workshops, professional development, mentorships, and internships to ethnic minority students. It has awarded $1.8 million in scholarships to 331 ethnic minority students.

Independent network of firms W2O includes the subsidiary agencies WCG, Twist Mktg, and BrewLife.

This story originally appeared in PRWeek.