How Do You Create Change? One Street Corner at a Time, According to Cannabis Connoisseur Robert DiVito.
In this series called Member Showcase, we publish interviews with members of The Oracles. This interview is with Robert DiVito, founder and CEO of Element 7, an equity-driven cannabis retailer focused on safety and education. It was condensed by The Oracles.
Who are you?
Robert DiVito: I’m an educator. I started my career in education by building and operating one of Chicago’s most enviable emotional intelligence-based charter schools, Imagination Children’s Academy. We built the school around the idea that through play and exploration, kids could develop with a more well-rounded education. The results speak for themselves. Parents love the concept and kids thrive in the environment.
When I started my journey in cannabis, I looked around. I saw a dire need for education about how the products work and how cannabis can improve overall wellness and impact communities for the better. Customer education and community engagement are the foundations for widespread attitude shifts that will change how cannabis is viewed and open up its potential as a natural herbal medical treatment.
Element 7 is an equity-driven local cannabis company. We put our business equity directly into the hands of the community, not a large holding company. We are about creating change in communities by working street to street and block to block.
What are you more skilled at than most people in the world?
Robert DiVito: I’m confident in my ability to foster genuine relationships and connect the right people. It’s a constant learning experience. I treat every day as an opportunity to improve and surround myself with others who share the same educational philosophies and approaches to responsibly serving cannabis.
What excites you the most about your business right now?
Robert DiVito: Seeing the faces of our local partners when they say, “We did it. We now have the right to be part of the legal and licensed industry.” To see the results and know that we’re making a difference is huge.
I’m also proud of our social equity and reform work. We have hosted clinics in Fresno, California, Los Angeles, California, and Chicago, Illinois, to help expunge and seal cannabis-related criminal records of over 200 people. This will allow them to seek meaningful employment in the industry and remove barriers in their life, including giving many the right to vote.
I’m particularly excited about a new program we are creating: centers of excellence in urban neighborhoods. The goal is to promote education, social justice reform, diversity and inclusion, and participation in the cannabis industry from African-Americans and Latinos, who have largely been overlooked as corporate cannabis has taken off.
What’s your favorite quote?
Robert DiVito: “Every day is a Monday.” This quote speaks to our ethos of being there no matter the obstacles. Every single day is a chance to show up and make a difference. If it means driving through the night, having a meeting at 7 a.m., or working 16 hours a day, seven days a week, you just have to put your head down and do it.
Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, but it’s the honest way. Every morning, I wake up and continue to work toward my goals one day at a time. I know that if I stay consistent with my beliefs, over time, I will reach them with integrity.
Who is the best leader ever (alive or dead) and why?
Robert DiVito: I would have to say former NBA player Phil Jackson. He may have had the best talent on a few of his championship teams, but what he did best as a leader was manage those superstar personalities. He taught them how to work as a team, put their differences aside, and share the ball. He’s the one who said, “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.”
How do you hire top talent?
Robert DiVito: Besides their educational background and business experience, I look for creative problem solvers with tenacity — the “where there’s a will, there’s a way” type. I find that the most effective talent are those who prefer to be challenged and enjoy being out of their comfort zone. Looking in many different places is the key to finding great talent.
How do you prevent burnout?
Robert DiVito: In the ever-evolving, high-speed cannabis industry, burning out isn’t an option. I go hard until the wheels get loose, then I take a quick pit stop to tighten up before setting off again. My partner and I switch off by taking micro-breaks to allow for recalibration, but even then, you’re never fully “off.”
If you ever start a charity, what would it be called and what would it do?
Robert DiVito: We launched “E7 Cares” to bring hyper-focused micro-change to small communities and neighborhoods. You create change on street corners, one block at a time. Our new EQ HUB program (Equality and Equity) is about driving deeper change in the industry through education, diversity, and inclusion. I’m excited about the change and growth we can create through equality and equity.
What do you want to be known for, or what do you want your legacy to be?
Robert DiVito: I would like to be known for taking the road less traveled; for giving local people a voice and creating a real second chance for social equity and justice reform. Most of all, I want to be known as a man of integrity.
The words and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee alone. What worked for them may not work for everyone. Any claims in this article have not been independently verified.