Emory students create video campaign to tell Amazon #WhyAtlanta

By Victoria Comella | Emory Report | May 3, 2018


A video campaign led by Emory students Sanjay Velappan, Georgia Kossoff, Ellen Shi, Anshuman Parikh and Grace Cleland aims to give millennials across Georgia a voice in Atlanta’s bid for Amazon’s second headquarters.

Cities around the country are buzzing about where Amazon will choose as the location for its second headquarters. In January, when the shortlist of 20 cities was announced and Atlanta made the cut, Emory seniors Georgia Kossoff, Sanjay Velappan, Grace Cleland, Anshuman Parikh and junior Ellen Shi were already working on a way to advocate for the city that has become their home.

After reading a Wall Street Journal article in November 2017 that discussed the strengths and weaknesses of potential contenders, the students immediately recognized Atlanta as a clear fit for Amazon. That’s when they came up with the idea for #WhyAtlanta, a statewide student video campaign.

After all, “Why Atlanta?” was a question the students had already asked themselves a few years earlier when deciding on where to embark on their undergraduate careers.

“I really wanted to make a lasting impact on my hometown,” says Anshuman Parikh, who grew up in Atlanta and has been able to see first-hand how important student culture has been to the city. “I’ve been surprised to find in the last four years how my appreciation for Atlanta has only grown. I’ve been thrilled to be a part of the changes this city is making.”

Ellen Shi, the only junior on the team, came to Atlanta three years ago from the Northeast. “The strong community here has even exceeded my initial expectations,” says Shi. “I genuinely believe the people here will have the most lasting impact on me, and make up a core part of Emory and Atlanta as a whole.” 

Working with the community

Surveying media coverage of Amazon’s search for a second headquarters, the #WhyAtlanta team quickly noticed that no one was talking to the generation most likely to take those jobs.

"We wanted to make sure Atlanta's passionate, innovative spirit was fully captured in the pitch to Amazon,” says Kossoff.

And what better way to prove Atlanta’s strength in this area than to have its future workforce come forward to directly highlight the city’s talent and culture? 

The team members created a detailed proposal they distributed throughout multiple channels within Emory, and also to their selected ambassadors at 11 other Atlanta area schools. The proposal called for interested university students in Georgia to create a 1-2 minute, high-quality video that “displays Atlanta’s innovative spirit, talented young work force and vibrant community.” 

The plan was to pull highlights from the submissions to create one final video.

The students first approached Andrea Hershatter, senior associate dean of undergraduate education at Emory’s Goizueta Business School, with their idea. She connected them with Dan Gordon, an Emory alumnus who was then COO of Atlanta, who was able to get the #WhyAtlanta team a meeting with Invest Atlanta and the Georgia State Department of Economic Development. 

“I really admire the students’ energy and enthusiasm in setting ambitious goals for partnering with the city and state to help make the case for Atlanta,” says Hershatter. “This particular group of student leaders is not only intellectually gifted but also pretty experienced in creating positive organizational change.”

Over 500 people responded to their outreach, and the team received seven official video submissions. The #WhyAtlanta team then selected three finalists, and the final winner was decided by public vote on the #WhyAtlanta Facebook page. 

“The best part of this project for me is the sheer amount of students — literally hundreds — who were so excited about getting involved and so interested in bringing Amazon’s powerful presence to our city,” says Cleland.

Participating schools included Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern University, Oglethorpe University, Medical College of Georgia, Spelman College, Morehouse College, Kennesaw State University, Georgia State University, University of North Georgia, Mercer University and the University of Georgia in Athens. 

The #WhyAtlanta team was passionate about bringing young people into the decision-making process, something they felt was missing in the proposals from other cities. They are excited and honored to have had the chance to share their voice in this process, and would love to see more students do the same. As a generation looking to find a foothold in which to start their professional careers, students are heavily impacted by where a company chooses to put down roots and grow."

“Our view was that since students are the future workforce for companies like Amazon, it’s critical to have their opinions included in a decision regarding a move like this,” says Parikh. “Additionally, we feel that providing a bottom-up perspective on culture, talent and community allows for a more holistic understanding of the qualities that Amazon has stated they are looking for.”

What’s next for team #WhyAtlanta

 “Amazon would join Atlanta in a pivotal growth period,” notes Kossoff. “I think Atlanta is going to grow tremendously in the future, regardless of Amazon’s decision. Being a part of this growth is why so many students and young professionals are choosing to begin their careers in Atlanta.” 

Speaking of Atlanta’s young professional population, after Commencement, Kossoff and Parikh will join Bain & Company’s Atlanta office as associate consultants.

Cleland will join Deloitte Consulting’s Atlanta office as a business analyst, and Velappan will join Simon Kucher & Partners’ Atlanta office as a consultant. Shi, a junior, will intern at SunTrust’s Atlanta office as a business analyst this summer.

These students, like the hundreds who participated in the #WhyAtlanta video, want to be agents of change. They know Atlanta is a vibrant, diverse city on the rise, and their hope is Amazon executives will see their video as a sign of what young people can accomplish.

“If you want to really understand the city you are choosing as your HQ2, you have to know the community, culture and talent that exists within it,” says Velappan. “And you have to listen to the people who have chosen to study, work and live in the city.”

When the leaders of #WhyAtlanta are asked to describe in one word what the city means to them, their passion and enthusiasm is contagious.

“Rising,” says Shi.

“Dynamic,” says Parikh.

“Potential,” says Kossoff.

“Supportive,” says Velappan.

“Home,” says Kosoff. “Atlanta to me is home. It’s not where I am from, it’s not where my family lives, yet this city has welcomed me and my dreams and path since I arrived for college. This is a place that has made me comfortable and part of something, and I am proud to call it my home. Both now and in the future.”

No matter where Amazon decides to go, one thing is clear: With students like this, the city of Atlanta has already won.