Cleveland's Professional Potential Propelled by Local Nonprofit

Liz Conway
April 15, 2021
A speaker stands at a podium speaking to a room full of women.
Photo by
Kamron Khan, Tiffany Joy, and The Dark Room Company
Cleveland, OH

Engage! Cleveland knows what great things Cleveland has to offer and is on a mission to get that message across to the young professionals across the region. They highlight the career opportunities here and provide thoughtful and engaging programming to young professionals and employers. Their goal is to make sure Cleveland is filled with vibrant young professionals and thriving businesses. 

Engage! Cleveland is a nonprofit organization focused on engagement of young professionals and business/community leaders. They are passionate about making Cleveland a lasting home for the next generation. 

The organization started to take shape in 2010 when a group of young professionals and business leaders in Cleveland came together after seeing a need for this type of organization.  Through their research they discovered organizations focused on the engagement of young professionals in other metropolitan hubs across the US and immediately saw the potential this could have for Cleveland. 

They looked to other cities for direction, but ultimately Cleveland was their inspiration. They wanted young people to see Cleveland as a place of career opportunity as well as a well rounded place where they can enjoy the nightlife, explore nature, and hopefully build their lives. Engage! is the first and only organization of this kind in the Cleveland area. 

Their first task was to hire an executive director. From their thorough search, they found Ashley Basile Oeken. She was hired on in 2012 and has been President of the organization ever since. 

For Ashley, she loves so many things that Cleveland has to offer. From trying out authentic cuisines to exploring all of the natural assets that Cleveland has to offer, like Lake Erie and the Cleveland Metroparks. She notes that these types of amenities are great, but they are only one small piece when it comes to retention. Young people have to have good job opportunities. 

“Engage! Cleveland serves as a connector to all of the great things Cleveland has to offer.”

-Ashley Basile Oeken - President of Engage! Cleveland 

What’s the big picture? 

The sole focus in the early years of the organization was the retention of young professionals. It’s not realistic to expect tons of young professionals to move to Cleveland out of the blue, but what they could focus on were young people who grew up there, or spent time there for college or internships. These types of young people already see the potential in Cleveland and may just need that extra push to stay. 

For the organization, engagement came next. By engaging their participants in a wide range of events and activities, they are able to connect young professionals directly with the business leaders in the city.

Making Cleveland a destination

In 2015 they launched their Employer Membership Program to build partnerships with local businesses, with members from Cleveland Metroparks to PNC to Sherwin Williams. Their number of Employer Members climbs up over 85 and covers just about every major corporation and nonprofit organization in Northeast Ohio. There are many benefits to their member program, but the biggest one might be the stamp of approval in the eyes of any young professional. When a young person is looking for a job and they see that a certain company is an employer member with Engage! they know it’s a company they can trust. 

Their employer members get a direct line to the young professionals that are looking for careers in Cleveland. Membership has a few other concrete benefits like getting a table at the E!C job fair during YP week, as well as access to group consulting and marketing. 

Engaging through  events

The longest running and biggest event they put on each year is Young Professionals Week. This includes over 30 events and showcases all that Cleveland has to offer. Some of their other signature events include Lunch with Leaders (which is exactly what it sounds like), Next Generation of Women (presentations and networking for women with some of Cleveland’s most successful Professional Women) and State of the YP (a detailed look at Cleveland’s strengths and weaknesses). 

2020’s surprising shift

When they realized the pandemic wasn’t letting up, they strategized on how to bring enriching and creative programming to their people, but they worried about how they would get their message across on a screen.  So much of their programming seemed to rely on those in-person networking opportunities. 

They got right to work and put on several at home experiences for their participants from beer tasting to cooking gourmet meals to making candles. YP week was even held on Zoom. The feedback they received was surprising! Participants shared that virtual events were easier to attend without barriers like parking or childcare. People found it less intimidating to network from the comfort of their homes, rather than facing those potentially awkward situations. 

The success of virtual events means that all of their 2021 programming events will remain online and virtual events will be sprinkled throughout their programming in years to come. 

Their success as an organization may not easily be measured, but instead felt by the communities that Clevelanders call home. Engage! might just be Cleveland’s biggest fan. 

To learn more about them, visit

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