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Most Influential, Business: Ebony Welborn and Savannah Smith

They saw that few in the maritime sector looked like them. They're out to change that.

By Rob Smith and Stefanie Ellis February 17, 2023

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This article originally appeared in the January/February 2023 issue of Seattle Magazine.

Ebony Welborn and Savannah Smith are among Seattle’s 25 most influential people reshaping our region. #mostinfluential  

A fascination with the ocean brought Ebony Welborn and Savannah Smith together. A mission to create BIPOC representation in the maritime industry keeps them going.

Welborn and Smith are the cofounders of Seattle-based Sea Potential LLC, a company they launched in 2020 to connect BIPOC youth to the marine environment and opportunities in the maritime industry. The women met while working at EarthCorps doing environmental restoration and quickly bonded over the fact they that were among the few black women at the organization.

“This is a very old industry, and we’re having to create new structures and culture that didn’t exist before,” Welborn says. “There is a lot of unintentional harm being created, and some individuals don’t have the knowledge they need to be inclusive and that’s why we’re here. We aren’t here to judge. We’re here to help.” 

Sea Potential has created a focused curriculum design based around BIPOC perspectives rooted in outdoor experiential and observational learning. It provides advisory and implementation services as well as instructional and resource support.

The business case is undeniable. The maritime industry — both worldwide and in Seattle — is facing a worker shortage. Statewide, this sector – one of Washington’s biggest and oldest industries – has an annual economic impact of a staggering $37.8 billion. According to the Washington Maritime Federation, it is directly responsible for more almost 200,000 direct and indirect jobs.

“The curriculum is not just about learning the science,” Smith says in a video touting the benefits of Maritime High School, which opened in Des Moines in late 2021 to prepare students for maritime-related careers. Sea Potential works closely with the school. “It’s really about engaging in community and learning about environmental justice and being equitable. That’s what the maritime industry and the world really need.”

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