The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Today, Global Detroit was honored to receive one of the first-ever Renewal Awards, created by the National Journal and Atlantic magazines with Allstate, to recognize the innovators, grassroots organizers and problem-solvers who are making progress against the greatest challenges facing America. The awards identify and celebrate efforts across the country that are tackling vital issues, from education to economic opportunity, from health care to neighborhood revitalization.
Steve Tobocman. Photos courtesy Global Detroit.
National recognition of Global Detroit and our immigrant economic development efforts in Detroit indicates the growing energy of our work and of the work of our peers nationwide. This kind of national recognition signals widespread acceptance of immigration as an economic development and community renewal strategy. Receiving this prestigious award on the 5th anniversary of the beginning of our first programs suggests the hard work of our staff, board, partner organizations, and volunteers has produced real results and has not gone unnoticed.
The Renewal Awards celebrate innovators that are renewing America from the ground up despite a national system mired in stalemate. Immigration reform is no stranger to stalemate, and any type of meaningful reform appears no closer despite immigration’s now constant (and heated) seat on the political stage. Despite the gridlock in Congress, however – or perhaps because of it – local and regional efforts to effectively integrate immigrants and refugees have surged with new-found allies and energy. Over the last few years, the growth in both number and scope of these programs is astounding, and reveals a strong momentum in the field of immigrant economic development. Global Detroit is a pioneer among these programs, and the Renewal Award solidifies our reputation as a national leader in the emerging field of immigrant economic development, as well as a national leader in developing innovative and creative solutions to revitalizing Detroit and Metro Detroit’s economy.
When I worked with the Detroit Regional Chamber, New Economy Initiative, and Skillman Foundation to start Global Detroit in 2009, the notion that immigrants were, are, and could be a driving force for job creation, economic growth, and regional prosperity—while based in sound economic research—was largely untested as a strategy. In five years since the Global Detroit study and plan were unveiled in 2010, we implemented no fewer than eight of the eleven original strategies in the Global Detroit study to help Metro Detroit’s economic recovery by leveraging international talent to fill regional businesses’ unmet talent needs, catalyzing the growth and development of immigrant entrepreneurs, and building a global region with competitive advantages in job creation, business growth, and community development. Where we were once met by curious looks, we are now inspired by the support and encouragement for our pioneering immigrant economic development work.
Our innovations do not stop at Michigan’s borders. In 2013, Global Detroit convened the first-ever conference for immigrant economic development practitioners, a meeting that grew into what is now known as the Welcoming Economies (WE) Global Network, a ten-state regional collaborative of some 18 peer local immigrant economic development initiatives across the Rust Belt. This Network facilitates the sharing of tried, effective strategies, and has helped the Rust Belt region emerge as the nation’s leading region among the growing communities that are welcoming immigrants as a source of economic strength.
Today, we believe the environment to renew America’s economy is being set by Global Detroit and its peers. Research into the economic impact of immigrants and refugees is easier to come by, and tangible outcomes of immigrant economic development work are evident across the WE Global network.
This award, an incredible recognition of how far we’ve come, honors us and we are motivated to continue to help revitalize Detroit and the metro region. Our society still has much work to do to make America the best it can be for all its residents. We hope the Renewal Award is a catalyst for others – an indication that yes, one person can successfully effectuate the change that he or she wants to see in the world.
We would not be celebrating this honor if it were not for all of our supporters over the last 5 years. Thanks to you, and to everyone who voted for us, the message that Detroit is a welcoming city continues to spread. Together, we are changing the conversation and empowering immigrants and refugees.