When I joined Knight Foundation just under two years ago, I was awed by the foundation’s values and how they might manifest in Detroit.
Above all else, I was struck by a national foundation anchored in the notion that informed and engaged people are in and of themselves crucial to any community’s enduring strength. And as a newcomer social entrepreneur in Detroit, I had benefited firsthand from our city’s informed and engaged community. Fellow Detroiters supported my civic ideas in ways I’d never experienced before. They chose to engage in the city not simply as voters and town hall attendees, but also as citizens who support people with community-strengthening ideas across the city. I wondered, What if Knight Foundation could draw on its strengths to rally more of Detroit’s individuals and institutions around newcomers and longstanding residents who are pursuing a new kind of social entrepreneurship? After all, it seemed to me - and others around the country - that everybody had a civic idea in Detroit and that there were countless people in Detroit who imagined themselves as artists, activists, and entrepreneurs all at once. What if Knight Foundation could champion this movement? Of course, we couldn’t fund every entrepreneur’s idea but surely we could support work that helped connect the general public with the city’s do-ers. Could this approach yield a city whose strengths were amplified? In 2011 and 2012, it’s been an absolute privilege to drive against these questions and support inspiring work across the city. Together with our grantees, in online projects and offline initiatives, we have helped Detroiters engage with local social entrepreneurs as lenders (Kiva Detroit), donors (Detroit Soup) nominators (Black Male Engagement), mentors (Detroit Design Festival) voters (Hatch Detroit), teachers (Urban Innovation Exchange) and much more. As I move on to pursue an exciting opportunity at Twitter, I realize, though, that we have more work to do. What role can our city’s inspiring longstanding civic institutions play in partnering and co-creating with the city’s growing social entrepreneurial movement? We at Knight have begun answering these questions through grants like Community PlanIt, announcements like TurboVote and Code For America’s TextMyBus and initiatives like #DetroitShowcase. But we’ve only scratched the surface. As a private citizen who will remain tied to organizations like Michigan Corps, I look forward to continuing to advance an informed and engaged Detroit!
By Rishi Jaitly, program director/Detroit at Knight Foundation