Howard Stevenson of Harvard Business School describes entrepreneurship as “the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled”. In other words, an entrepreneur’s reach exceeds their grasp—their prospects are not limited by what resources and frameworks have already been laid out. Unlike business entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs can extend their reach even further, unbound by the bottom-line of generating profit.
These past two weeks in Detroit, I have seen social entrepreneurs uncovering untapped potential all over the city. Many sectors and ventures in Detroit have been deemed hopeless or a waste of time, but thankfully there are many social entrepreneurs out there who are giving Detroit a chance because of a belief in a better Detroit that, right now, is very difficult to see. Last Monday, I started my week by attending the opening and ribbon cutting of the Spirit of Detroit Plaza. The Plaza was not an easy initiative to execute and was not easily accepted since it closes a major traffic flow spot on Woodward Avenue, but Mayor Duggan, Downtown Detroit Partnership and Bloomberg were able to see the need for a public plaza as a space for locals to gather near the riverfront. The vision had so much promise that Bloomberg sent over the woman who coordinated Times Square in New York City to help execute the project. Even at the opening ceremony, I could feel how powerful this gathering space would come to be in the community; in less than an hour I got to see the most exciting marching band performance I’ve ever seen, traditional Mexican dance, and local artwork under my feet in one place, standing in front of the Spirit of Detroit statue representing the diverse city.
I also get to see the bold, visionary work of social entrepreneurs everyday while I’m sitting at work. I have the unique opportunity of being physically stationed at the (unofficial) Welcome Center to the city. Detroit Experience Factory, with this Welcome Center and its tour programming, is giving the city a chance that even the city government was unwilling to give since the needs of making people feel welcome in Downtown Detroit go far beyond just providing maps and brochures. The variety of people that walk in the door throughout the day is astounding. Within 20 minutes, we had a couple all the way from Glasgow, Scotland come in asking for recommendations of museums to visit on their last day of their trip, a homeless man come in for an escape from the heat and a glass of water, and a woman walking back from lunch who thought she was being followed and wanted somewhere safe to wait. DXF is equipped to accommodate each need and make every kind of person in Detroit feel welcome, even though there is no streamlined, businesslike way to approach it. It takes social entrepreneurs taking these leaps of faith to get Detroit out of a rut.