Prompt: Please interview someone living and/or working in the social impact space in Detroit. Write a piece about them that you can share.
Would you please introduce yourself, including your current role and organization?
Alena Farooq is a young professional in the social impact space of Detroit. She is a current Associate at GreenLight Fund Detroit and one of the two primary program coordinators who Dono and I have the pleasure to work with and learn from this summer. Alena has a wide array of past experiences, including working in local NGOs, large corporations, volunteering opportunities, developing and coordinating education programs. In her interview, I learned that Alena’s initial upbringing was about 30 minutes outside of Detroit, with very little transportation compared to the city. She adds, her interaction with the city was really as an adult. Her work at the Urban Alliance, a national youth force that levels the playing field for young people in the workforce, equips them with the tools to overcome the systemic barriers that prevent equal access to economic opportunity. Alena was one of the people who helped launch the Detroit branch of Urban Alliance. After a year, her work was on impact investing social enterprise fundamentals applied to NGOs in finding mutually beneficial collaboration primarily for social good.
What does social innovation (and social impact) mean to you?
One of the things that drew her was searching for how we get better at solving problems, really getting to the roots. She exemplified that with an example of how nonprofits during clothing drives kill the local market at times. Here, the root issue is economic mobility, hence solving the root rather than a symptom.
How has Detroit and its social impact landscape influenced your definition of social innovation?
There is a need for a collaborative table that is intentional and has buy-in from city, resident, nonprofit, and corporate leaders. Her prior experience while working for the city’s food hub helped her ponder some questions: Right equipment? Right power? She reflects through her work with Urban Alliance as a pull model is essential.
Is there anything you would like to tell us about why you chose to be part of the larger work and your current role?
During the senior year of high school, Alena worked with students from 14 different schools. Then she first encountered how easy it is to rally around with an overlapping mission and get community members to the organization. They successfully raised $86,000 for Syrian American medical society. She continues, “when values and missions drive people, things get done.”
Why GreenLight Fund?
While at Urban Alliance, she worked to answer this collective question: “how can we as an organization tailor into a community’s need?” Moreover, she continued asking such important questions: when bringing the new program into space, how can we honor what's different, make it fit into the existing organization, and serve the community?
What were your biggest challenges and takeaways from this work?
- Learn to listen instead of speak
- Ask yourself: Does it matter to the people of Detroit?
- Learn when to enter the conversation ( and to step back when not to)
- Focus on alleviating experiences.
Any advice for the next generation interested in being part of such space?
“Take that intentional time to listen as you learn.”
What are the things that you look forward to/ encounter through this work that inspires you/favorite moments you would like to share?
Alena was (is) there to bridge the gap. She recalls her work at Urban Alliance, where she realized that students individually had everything they had to succeed.