However, this forward-thinking constructive atmosphere is not only the product of different individual ventures, but the response to a cohesive engagement of multiple actors: from Midtown residents interacting with the local Police Department at a Midtown Alliance meeting to the larger scale partnerships between the city government, downtown businesses and the Parks and Placemaking department of the Downtown Detroit Partnership. Essential to this concept is also the idea of sustained and impactful change. These collaborative networks are not working to improve the city statistics to make them shine on power points, but because they care about tackling the root of problems and transforming their city environment from within. They are not simply funding renovations of public spaces, but creating programs such as the BIZ at Downtown Detroit Partnership, so that businesses commit to participating financially in amenities for a pleasant downtown area.
This brings me to one of the key reasons for social entrepreneurship. Around the world, people are grasping a unique opportunity to bring social and private actors together. Most of the world’s capital is in the hands of private firms and public money is dwindling. In addition to that, the public sector cannot afford to act fast and jump-start ideas while risking failure, whereas private investors can. I believe that there is great potential for cities to implement innovative new projects through the supportive framework of public-private collaboration. City governments are not only challenged by financial constraints, but also a set of administrative barriers, which private companies and non-profits can more rapidly overcome.
Working at MoGo has opened my eyes to a unique example of social entrepreneurship. Now funded for the next three years by two main private entities, the Henry Ford Health System and Hap, MoGo was initiated in the heart of Wayne State University and operates as a non-profit affiliate of the Downtown Detroit Partnership. Social entrepreneurship is at work at MoGo in the regular brainstorming sessions of its core team of three, where ideas are bounced around on whiteboards about how to engage the community and making them feel that MoGo, a communal bike share program, belongs to them as well. As Thomas and I work to create an evaluation plan, I am realizing that there is a strong emphasis on accountability regarding this program’s success. Just like many initiatives around the city, the goal is to create substantive social change and for MoGo this means offering not only an annual pass for the downtown businesswoman, but also an $5 Access Pass for those receiving state benefits, making bikes accessible to everyone in Detroit.
Photo: Thomas and I volunteering at Keep Growing Detroit's Plum St. Market Garden after work last Thursday. We greatly enjoyed constructing tomato trellises and weeding fennel! :)