This week I chose to interview Lisa Nuszkowski, the passionate and charismatic founder and executive director of MoGo Detroit Bike Share. Interning at MoGo this summer, Lisa has been a true inspiration for me, through her dedication to her work and her belief that there is always potential for improvement.
- How did you become involved with MoGo?
When I was working at Wayne State as the Senior Project Administrator, we were approached by members of the community, interested in the concept of bike share. We decided to convene a group to talk about it and brought together a variety of business and community leaders. At the beginning, it was a new concept for me, but I was excited about improving mobility options for people in Detroit.
- You have worked in a wide range of sectors, with non-profits, for the City of Detroit, at Wayne State and now at MoGo, a non-profit… what key lessons have you learned working in these different realms and how have they informed your perception on how these actors should be working together?
I have definitely learned that partnerships across the public, private and philanthropic sectors are essential. Getting a diverse group of people around the table, with the opportunity to weigh in on decisions, as early as possible, helps set you up for success. Even with projects run by the non-profit sector, where things tend to go a bit faster, the city always plays an important role in approval processes. Adjusting the speed to have all actors working cohesively is key. I have also come to realize that things always take longer than you would expect them to and therefore it is important to remember to be conservative, and realistic about the possible outcomes.
- More specifically, what are your thoughts on non-profits working on innovative mobility options? Do you think this is the way of the future?
Although non-profits can play an important role, the public sector should always be involved, to ensure that a project does not only target a specific demographic, but always the public as a whole. For MoGo, it has been crucial to work closely with the City of Detroit to ensure that MoGo is something not only for the Downtown Detroit Partnership, but for all the people of Detroit. Similarly, I believe that other projects, such as the Qline should include the city in its projects for expansion.
- What would you describe as one of the biggest challenges that you have overcome? And what did that experience teach you?
Early on, at the beginnings of MoGo, it was challenging to convince people of this new idea and to get them to buy in to the concept, in particular for financial support. The vision of Detroit as the motor city, despite a growing bicycle culture, with Slow Roll for example, made it difficult for some people to believe that a bike share program could be successful in Detroit. From this I learned that it did not have to be either/or but rather yes, and… Rather than envisioning a binary approach, I began to see how MoGo could fit into a mosaic of transportation options consisting of the Qline, bus systems, walking and biking.
- When you hear social entrepreneurship what do you think of? Do you think MoGo is an example of this? how so?
For me social entrepreneurship means creating something innovative for the public good. In my opinion, MoGo is an example of this. It has been transformative for Detroit by shifting perceptions to have biking viewed as a form of transportation, as opposed to purely a leisure activity. Core to our efforts has also been a desire to cater to all demographics, whether through the $5 annual Access Pass or the Accessible bike share pilot program. By seeking to expand the definition of who can use MoGo, we aim to further build upon our authenticity and affirm our position as a bike share program for everyone.
- What aspect of your work at MoGo do you find most fulfilling? Describe a recent moment, which reminded you why MoGo matters in Detroit.
During launch day, it was incredible to see the concept brought to fruition. I was so happy to see these five years of hard work lead to MoGo, which was giving people access to joy, health and happiness. Since that day, every time I see someone on a MoGo, it feels good to believe that we have put something in the world that is providing value to people.
- What three characteristics/values do you seek to embody as a leader?
- Inclusiveness: I believe that is key to always bring diverse perspectives to the table, not only for the end product, but also throughout the process.
- Curiosity/expansive thinking: every day I walk in here, I realize that I can improve something else and this fuels me with the belief that we can always keep growing and learning.
- Confidence: “if you don’t believe in your idea, nobody else will.”