I grew up in Farmington Hills, Michigan. We spent most of our time in the suburbs. I didn't come to Detroit that much; it wasn’t until I worked for Mosaic Youth Theatre and planned their performances and got to know a couple hundred young people and their parents, that I started to fall in love with Detroit. I learned more about the city and the people here and felt this deep connection because even though I wasn’t raised in the city, my dad was from the Bronx and the city where my mom grew up also shared so many commonalities with Detroit. I felt that kind of connection to Detroit as soon as I had the opportunity to be involved.
How did you get to where you are today?
Things just really evolved for me. When I was at Mosaic, I really loved it there, but I knew that I was looking for my next opportunity. I've always been focused on achievement and an increasing level of responsibility – those things have always driven me. While working at Mosaic I was also really interested in starting a business and applied to an entrepreneurship program and got in. In undergrad, I studied a lot about sustainability in terms of agriculture and trade practices. I took a phenomenal class called Mexican labor in North America, it studied trade relationships and their impact on real people. We went to border towns on both the American and Mexican side and saw what our trade agreements meant for people living in border cities. I was really inspired by the idea of starting a business that was counter to common practices in trade, so I was really interested in the idea of supporting fair trade and … creat[ing] a business that helped people have more agency and ownership in determining what their livelihood would be. I realized that so much of our life experiences are related to economic opportunity, which is something I always felt since I was a child because I grew up in Farmington Hills and had great opportunities.
I learned about entrepreneurship and launched a business that supported other small businesses – we were an online retailer for fair trade and eco-friendly products. I wanted to empower people to have agency over their financial opportunities. We worked with Independent Producers, co-ops all over the country and internationally and sourced products that had a better impact on the environment and also were based in like fair-trade Practices. I launched that business and closed that business after a couple of years but was still really intrigued by the idea of entrepreneurship as a tool for economic development and economic opportunity within communities. From there I went to a fellowship as part of my master’s program that worked with the Cleveland Foundation in Cleveland, Ohio and worked on economic opportunity and economic development initiatives there. worked with a network of worker-owned co-ops that was started by the Cleveland Foundation called Evergreen Cooperatives.
My work was all beginning to align with this idea I’ve had since I was very young which is that economic opportunity is vital for economic development and community development. I moved around a little bit and my family was coming back to Detroit and I heard about the opportunity at ProsperUS Detroit and I knew that this position offered the level of responsibility I was looking for and that the work itself focusing on community and neighborhoods was very aligned with my value system and passions.
What does social entrepreneurship mean to you?
Entrepreneurship is creating something new that adds value, and through that creation of value creates sustainability for the business itself. The social part comes in when that value extends beyond the business itself and into the community. That can happen in so many different ways, your organization doesn’t have to have a certain formation – you don’t have to be a 501c3 or an LLC. There are lots of ways to think about the social aspect of entrepreneurship, but the underlying factor is that there’s a demonstrated creation of value for stakeholders that includes but also extends beyond the business owners and employees. That positive outcome should be relevant to the greater community.
How have you seen social entrepreneurship change Detroit?
I think social entrepreneurship has always existed and has always been a part of the business. Unfortunately, though businesses have often had a net negative impact, and now we are more mindful that businesses should have a positive impact. This more intentional focus on entrepreneurship has existed before the term [social entrepreneurship] – there have been amazing community leaders in Detroit who have created systems, institutions, and businesses that are mindful of the greater community. That is so much of what Detroit is and always has been. The resiliency of Detroit is very connected to what we call social entrepreneurship now.
What has been your greatest accomplishment and greatest challenge at ProsperUS?
My greatest accomplishment at ProsperUS is directly related to my greatest challenge. The challenges we have to overcome are also often the most fulfilling opportunities we have because we know how hard it is to be triumphant. The greatest challenge with ProsperUS is that we are in a really critical point of inflection in our work. We have a very real opportunity to sustain this work by becoming certified as a Community Development Financial Institution and by becoming a small business administration lender, but in order to do that, we have to strengthen almost everything about our initiative. We have to strengthen everything from our pipeline of training participants into lending and technical assistance programs to the operations of our lending program itself to our management of data and financial information. All of these things tie into our viability for the future around these particular opportunities. We've had an incredible start, much to the credit of my predecessor, but it's also time for us to grow beyond the initial structure of prosperUS and with that growth, there's growing pains of course. My job and challenge has been to understand the landscape, both internally and externally, and then to strategize within a complex system, a way forward so that we can grow. I think my accomplishment is still emerging. Even though I’ve raised new funds for the program and supported the team in delivering an excellent set of programs for entrepreneurs in the neighborhoods, I still see my greatest accomplishment as in progress.
What advice would you give a college student?
The life advice I’d give to college students is to not be afraid to follow your gut instinct and own personal value system as it relates to the choices you make about your life and career. Don't be afraid to explore, it will all be okay. Don’t feel pressured to do what everybody's doing. As for your career, I would encourage people to look beyond some of the default areas or sectors people might consider after college. Look at the intersection of things you are interested in and try to explore career pathways that meet those requirements, so for me, I’ve always been interested in the mission of nonprofits but also interested in and inclined towards business, economics, and finance. Even though my dad pressured me to go to business school and work for a corporation as he did, I think I’ve done a pretty good job at finding the right place for me at the intersection of the things I care about.