Detroit Foundations Working Together to Help Transform City

Well-established philanthropic organizations are working to help transform Detroit into a more vibrant, economically viable city by deploying the clout of their billions of dollars in assets and decades of experience to build organizations, fund entrepreneurship, and reshape the city and its schools, the Detroit News reports.

In just a few years, Detroit-area foundations have helped lead the Excellent Schools Detroit Initiative, organized by the Skillman Foundation, which calls for a citywide plan that will ensure all Detroit children attend excellent schools. At the same time, the New Economy Initiative, a coalition of ten local and national foundations managed by the Community Foundation of Southeastern Michigan, is working to ramp up the regional economy with $100 million, targeting most of its efforts in Detroit.

But while their efforts to help re-imagine Detroit have been widely praised, some residents are concerned by what they view as a power shift as the foundations expand their involvement in city politics, land-use planning, and education. "Increasingly, it seems [that the foundations] feel this is a time to make a move to recapture, if you will, the city of Detroit and determine what its destiny will be," said Detroit city councilman Kwame Kenyatta, who welcomes their help but warns that these are unelected officials who should not be setting the city agenda. "The danger is that the voice of dissent is also being painted as a relic voice of maintaining the status quo....That's not true."

Yet, nonprofit executives used to working in cultures that emphasize working together and social justice are surprised by such criticisms. "Our missions are aligned to working around supporting the public good," said Skillman Foundation president Carol Goss. "You can't do that being silent."

Laura Berman. "Foundations Take Action for Detroit." Detroit News 03/26/2010.