Articles by

Rishi Jaitly

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      When I joined Knight Foundation just under two years ago, I was awed by the foundation’s values and how they might manifest in Detroit. Above all else, I was struck by a national foundation anchored in the notion that informed and engaged people are in and of themselves crucial to any community’s enduring strength. And as a newcomer social entrepreneur in Detroit, I had benefited firsthand from our city’s informed and engaged community. Fellow Detroiters supported my civic ideas in ways I’d never experienced before. They chose to engage in the city not simply as voters and town hall attendees, but also as citizens who support people with community-strengthening ideas across the city. I wondered, What if Knight Foundation could draw on its strengths to rally more of Detroit’s individuals and institutions around newcomers and longstanding residents who are pursuing a new kind of social entrepreneurship? After all, it seemed to me - and others around the country - that everybody had a civic idea in Detroit and that there were countless people in Detroit who imagined themselves as artists, activists, and entrepreneurs all at once. What if Knight Foundation could champion this movement? Of course, we couldn’t fund every entrepreneur’s idea but surely we could support work that helped connect the general public with the city’s do-ers. Could this approach yield a city whose strengths were amplified?
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    Recently at Knight Foundation, we partnered with Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement to host a TED-style learning event that gave Detroit - and the country's - leading thinkers on civic engagement a chance to share their insights.  During the "Civic Showcase and Learning: New Approaches to Community Engagement," the participants shared ways they using social media and digital tools to mobilize citizens, fundraise for non-profits, gamify the urban planning processes, recognize unsung heroes, follow vacant property auctions, vote in the upcoming elections and more. Sound exciting? Well, it was! The result? A morning full of inspiration and learning in the intimate, elegant space that is the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's Music Box.   If you’re craving a detailed summary of the day's learnings, stay tuned to Knight Blog for a full report on the conference that we will release in a few weeks with our partners at the Center for Michigan. In the meantime, have a firsthand look at all the work of our compelling speakers, many of whom are supported by Knight:
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    TurboVote helps young people register to vote on the Miami Dade College campus When my colleague John Bracken, director of journalism and media innovation at Knight Foundation, told me about TurboVote in January, I knew immediately that this exciting, new platform would resonate in Detroit. What better way to advance Detroit’s civic entrepreneurial momentum than to empower thousands of people with an easy, seamless way to register, engage, and vote? The TurboVote concept is simple: (1) via TurboVote.org, voters check their registration status; (2) via the web, voters request pre-filled registration/absentee forms by mail; (3) local election authorities send mail-in ballots to voters; and (4) the TurboVote system sends text/e-mail reminders to voters about important local, state, and federal elections. We knew we couldn’t do it alone so, along with the TurboVote team, we pounded the pavement this past spring and met with area universities who could promote the service to their students. In the end, four area universities signed up as launch partners for TurboVote Detroit: Wayne State University, the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Marygrove College, and Eastern Michigan University. Check out the press release to learn more. We should all applaud the leadership of TurboVote and these universities who are advancing a more informed and engaged Detroit. As with all of our other Detroit grants and initiatives, I’m especially excited that TurboVote meets Detroiters where they are to offer easy opportunities to connect, support, and participate in all of our city’s civic energy.   
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    In recent years, we've seen how sites like Kiva.org and Kickstarter have allowed people around the globe to give life to creative and personal pursuits, fueling our ability to support one another.  In Detroit, we've been making the global truly local - by using the web to engage local supporters in the success of our growing movement of young, civic-minded entrepreneurs.  Kiva Detroit, Detroit4Detroit, Hatch Detroit, and the Urban Innovation Exchange are just some examples. Today, we’re delighted to announce another initiative harnessing the power of the web: Design in Detroit.  
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    How do you describe the role you play in community? Are you a community organizer or a network builder? Are you a content provider or a new media platform? Are you a grassroots operator or a strategic convener? Wherever you sit, and however you describe yourself, we invite you and your firm to consider joining the BME Challenge as our National Implementation Partner, helping to oversee the black male engagement effort in a growing number of cities. When we launched BME last August, all we knew was that black males are assets in our communities and that it’s important to highlight, celebrate, and support their leadership. Eight months later, our opportunity is even bigger than we’d imagined. After more than 2,000 men and boys joined the BME community in Detroit and Philadelphia by sharing their stories of engaging others, and 20 among them were selected as winners of the BME Leadership Award, BME is set to expand.
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    Mt. Elliott Makerspace, one of the nine projects receiving support from Knight in partnership with CEOs for Cities for accelerating citizen participation across the Detroit When was the last time you visited your town square? While many of us in the engagement field often wax poetically about the “public square,” and the importance of engagement in it, most of our towns actually consist of a range of smaller squares, spaces, and contexts through which we engage. And in our digital age, the list of venues is endless. This is especially true in Detroit, where citizens are participating in contemporary public life in bold ways, bringing together the best of entrepreneurship, creativity and civic action. It’s why we at Knight Foundation invest in projects that allow more people to engage, support, and partner with the city’s growing movement of social entrepreneurship. Today, along with CEOs for Cities, we’re excited to announce a range of grants to nine organizations that are accelerating citizen participation across the city in creative, modern ways.  I’m thrilled to see the kind of engagement and impact these initiatives will propel in courses and at restaurants, through contests and city maps, and on the Internet and new “makerspaces.”
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      There's something in the air in Detroit.  It seems all of us, especially young Millennials, are leading an initiative, a project or a company that aspires to strengthen our city. There are countless examples, including many anchored in Knight grants, that showcase our city's "do-er" spirit. This spirit of urban innovation is advancing economic opportunity, quality of life and civic engagement across Detroit. But real data also hints that a movement is underway. Between 2000 and 2010, there was a 59% increase in the population of young adults living downtown. A recent Knight-Gallup study discovered a striking level of community "attachment" among young Detroiters. Quicken Loans Founder Dan Gilbert, an advocate of offering young innovators the spaces they need to thrive, is now our city's third-largest landlord. And last summer, 1,065 black males shared their own stories of civic engagement through BME Detroit. What's next?  While many observers have begun to take note and ponder whether Detroit is the "Silicon Valley of Social Entrepreneurship," what are practical things we should do on the ground to accelerate this movement?
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    Partners and supporters of the BME Challenge gathered Wednesday night to celebrate the 10 winners of the BME Detroit Leadership Award, honoring exemplary black men who step up to lead and engage others in our community. Detroit City Council Member James Tate greeted the crowd and former NBA star and charter school founder Jalen Rose made a surprise appearance. Each of the BME Leadership Award winners is receiving funds to advance work they are doing in our community - from helping plant gardens in vacant lots, to giving new fathers parenting skills, and exposing young people to greater literacy, cultural and career development opportunities. Each talked about their projects on video. But this wasn't just a special night for our winners; it was a special night for Detroit. These men represent hundreds of BMErs, and thousands of Detroiters, who are blending economic livelihood, creative pursuit, and civic action in imaginative ways. It's because of people like them that Knight Foundation invests in initiatives that help citizens lead and engage with the city's growing movement of social entrepreneurs.
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    When I first starting falling for Michigan years ago (a courtship that eventually led to starting Michigan Corps in 2010), my affection for this place was always rooted in people. I had never been somewhere where everyone was so self-aware of place and eager to participate in place. I had to join in and wondered, What if we could use technology - and more - to make it easy for everyone to share in this place’s renaissance and work with one another on consensus change? Citizen Effect’s launch of Detroit4Detroit last week showcases the best of that aspiration. That's why Knight Foundation supports the project, which is helping 150 Detroiters partner with local organizations to lead 150 social-change projects across the city. This Free Press article offers a sense for the kind of work Detroiters will be leading across issues like education, health and food security.
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    Hatch Detroit's co-founders Nick Gorga and Ted Balowski If we Detroiters are passionate about our city and eager to engage in our community, how do we go about simply - and fully - unlocking our collective energy? It’s a question we at Knight Foundation ponder and work on everyday as we pursue our mission of informed and engaged communities. Today, with this question in mind, we’re delighted to announce a grant $50,000 grant to Hatch Detroit, a non-profit that engages Detroiters through retail entrepreneurship contests.
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    Wedding anniversaries and work events aren’t supposed to mix, right? Well, think again. This past Tuesday evening, on our third wedding anniversary, my wife Anuja and I happily joined hundreds of other Detroiters at Ford Field to celebrate the inaugural class of BME. BME (pronounced “Be Me”) is a city-wide initiative we at Knight Foundation launched over the summer to celebrate, connect, and invest in black males who lead our city in big and small ways. Since August 1st, more than 1,000 black men and teenagers stepped up and shared stories of how they strengthen the community.