Ben Bernstein, Principal on our ID Ventures team, on a financial literacy speaker series created by a group of Invest Detroit employees in response to the movement for social justice.
I was fairly shocked at my first company-wide staff meeting after I joined Invest Detroit in May of 2020 when the vast majority of the two-hour meeting was giving the floor to team members to discuss what we were all seeing on our TVs and phone screens and how it was affecting us. What we were seeing was a social justice movement unfolding in the midst of a deadly pandemic that had already exposed massive inequities in our society. Despite personally feeling despair over the lost lives that sparked the movement, I felt some hope and pride that I had joined a company that had empathy for what I and others were going through.
What unfolded over the next 12 months solidified those feelings of pride and hope. When faced with the question of “What should Invest Detroit do in response to this movement?” some ideas were thrown out: a Juneteeth company holiday, donations to non-profits, a day of volunteerism. None of these felt like the proper response, so a small group of team members started meeting monthly to brainstorm and craft a plan of action.
We dubbed our meeting “The Action Agenda.” These meetings became a virtual space to consider how our organization was best suited to respond to the moment, before the moment passed. After a few months of brainstorming and listening to each others’ shared experiences, we decided to focus our efforts on some sort of youth outreach. We collectively had several decades of knowledge and experience; it would be great to distill some of that into a tangible curriculum that could be delivered to young people in our area. We all agreed that our younger selves would have benefited from having access to something like this.
After putting together the initial construct, we looked for a partner to pilot our program. We got connected with Connect Detroit, a local non-profit that runs the Grow Detroit’s Young Talent program. GDYT finds internship opportunities for 8,000 14-24 year olds in Detroit every year. This seemed like the ideal target demographic of young people that were enterprising and could use some additional resources as they begin their lives in the workforce. The team collaborated internally to draft a curriculum on the basics of entrepreneurism and titled our series “PEP Talks: Presenting Entrepreneurial Possibilities.” We then reached out to entrepreneurs in our portfolio to join our sessions during panel conversations and Q&A to bring some additional perspective.
Given the enduring pandemic, our four-part series was conducted via Zoom. Despite the challenges of trying to connect to young people during summer through computer screens, our team was greatly encouraged by the dynamism of each of our panels and the participation from the attendees. Our first session in particular, “Introduction to Entrepreneurism” was peppered with a constant flow of questions from the program participants. Subsequent sessions (introductions to small business lending, venture capital, and real estate investment) featured more nuanced topics that gave us the chance to go a bit deeper on the challenges facing entrepreneurs.
At the conclusion of our pilot, our team was excited to have manifested a positive response to a dark moment in history. In true Invest Detroit fashion, we are now actively working on ways to improve and expand upon this initial foray that would include additional content and wider ID team engagement. It is our hope that by doing this, our organization can add an additional, more personal dimension to the impact we have on the Detroit region.