Although Deirdre Greene Groves grew up in rural Highland Township, she has always had a passion for the history and future of Detroit. Now as the executive director of The Collaborative Group in Birmingham and its Challenge Detroit initiative, Groves has the opportunity to be an integral part of the revitalization efforts of the city she loves. Challenge Detroit is a national program focused on revitalizing Detroit by attracting innovative leaders to bring their intellectual capital and talents to the city. The program will select 30 participants from throughout the U.S. to work, play, give, and live in the Motor City in the hopes that the participants will stay and bring new ideas to Detroit. Participants in the program will receive incentives to live in selected areas of Detroit, will work 32 hours a week at their host company, take part in monthly social and cultural activities, and participate in monthly challenges to positively impact the community. More information can be found at challengedetroit.org. Groves holds a bachelor’s degree in construction management from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in urban planning and real estate development from the University of Michigan. She is also involved in various organizations, including the BING Institute Emerging Leaders Roundtable, the Urban Land Institute’s Young Leaders Group, and the Highland Equestrian Conservancy.
You are the executive director of The Collaborative Group and Challenge Detroit. First, please tell us a little bit about the Collaborative Group’s mission.
DGG: The Collaborative Group is an organization that puts together entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial thinkers across the region who really want to make a difference in our community. We are a membership-based non-profit (organization).
Tell us about Challenge Detroit. What is the goal of the project? How did this idea originate? How did you become involved in the project?
DGG: Challenge Detroit is our first initiative of The Collaborative Group. And the goal of Challenge Detroit is to both attract and retain tomorrow’s leaders to participate in the revitalization efforts of Detroit by living, working, playing and giving in the city and the region for a period of one year.
Actually, our founder (Doyle Mosher) came up with this idea a couple years ago. So we have been working on it and really defining what it would look like, but he recognized there was a need to keep bright minds in Michigan, and that is part of why The Collaborative Group exists. But our membership really rallied around the idea and said, “You know, we can connect these individuals to job opportunities and we can connect them to living opportunities and playing and opportunities to really give back to our community, as well.” And I think it is something that is necessary and will be a great forum to talk about all of the good things that are happening in our region.
I’ve actually been involved with The Collaborative Group for about 5 years. We officially launched 2.5 years ago. But I started with the founder of the organization, Doyle Mosher, when I had just graduated with my degree in construction management from Michigan State. I was working for a construction firm and decided that this would be a great opportunity to participate in when he invited me to help lead the organization. I couldn’t say no. I don’t know where else or what other community that a young person would have an opportunity to really help lead and define and participate in something like this.
Why is the restoration of Detroit important to you personally?
DGG: Well, I’ve always had a passion for the city and really our region as a whole. As a little girl, I grew up in a rural community and my parents would bring me down to the city for special events. And I really thought, “You know, there’s more to the city than just these special events, and I want to be a part of what happens here in the future.” So I knew from the time that I was small that I wanted to be a part of Detroit’s revitalization efforts, and now it’s hard to believe that I do get to do this everyday. So it’s pretty amazing.
You have been working for the past several years bringing this idea to fruition. Please describe the types of challenges you and your colleagues have faced in undertaking this project.
DGG: There are always many challenges when it comes to launching something new and talking about something that maybe hasn’t been done before, so I think one of the unique things about Detroit and this community is that, regardless of the challenges, there is such a wonderful network of support. So even if we couldn’t find money to make it happen at first, there was that network of individuals that rallied around it and said we can support this idea and this mission. So I’d say some of the biggest challenges that we first encountered, and since overcome, were financially helping to launch the program, helping to spread the word, and really helping to define what this year in Detroit looks like and how we can impact and do more than just what might happen in one year. So that’s where a lot of support has come into play.
In addition to getting young professionals to revitalize Detroit by working, living, and playing the city, you also needed to have corporations on board with the project. How have corporations responded to Challenge Detroit? Please give us a sampling of the corporations that will be participating. How has the community responded? Have you received a lot of applicants? How will you choose who will get to participate?
DGG: It’s been pretty incredible. When we first defined what this program would be, it was a couple years ago and, as your listeners and readers will know, a couple years ago Michigan was in some really tough times. And of course, times can still be tough, but I think that it’s much sunnier here now. So when we launched this, we were hesitant. We didn’t know how many people would be supportive, but the corporate community really stepped up and for the past year, we’ve had over 30 companies committed to providing jobs to the program. And we also have a wealth of companies that have committed to contributing to the program. What I mean by that is companies that have stepped up and said, “Let us build your website. Let us consult. Let us help with your strategy. Let us help with (public relations). Let us help with defining the program. Let us help just reviewing the application process.” It’s been pretty incredible that, despite the hard times that we’ve faced in Michigan over the past couple years — again it goes back to the community support here is just beyond what I can only imagine it is elsewhere.
We actually know we have companies that include Compuware; DTE (Energy); Strategic Staffing Solutions; Beaumont Health System, who I just met with this morning and they’re so excited to be participating; Macro Connect, which is right in downtown Detroit; Cornerstone Schools; Kosch Catering. The list goes on and on. And most recently we just learned that Focus: Hope will be coming on board. So we’re really excited to have some non-profit organizations joining our forces, as well.
We’ve been receiving quite a few registered users and applications coming in, and we’re really excited about that. I think the community hasn’t had a chance to see the applicants (for the program) yet. So there are three phases to this application process. One is internal. We will receive and review all of the applications and narrow it down to about 100 semi-finalists. At that point, the community will have a chance to chime in and vote on who they think should make it to the final round. Those finalists will then be interviewed in person by the companies and by the Challenge Detroit board.
When I say “community,” it is an online poll. It means the community at large. It could be you. It could be your brother or sister in New York or Chicago. It could be your friends in Europe. It could be your cousin in Asia. Anyone who has Internet access and is passionate and wants to help place an individual in this position in this year-long program can cast a vote online, and the online voting will be available in early April.
Please describe the ideal participant for Challenge Detroit. What type of year can they expect in Detroit? What will they be required to do? What are the advantages of participating in this program? What will happen to the participants after the year is up?
DGG: We are really looking for someone with a couple strategic characteristics. That would include a bachelor’s degree, being a legal U.S. resident. Some of the details that are just necessary. But beyond that, we are really looking for special people, people who are innovative, creative, very entrepreneurial in spirit and nature. Those who can tackle different projects and take on different roles within the business environment and who can really move an organization and really move our community, as well, forward into the next level.
I hope it’s a phenomenal year (for participants). I shouldn’t say “I hope.” It will be a phenomenal year. While they are here, of course they are going to be working for the most amazing companies that we have in our state, and perhaps in the nation. And they will also be participating in these challenges that are focused on our community’s needs and wants and the issues we want to tackle here. They will also have opportunities to engage on a social level and a cultural level, and to live in the city, as well. So it’s really a holistic program that will connect them to leaders that are young, that are at executive levels, and that are really making a difference and impact so that they, in turn, upon graduating this program, can stay in Detroit, can start businesses in Detroit, can make an impact of their own.
I think one of the most significant advantages that I can see is really that leadership connectivity because I think that is something that differentiates Detroit from a lot of other communities, and a program like this can only strengthen it. So when we are working on these team challenges and we’re sitting down one on one with a vice president of the United Way or we’re attending a social event and we’re having a private tour of the Henry Ford (Health System) with the (Henry Ford) president, Patricia Meridian, that’s something really special that you can’t recreate and that you can’t do anywhere else. So the connectivity to leaders, the connectivity to resources if they decide after this year in Detroit that they want to start their own business, and they’re connecting with Tech Town and Business U. I think that will really differentiate them and the program as a whole. But, I think overall, they can expect an amazing experience that won’t compare to anything else and will help take them to the next step in their career.
Ultimately, what are you hoping to accomplish after the first year of Challenge Detroit? Are there any plans to continue or have the program grow after its first year?
DGG: Well, we have a lot of goals that we would like to see fulfilled after this year-long program. Perhaps most importantly is a second generation of the program or a second class. And we already know we do have some funding in place that just came through recently that will make that second year possible. So we’re really excited about that. But we want to see these individuals stay here, and we want to connect beyond the 30 (participants) as well. So, (for) anyone who is applying or anyone who is interested in Detroit and sees the potential here, our goal is that through this year-long program, that the applicants, that the participants, that the community at large will see what makes Detroit so special. One way that we hope to do that is by asking the participants to engage regularly on social media, blogging, sharing videos ,and really helping us share the message about Detroit being such an amazing community.
Finally, how can people get involved with Challenge Detroit?
DGG: If they want to apply, they can go online, and applications are due March 16. I would encourage them to go check out the application process and register as soon as possible. And if they aren’t looking to apply, but are looking to get involved, one of the greatest things that they can do right now is help us spread the message and visit our website at challengedetroit.org to learn about opportunities to volunteer and to engage and again to help us get the word out, as well.