How to attract talent in Detroit

Shelley Danner

The opportunities for longtime and new Detroiters to make an impact in the city are abundant. But how do you catch the attention of both people who grew up here and understand the issues facing the community, as well as those from other parts of the country who only know Detroit from news headlines?

Challenge Detroit: A cohort of 30 early-career professionals from Detroit and across the country who live, work, play, give and lead in the city for one year.

Since launching Challenge Detroit in 2012, more than 3,000 people have been compelled to apply for the fellowship opportunity, and 120 next-generation leaders have been chosen to participate. The program attracts passionate innovators who value the city and want to dedicate their efforts to the community while growing their careers. Here’s how Challenge Detroit empowers these leaders to thrive:

■We use an innovative 4:1 workweek model. Challenge Detroit works with some of Detroit’s most innovative and forward-thinking employers like General Motors, Goodwill Industries and Hamilton Anderson Associates. More than 60 local companies, including large corporations, small-to-medium size businesses, startups and nonprofit organizations have provided employment opportunities since the program began four years ago. For them, the program is a source of top talent and next-generation workforce leaders who have an impact mindset.

On Fridays, fellows connect to the local community by partnering with nonprofits on “challenge” projects, where they develop marketing and fundraising strategies, work on neighborhood redevelopment initiatives or become an extension of the organization’s staff to move the needle on priority initiatives. In the 4:1 model, fellows spend 20 percent of their time working with seven different nonprofits throughout the year on projects ranging from business development to education. Recent partnerships have included the Mayor’s Office, Detroit Public Schools, RecoveryPark, and Eight Mile Boulevard Association.

■We train fellows in design thinking. We have integrated the Stanford d.school and IDEO principles of human-centered design as the core framework for our projects. The challenge projects are focused on social impact design and diverse, interdisciplinary teams of fellows generate creative, incremental solutions for some of the city’s key issues and significant opportunities.

Using this approach, empathy is one of the key drivers of solution development. With each challenge, fellows are invited to step into perspectives of those who will be most impacted by their work. As an example, during the Coalition on Temporary Shelter (COTS) project, fellows went through a day-long poverty simulation which led them to the realization anyone may be only one step away from homelessness. As a result, fellows launched a campaign for COTS titled “One Step Away,” which assisted the organization in raising thousands of dollars.

■We focus on community engagement. The leadership training component offered in the program not only builds professional skills, but also grows a capacity for civic engagement and social justice. Fellows attend facilitated forums and hear from speakers, such as Ken Harris, the president and CEO of the Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce, Tiffany Gunter, deputy CEO and chief operating officer for the Regional Transit Authority, and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. Listening to and learning from residents and business owners is an important aspect of the program.

■We create an inclusive, dynamic network that catalyzes future opportunities. Through Challenge Detroit, fellows interact with work colleagues, peers, mentors, residents, business leaders and public figures. They cultivate and build relationships at their host companies and through our nonprofit projects, volunteer work, social activities and more. They experience all the city has to offer and get to know people across industries and neighborhoods, establishing ties to the city that can lead to new jobs, entrepreneurial ventures and lasting friendships.

These connections ensure they will stay well past the program’s length and continue to plant roots in Detroit. From our three classes of alumni fellows, 75 percent have stayed in the city following their fellowship year, with approximately half remaining at their host companies. Others have chosen to start their own ventures, and all continue to stay involved in the community.

What started as a program to attract and retain talent in Detroit has grown into a dynamic network of individuals who not only live in Detroit, but lead and make an impact in our city every day.

Shelley Danner is the founding program director of Challenge Detroit.

How to apply

Challenge Detroit is accepting applications for its fifth cohort of fellows until Sunday. The year in Detroit will begin in September 2016. For more information, visit http://www.challengedetroit.org/application.