Insights, News

Encouraged by Impact, Lessons Learned in Detroit

Feb 10, 2020



By: Nina Bailey

As the first program associate with GreenLight Fund Detroit, I’m confident I helped families and children realize outcomes so positive, that the impact can extend generations into the future. Having lived in six different Detroit neighborhoods over the past decade, I know the obstacles standing between people and opportunity. A highlight in my role was helping build GreenLight’s structure to listen and assess the needs of residents who are directly impacted by our investments.

At our inaugural launch of Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) to Detroit in 2018, we shared a video featuring CEO participants who just returned from incarceration. In the opening minutes, participant DeJuan Edwards said, “I’m going to be honest, when I first heard about CEO, I didn’t think it was real.” To me, his words were the culmination of the meetings, local landscape issue exploration, organizational due diligence, site visits, conversations with local and national experts, and evaluations of CEO’s program model against evidence-based best practices. Helping launch a service initially considered unattainable elevated my commitment to this transformational work and still inspires me!

Scale, reach, and impact are – with good reason – favored words in the non-profit sector. Our investments are qualified by these measures and evidence of success in achieving our unique missions. I also measured my time at GreenLight against these concepts – the depth of positive impact on Detroiters built the “why” and “how” measures of success I’ll continue driving towards throughout my career.

At GreenLight, I fortified my belief that the people of Detroit know what they need to be successful. Many are not trying to “figure out” what they need or feel stuck wondering what will make a critical difference in their lives. Ask a Detroiter what they need and, with an honesty that humbles you and conviction only earned with lived experience, they will tell you. This is followed by a story of someone else they know afflicted by the same struggle, or how support would benefit their families or loved ones. I’ve rarely heard a person ask how our investment would improve “my outcomes.” Instead, they focus on how an investment would improve “us.”

Working alongside colleagues across eight cities, it was amazing to help shape our local work and see the same process happen throughout the nation. I learned that despite our hyper-focus on local needs, we were largely synced about working with people from low-income communities to access tools for empowerment. I was among colleagues who pushed themselves and others to focus on high stakes and make choices with, not for, the people in our communities.

I’m proud to have been a part of the GreenLight team and contribute to initiating social change through catalytic investments in my hometown. With each selection, the goal remains to unify and collaborate with often unintentionally disparate entities to boost existing efforts to fight poverty. Though I’m taking what I learned to a local organization to deepen its impact, it’s been an honor to support GreenLight’s work, and I’m excited for all that future investments will achieve for our children and families.