Voices: 5 things Fort Wayne can learn from Detroit

At the end of August, about 25 members of the Fort Wayne community were part of an inter-city site visit to Detroit, Mich., sponsored by Greater Fort Wayne Inc., Issue Media Group (publisher of Input Fort Wayne), and JP Morgan Chase.

The trip was an action packed 24 hours in Detroit, focused primarily on entrepreneurship, and we learned a lot. By “we,” I mean myself, Brad Little, President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne Inc., and fellow staff member Alison Gerardot, Director of Philanthropic Services.

Allison Gerardot and Brad Little of the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne Inc.

I’ll admit upfront that I was skeptical of what we could learn from a city that holds the record for the largest municipal bankruptcy in history. I also humbly admit that there is a lot to learn from Detroit as they welcomed us with open arms, hospitality, and a genuine, heartfelt spirit of “how can we help Fort Wayne with what we’ve learned here.”

They were even quick to acknowledge that they still have a long way to go. But make no mistake; Detroit is on the move.

Our tour guide for the trip was a dynamic entrepreneur herself–Jeanette Pierce and her team from Detroit Experience Factory. Her knowledge, passion, and enthusiasm for the Motor City made the tour personal, extra special, and compelling.

For Alison and I, there were five key takeaways from the trip that were both inspirational and aspirational to us in Fort Wayne:

  1. Nothing moves without connection and collaboration.

It was clear from everyone that we spoke to in Detroit that people there were open to connecting each other to the resources and influencers in the community they needed to be successful in their ventures. In other words, powerful and connected people were encouraging all members of the community to rise together. There was a true spirit of helping others and wanting to see others succeed, which means breaking down silos to help everyone accomplish collective goals.

Community leaders from Fort Wayne toured Detroit in 24 hours.

  1. Social capital strengthens neighborhood bonds.

Social capital is traditionally defined as connections based on trust among diverse people or groups that enhance cooperation for mutual benefit. This was very evident in Detroit (see connection and collaboration above). People were openly sharing their personal networks with others and eager to make new connections. This spirit of collaboration also strengthened the notion of what it means to be part of a “neighborhood.” Almost everyone we met spoke passionately about the importance of being part of their neighborhood, which brings us to our next point.

  1. The importance of investment in neighborhoods.

In Detroit, neighborhoods play a key role in the way residents relate to one another and interact with their city. Residents often identify with their neighborhoods first as their communities, and city representatives told us how they worked with neighborhoods to help them grow organically by empowering leaders from within. This speaks to the importance of growing talent right where it is in Fort Wayne and allowing neighborhoods to have a hand in shaping their own futures. It also means ensuring that residents in all parts of the city have equal access to what they need to be as successful as possible.

Eastern Market in Detroit has helped makers play a part in the city's renaissance.

  1. A cohesive strategy and vision drive growth.

Due to the Detroit bankruptcy, everyone in the city was forced to band together around a common vision to recreate their community. This vision was something we heard repeated to us over and over every time we talked to someone in the city—be it a small business owner starting her first venture to a seasoned community leader. The citizens of Detroit share a common vision of inclusion and grassroots growth. They have leveraged their “tough like Detroit” and “made in America” brands and re-framed them with a new focus on entrepreneurship. This well-articulated, collective vision allows everyone in the city to grab onto the change that’s happening and move it forward in their own way.

  1. It takes a lot of hard work to make change happen.

While we were surprised to see how different Detroit looks today than it did even five years ago, we heard time and time again about the work, the sweat equity, and the investment it required to happen. And there’s no shortcut to achieving it. The relationships with national and international foundations that have fueled Detroit’s success didn’t just happen overnight. It took people coming together and putting in the hard hours, day-after-day, to make the city and its resources what they have become. But we saw that if citizens do put in the honest, hard work upfront, it can pay off for them in dividends down the road.

With these lessons in mind, we hope that our visit to Detroit can inspire a brighter future for the communities of northeast Indiana.
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