By: John Gallagher, Detroit Free Press
ongtime Detroit community activist Maggie DeSantis is launching a new partnership aiming at spurring neighborhood-based economic development in the city.
The initiative, called "Building the Engine of Community Development in Detroit," will combine academic training, sustainable financial support for neighborhood-level organizations, and the forging of new partnerships to enhance the capacity of community nonprofit groups to work for change.
DeSantis is outgoing president and CEO of Eastside Community Network, which she founded in 1984 as the Warren/Conner Development Coalition. Her partners in the new initiative include Lawrence Technological University’s Detroit Center for Design + Technology in the Midtown district, Community Development Advocates of Detroit, which is a community development trade association, the Michigan Non Profit Association, a statewide membership organization for the nonprofit sector, and the Urban Land Institute, an international think tank focused on the real estate industry.
She said the effort would aim to “build more capacity in both the community development organizations and the volunteer grassroots associations,” with a goal of professionalizing and certifying community development organizations (CDOs), building academic and career tracks in community development, and connecting grassroots organizations. She said a special effort will be made to ensure that every City Council district has the services of a professional and sustainable CDO operating within its borders.
"There is consensus that the time is now to make this happen — from the mayor’s office to several foundations and community development intermediaries and most importantly to the CDOs — Community Development Organizations — that work on behalf of neighborhoods every day despite great odds," DeSantis said. "So we will take a methodical approach to building the industry.”
Neighborhood-level community groups have a long and varied history in Detroit, with some like Eastside Community Network, Midtown Detroit Inc., and Southwest Detroit Business Association sustaining themselves over many years. But other nonprofits have come and gone after failing to weather the challenges of lack of funding, unclear mission, or loss of a leader.
The new DeSantis initiative is meant to overcome those challenges by creating a network of training, funding, and partnerships to help community-level groups thrive and accomplish more in their neighborhoods.
The effort hopes to bring together all the major actors in community development, including philanthropy, local practitioners, the trade association, the business and academic community and city government. “Leaders of existing community development organizations will be at the table in a significant way," she said.
DeSantis will begin with a six- to nine-month “partner development process” working out of LTU’s new Midtown center. That first phase will focus on developing a budget and partnership roles for a subsequent seven-year effort to build community-level progress.
Amy Deines, executive director of LTU's new Detroit Center for Design + Technology in Midtown, said the results of the initiative will provide the foundation for developing and implementing new educational and career opportunities for students and professionals. "The partners on this project have deep roots in Detroit and are very committed to enhancing community development in the city," she said.