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Challenge Detroit

735 Forest
Suite 202
Birmingham, MI 48009

Deirdre Groves

By Tunde Wey
March 21, 2012

Every big city has big challenges, and the complex ones can be daunting. Few are brave enough to confront them, and many who do get mired in their complexity.
Deirdre Greene Groves has spent the last four years thinking about one: young talent leaving metro Detroit. This talent loss has been substantial, and its effects on the city and state have been devastating. According to the Hudson-Webber Foundation, Michigan is 34th in the country in proportion of adults with a 4-year degree, with Detroit and urban centers faring especially poorly. Population decline has been linked to the city’s failing school system, unreliable municipal services, crime and myriad other interconnected problems.
With such varying causes, how do we even begin to start solving such a multi-layered problem?
Challenge Detroit, an initiative of The Collaborative Group, wants to do its part to address the so-called “brain drain.” From a pool of nearly 900 applications received, the program is inviting 30 individuals from within and outside the city to “live, work, play and give” in and around Detroit for one year. Participants will be offered jobs at area businesses for the length of the program, during which time they will live in Detroit, experience the city’s many cultural offerings, and engage in challenges that positively impact the community.
By focusing on “attracting and retaining the next generation of leaders for the community,” Groves believes Challenge Detroit can help fulfill the city's potential. Their mission to develop and rejuvenate the city's core is a targeted and specific approach towards Detroit’s renewal.
Groves understands her target audience well; she herself is a young professional of the caliber the city desperately needs to keep. A graduate of Michigan State University, she received her degree in construction management and spent a summer in Detroit interning at a company developing loft living spaces. This experience, along with frequent visits with her parents to tour historic homes, made Groves an impassioned devotee of the city’s architectural landscape.
After graduating, Groves sought out work in the Detroit area, taking a job with local construction firm Mosher Dolan. When principal Doyle Mosher told Groves about his project to bring together a diverse group of entrepreneurial thinkers from the greater Detroit region, she lobbied for the group to focus on community impact.
The Collaborative Group, founded in 2009, is the resulting organization. Dedicated to economic growth and philanthropy, they launched Challenge Detroit in 2011. Before doing so, the group built a database of 600 community members, engaging them throughout the project development process. This intentional outreach was part of their strategy to be collaborative and inclusive. Consequently, Challenge Detroit is now partnered with a long list of local businesses and institutions -- including DTE Energy, Quicken Loans, and ePrize -- to host participants and offer professional services.
While the immediate goal of the initiative is to strongly connect 30 professionals to the city, Groves sees this as just a beginning. She is excited about the extended benefits that will come from fostering ambassadors, who will in turn inform the public about their time in the city through social media and blogging opportunities the program provides. She also sees participants as connectors, inviting friends and family to enjoy Detroit’s many charms.
Ask Groves how her work can be supported and she replies with the obvious: “Donate and volunteer.” As a third request, she invokes the popular mantra coined by Emily Gail: “Say nice things about Detroit.”

Considering the city’s challenges, this might sound too simple a request. But for Groves, it’s an essential first step on the road to more people living, working, playing and giving in Detroit.

Portrait by Marvin Shaouni Photography.

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