ioby in Detroit: The Why and How

Since ioby launched in New York City in 2009, we have been a hyperlocal organization, on a mission to support neighborhood leaders and residents making positive change happen where they live. In 2012 we went national, with the idea that we could extend our services to people all over the country who have great ideas. And that’s the model that we use now – anyone from anywhere in the US can use our platform and services. However, we’ve found that we can make the most positive impact when we work closely with people and organizations who have deep local roots. In order to stay hyperlocal, we need to grow hyperlocally.

In 2014 we began working in Memphis, first partnering with the Mayor’s Office and local organizations, then hiring a Memphis-based community organizer with a long history of neighborhood leadership who could connect with change-making Memphians on a face-to-face, day-to-day basis. It was so effective to have someone on the ground that we realized this type of expansion was ioby’s future.

Now, we’re thrilled to be partnering with more local leaders around the country to bring ioby’s resources to four new cities in 2016: Detroit, Cleveland, Washington DC, and Pittsburgh. This week, we’ll tell you how we arrived at these four, and why we’re super excited to be setting up shop in each.


Student Recycled Art Gallery

[Detroit-based ioby project  Student Recycled Art Gallery]

“The most important thing we’ve learned so far about working in Detroit is that there’s an incredible amount of positive momentum and energy among residents and groups who have been in Detroit for many years,” says David Weinberger, ioby’s City Partnerships Director. “There’s no need to re-invent the wheel;  our goal in beginning work in Detroit  is not to  duplicate the efforts of Detroiters, but rather build on their great work.” (Detroit’s neighborhood leaders include the team behind the ioby-funded Soulardarity, one of our all-time favorite citizen-led infrastructure projects.)


Where does ioby fit in?

We spent a long time determining whether, and how, a tool like ours could be used in Detroit — how we could provide a platform and services to complement and catalyze, but not complicate, the work of civic leaders there. Earlier this year, David interviewed around 60 of Detroit’s local leaders—in nonprofits, government, religious organizations, small business, and more—to get a feel for the civic landscape and how ioby might fit in.

Based on his conversations with Detroiters, David says, “There are a lot of great ideas bouncing around Detroit right now, but several Detroiters have told us that because the city is so spread out, and because so many people have left, there’s a sense that many neighbors don’t know each other anymore.” Our simple goal is to put cash in the hands of Detroiters with good ideas — we think that’s a powerful way of helping re-grow those social connections. Quickly-funded, small-scale, highly visible neighborhood projects have a way of bringing people together and strengthening networks of neighbors. Our local staff and the leaders we support can use crowdfunding and implementation to actually help people feel more connected.


Partners and allies

We’re very excited to work with and contribute to the efforts of a number of partner organizations such as CDAD, Michigan Community Resources, Detroit Future City, the Detroit Department of Neighborhoods, and Detroit Land Bank Authority. We’ve concluded that to start off, our best approach could be in working with organizations who deal with vacancy issues. Partially in response to what Detroit Future City has reported on some Detroiters’ sense of disconnectedness, we’ll begin by holding convenings about crowdfunding for neighborhood projects in order to bring together like-minded and action-oriented neighbors. ioby will also hold technical trainings to help contribute to the convenings our partner organizations already have planned.

We’ve been wanting to work more in Detroit for many years, and are thrilled that the generous support from The Kresge Foundation and the Ford Foundation has at last allowed us to establish an office there—set to open in March. Detroit’s greatest asset is its residents, and we’ve seen Detroiters show a real understanding of how small donations—and small actions—can add up to major, positive change. That’s what we’re all about, so we can’t wait to become part of this amazing city.


What you can do

– We’re hiring two Detroit Action Strategists to recruit and serve community leaders in the area. You can help us by spreading the word to any great Detroiters you know!

– We want to hit the ground running come March, so we’ll be hosting a series of webinars meant to inspire new ioby leaders in Detroit to start projects, starting now! Click here for more info, days and times, and to RSVP.

Read more about how we developed our approach to working in Detroit.