This spring has brought huge and exciting changes for us here at ioby. First, we brought on five awesome new staff members at our home base in Brooklyn, and seriously ramped up work in Memphis. And now we’re thrilled to announce that (thanks to funding from the Kresge Foundation) we’re laying the groundwork for a brand-new set of partnerships to support neighbor-led projects in Detroit!
But we’re not just rushing in headlong with our New York model, or even our Memphis model; Detroit’s unique set of challenges and opportunities mean that a one-size-fits-all approach would be a big mistake. It’s ioby policy to make sure we’re adding to, not duplicating, the work that’s already being done and that means we spend a lot of time in the getting-to-know-you phase.
“It’s always better to come in informed,” says David Weinberger, our brand new, first-ever City Partnerships Director. “In Memphis, we learned a great deal about the city during our research phase, and we’ve been wildly successful there. It’s really important that we fully understand the civic landscape in Detroit before we try to provide anything of value to any leader in that city. We take a contextual approach to working intentionally inside a city. We don’t want to be an organization that jumps in and jumps out.”
To that end, David’s work as he explores Detroit (and all partner cities to follow) will rest on three important pillars:
- Extensive research on the existing civic landscape, we call this “phase zero” research
- Careful synthesizing of the data and network knowledge collected, and only then:
- Creation of a Detroit-tailored ioby model.
And what does all this phase zero research look like? Let’s just say that David has a semi-permanent hands-free headset-shaped dent in the top of his hair from talking on the phone so much. So far, he’s managed to interview more than 70 Detroit-based community leaders in the two short months since he took on his new role. He’s talking to folks in community-development organizations, churches, business improvement districts, small start-up grassroots organizations, government, philanthropy, you name it.
“It’s a city that’s in constant transition,” says David of Detroit. “It’s an incredibly dynamic place, which makes it harder to get your bearings. So what I’m really interested in doing is learning more about the networks of civic leaders and organizations that exist before we start to stake out our place in the city’s civic landscape.”
We think all the up-front time David’s investing in getting to know Detroit is a bit of a unique approach. “I’d say that our holistic approach to understanding a city and where can add value to citizen leaders is novel on its own,” says David, “but also the way we support citizen leaders is novel. It’s why I wanted to work with ioby, and something I’m excited to see stay consistent, even as we grow.”
Creating a new model for each new city sounds like quite a challenge, right? Naturally, we looked far and wide to find the best person to lead our City Partnerships – and it turned out that he was right under our nose. Formerly ioby’s Leader Success Strategist and Partnership Manager, David has a background in transportation policy and a major thing for cities (his current obsession is Pittsburgh). He grew up in a suburb of New York, and didn’t realize until he moved to the city for college how much he’d wanted a stronger sense of place. “When I moved to New York, I immediately found comfort in my neighbors,” he says, “and I found power in contributing to civic life in my neighborhood. I want to give that to everybody. I love the idea of lowering barriers to getting involved.”
Interested to learn more? Stay tuned – up next in city partnerships news are Pittsburgh, Atlanta, DC, Cleveland, LA, and then – who knows? Oh, the places we’ll go.