Masters of Social Work | Community Organizing, Community and Social Systems | December 2018
“It is not enough to have ideals. We must translate them into action. We must clear our own little corner of creation.”
- Toyohiko Kagwa, Cooperative Leader
Social Justice (Verb): the act of centering marginalized, exploited, and oppressed peoples to transfer power, resources, and capital, and to ultimately pay reparations to Black, Brown, and indigenous people- whose land and bodies have been stolen. It is the act of harnessing individual power and values to make transformative shifts in our collective mindset, to mobilize and take actionable steps towards creating a more just and equitable society.
My approach to social work begins with re-thinking our economy, and exploring alternatives to the exploitive practices of capitalism. I believe that creating opportunities for worker ownership, in community control, and in wealth-redistribution.
My professional goals in the next three to five years are to continue to build worker owned businesses in Detroit, and to work with groups in the city to focus on needs based business development. I want to support the work of others by providing resources on collectivizing, on working together and on decision making, and on incorporating community engagement into business practices. I also hope to form some sort of cooperative, to become a member owner myself, of a yet-to-be-determined business.
Building Blocks for Community-Based Cooperative Business Development
My key learning experience for my first field placement was developing a cooperative academy curriculum for a youth-based cooperative at Grace In Action. In partnership with the director, Meghan, I developed and co-taught a weekly course on starting a cooperative business. During the week, I planned the course and course material and content, and on Sundays, I co-taught, and often led the course. With six young people in attendance, we reviewed all of the important components of developing a successful business, but also the elements that make a business cooperative, specifically how to make decisions, manage conflict, and share profits equally.
Creating and implementing this curriculum and teaching the weekly course connected my interested in business development with community development in a very real way. Grace in Action really believes in creating jobs for residents as a mean of community empowerment, and it was important to help build the support system to help make this happen. During this Project, I created the weekly curriculum, implemented the weekly course, completed the Snitching Up Detroit business plan, and the feasibility model. All of these were critical tasks in helping to develop stitching up Detroit as a fully independent business
I learned a lot of lessons about the complexities of developing cooperative businesses, specifically about how important it is to ensure that everyone on the group ca work together, and trust each other, and can rely on one another.
Throughout this process I acquired and accomplished the following skills:
• Developed interpersonal relationships with groups and individuals
• Strengthened my ability to work with youth
• Learned about finance and business feasibility components
• Learned the legal structure for a cooperative
• Created systems and exercises in which people can understand how to work together.
This experience greatly impacted my growth and solidified my desire to help community groups develop cooperatives. I am so grateful to have had this experience because it helped me understand the ways in which I want to be a social worker, and how I want to approach community development.
Public Policy, Strategic Planning, and Program Evaluation:
New Solutions Group
My key learning experience was supporting New Solutions Group in phase one of their sustainability evaluation for the Growing Detroit’s Young Talent Program. In phase one, on behalf of New Solutions Group, I conducted a document review of all materials provided by the GDYT Program, and also compiled a literature review of youth-development research materials. I also identified a program sustainability framework that we used in our program assessment and recommendations. I supported New Solutions Group in the meetings with the Lead Agencies and the Consortium Stakeholders. My final product was a draft sustainability assessment of the program with some preliminary recommendations to increases program sustainability. This experience helped me in understanding what it looks like to secure a contract as a non-profit consultant, and what the scope of a project might look like. I found this process to heavily related to my 683, Program Planning and Evaluation class with Sue Ann Savas. I was able to directly apply survey design, focus group protocol, and evaluation scope writing during my field placement. This has increased my interest in being a consultant and managing projects such as this for larger institutions.
My tasks included:
• Completed DESC Evaluation Report and Findings
• Analyzed 2-17 GDYT Youth and Lead Agency surveys
• Designed surveys for Youth, employers, lead agencies, and community partners.
• Designed focus group protocol for youth participants, lead agencies, and community partners.
• Identified sustainability framework to use in this evaluation
• Compiled literature review, and analyzed all research materials and documents
• Completed a preliminary assessment with recommendations for New Solutions Group
Overall this experience allowed me to understand how a career as a consultant might work. It allowed me to sit with other professionals in Detroit, and understand the dynamics of a large scale program. I also participated in planning for another project at Global Detroit, where I was also to help determine the scope of another project and participate in the planning process for a housing ecosystem in Southwest Detroit. Going forward, this helped me understand how I might approach projects I work on in the future, and how I might collaborate with others. I also understood more concretely how policy plays a large role in making initiatives possible and in moving them forward. I would like to have a career than combines both policy development and program implementation.