Detroit, a living example of positive business

January 8, 2015

Lately in my conversations with journalists, there have been two questions I am asked. They first comment about our mission at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, which is to develop leaders who make a positive difference in the world. They are interested in our focus on positive business and ask if there are specific examples of this working in the real world.

Secondly, they ask if I see it as a benefit for our school to be in Detroit and its surging entrepreneurial activity.

My answer to both questions is always yes.

I often cite Dan Gilbert’s investment in Detroit. Through the revitalization of the city, he and several other key business leaders, such as Michigan Ross alum Christopher Ilitch, are initiating many development projects that stand to be both excellent financial investments and greatly beneficial to the community.

It’s an example of a point I often make: To solve the world’s toughest challenges, business must be involved, in partnership with government and civil society organizations.

What makes this even more relevant for students is our school’s commitment to engaging with organizations and leaders in the city of Detroit.

While we are a global business school with far-reaching connections, from India to Los Angeles to Hong Kong to Manhattan, our proximity to Detroit provides our students, many of whom are from different cities around the world, with high-quality learning experiences and community engagement opportunities in one of America’s greatest cities.

Our annual Ross Leadership Initiative Impact Challenge is a great example of this type of action-based learning with a purpose. Each year for the past 20 years we have engaged incoming MBA students with community service projects in and around Detroit during their first days on campus.

Last year, we hosted a back-to-school fair in Eastern Market for 3,000 Detroit-area school children. This year we worked with our students to create and launch a startup venture to support youth entrepreneurship in Detroit.

Our hope is that this project will bring long-term value to the community and further strengthen our connection with the city.

This type of student engagement goes even deeper through Ross’ student-led Revitalization and Business Club. This group connects University of Michigan students with Detroit’s evolving business landscape and promotes the city’s assets to encourage students to discover, engage with, and commit to the city’s revitalization.

In 2014, our students put their minds and passion to work to “Drive Positive Change in Detroit,” which was the theme of our annual Social Impact Challenge. This year, student teams worked to develop strategies to improve transportation access for Detroit neighborhoods, in partnership with Detroit Future City.

Detroit, a living example of positive business
Alison Davis-Blake, January 8, 2015, Detroit News