Could Detroit Become the Silicon Valley of Social Entrepreneurship?
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the work he’ll do to address his mission. This guy’s pants are on fire, and to really be a good social entrepreneur, that’s what you need.”
Cavell and Pay It Forward provide job-training and employment services to unemployed Detroiters through internships at partnering non-profit organizations. In exchange for their hard work, interns receive a stipend of $900, two letters of recommendation, and assistance in building a resume. Pay It Forward also runs a program called Parent U, which provides parenting education to low-income residents of Detroit’s North End neighborhood or those who live on the Wayne State campus.
“I want to help people—that’s why I get out of bed,” Cavell says. “The problem I saw right here, right now in Detroit was unemployment.”
Cavell walked into Blackstone LaunchPad with his idea written down on a piece of paper and but no clear strategy of how to turn it into reality. Since then, with the incubator’s help, Pay It Forward has drafted a board of directors and become incorporated as a tax exempt non-profit group under section 501(c)(3) of the revenue code. The organization has placed 11 interns, three of whom went on to find full-time positions, and recently won a grant from Connect Detroit to fund 25 more. He says he recently acquired $50,000 of funding through an investor and is now looking forward to paying himself “a decent living wage” after he graduates from Wayne State’s social work program in May. Not bad for a startup that has only existed since September 2010.
“To me, Charlie is kind of like the Steve Jobs of the social entrepreneurship world,” Cross says.
“I see in Charlie everything I’d want in a social entrepreneur. He’s a young guy who’s not afraid to get his hands dirty—he actually seems to revel in it. He’s selfless—he just assumes he’ll survive, and he does. A lot of people talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. None of those things apply to Charlie.”