Knight Foundation Initiative Funds Innovative Civic Engagement

4/3/12Follow @XconomyDET

The Knight Foundation announced it has teamed with CEOs for Cities to fund nine projects designed to encourage civic engagement, for a total grant amount of $65,000. Xconomist Rishi Jaitly, Knight’s program director in Detroit, says the awards build on the existing momentum in the city.

“We see a lot of people here leading enterprises that make it easier for citizens to participate in public discourse,” Jaitly explains. “A lot of people are blending social entrepreneurship, creativity, and civic action, and our mission is to make it easy for more institutions and individuals to share in this momentum.”

Emerging Web companies accounted for a big chunk of the projects funded. “All of these projects are great examples of acceleration using the Internet and other contexts,” Jaitly says. “We’re really excited to have a number of them anchored in tech because we think, in 20 or 30 years, a large part of engagement will happen online. It’s important to pay attention to that now.”

The nine projects that received funding are:

Publius, $7,500: The interactive voting website has created an animated video (with some great background music by RJD2) to explain the effect a shrinking tax base and decreased population has had on complex policy decisions. (Props to Publius for pointing out the population decline began in 1951, not 1967.) It also projects how the city might look in the future.  Publius’ Context Visualization Lab will partner with data-driven research institutions and media organizations to add context and initiate conversations about how to push the public’s interests at city hall.

Mt. Elliott Makerspace, $7,500: This community maker space on the city’s southeast side allows Detroit residents of all ages indulge their entrepreneurial urges. Mt. Elliott Makerspace is working on expanding its efforts into more Motor City neighborhoods by inviting residents to create market-worthy products and services related to transportation, electronics, digital tools, and clothing.

The People of Detroit, $7,500: This website is the brainchild of Noah Stephens, whom I first met more than a decade ago at the Lansing State Journal, where he was an intern and I worked in the features department. Even as a student, it was clear Stephens had a powerful mind and wasn’t content to rest easy. So it’s no surprise that, as an adult, Stephens grew tired of the way mass media was portraying his hometown of Detroit (around here, we call it “ruin porn”), so he set about creating his own online portraits and changing the narrative. He writes short essays to go with each portrait, which feature local entrepreneurs, strangers, migrants, and more—the true fabric of an increasingly diverse city. He’ll use the funds to continue his quest to define what it means to live and work in Detroit.

Loveland Technologies, $7,500: One of Xconomy’s favorite tech-nerds-about-town, Jerry Paffendorf, is the man behind Loveland, which is involved in a number of really interesting crowdfunding, data collection, and community interaction projects in Detroit.  Its latest project is Imagine Detroit Together, which combines technology and grassroots organizing to help residents communicate and see each other on a real-time map.

After 5 Detroit, $7,500: The website designed for young professionals to network and highlight their endeavors has expanded its mission to attracting and retaining talent for local businesses. After 5 will use its funding to provide additional networking events and other social programming to appeal to its target demographic.

Michigan Municipal League, $5,000: The lobbying organization that advocates on behalf of communities is launching a contest encouragingresidents to create projects that improve underutilized public spaces and make neighborhoods more welcoming. The proposals will be judged by a nationally recognized panel of “place-making experts,” and the league will award monetary prizes to partially or fully fund the winning projects.

Sunday Dinner Company, $10,000: This eastside soul food restaurant will use its funds to increase its presence as a community gathering space and host of panel discussions on governance issues. The restaurant also has a workforce development program for at-risk kids.

Peoplemovers, $5,000: Peoplemovers is an online gathering place for community leaders, the organizations they represent, and the people they serve to connect. Its Knit the Mitten summer campaign will help promote increased use of the network.

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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