Moses Lee

Look No Further Than Detroit for the BoP

Poor public infrastructure. Government corruption. Lack of access to food. Poor education systems. People living in poverty.

Think I’m describing the developing world? Nope. It’s Detroit. My own backyard. Here are a few startling facts about the city of Detroit:

  • Detroit is one of the poorest cities in America. Approximately 1/3 live below the US poverty line. The median household income in the city of Detroit is $27,871, significantly below the national median (%7E$46,000).
  • The unemployment rate, 16%, is well above the national average (9.9%).
  • Today, you can purchase a home in Detroit for $500! Why? Because almost a 1/3 of the city is vacant.
  • Detroit is considered one of the most dangerous cities to live in based on its high crime rate.
  • Over the past 50 years, Detroit has seen its population cut in half as many people have migrated to the suburbs or out of the state.
  • Detroit faced the recent embarrassment of having a mayor in the name of Kwame Kilpatrick.
  • Detroit is considered an urban food desert, as only 9 independent grocery stores exist in the city.

But I, like many people who live and work in Michigan, am not ready to throw in the towel on Detroit. There is a lot that we can do to build it back up and restore it to its former glory. I’d like to share about one particular initiative that is underway.

This past semester, a number of students in my Social Venture Creation course at the University of Michigan decided to do something to address the food crisis. (This does not mean that there isn’t food in Detroit. There are lots of gas stations, fast food chains, convenience stores that have an ample supply of fatty, greasy, and unhealthy foods.)

From their research and their trips to Detroit, the students realized that to get access to healthy fresh foods, Detroiters really only have three option:

  1. Travel to the remaining 9 independent grocers;
  2. Shop in the suburbs;
  3. Pay extraordinarily high prices for low quality produce at convenience stores.

And the problem with options 1 and 2 is that a lot of people don’t have cars and mass transit in Detroit is dismal. Which really only leaves option #3.

After much analysis, consideration, discussion with local residents and organizations, the students launch a social venture called Get Fresh Detroit. The mission of the venture is to “increase access to fresh and healthy foods in low-income communities in Detroit and to leverage sustainable market solutions in doing so.” The idea is quite simple: distribute prepackaged produce meals (sourced in Detroit) through existing fringe food retailers. That’s it. Nothing fancy. Just practical enough that it can work.

To get their venture off the ground, two of the students moved into Detroit. They did this because they wanted to work hand-in-hand with Detroiters to build a brighter, more healthy future.

And I’d like to challenge many of you who are reading this blog to consider what you can do to develop market-based solutions in BoP communities where you live. You don’t have to travel hundreds of thousands of miles away to make a difference.

For now, I’ll be partnering with my students, not only as an funder, but also as a volunteer. I’m ready to roll up my sleeve to chop and package some veggies!