Finding a Way Forward: Global Detroit

It’s perhaps the understatement of the year to say that 2020 didn’t go quite as anyone expected. For Global Detroit, a nonprofit organization committed to revitalizing southeast Michigan’s economy through immigrant inclusion, this was a milestone year—their tenth—and they had planned to pull out all the stops and throw their biggest annual fundraising event ever.  

Naturally, the coronavirus made that impossible, but the Global Detroit team pressed on and had their anniversary celebration nonetheless, in October, on Facebook. The virtual event included a keynote speech from executive director Steve Tobocman, an animated video detailing their ten years of impact, and speeches by a host of immigrant entrepreneurs whom the organization honored with awards. Kristin Palm, Global Detroit’s director of communications, says that those speeches, in particular, were notably powerful in the virtual format, since receiving their awards on camera meant that the awardees had more time to craft their remarks, and since participants had the opportunity to react in real time, posting inspiring comments like, “I wish all of America could hear these speeches!”

Global Detroit’s work falls into three main areas: public policy, through which they advocate to make southeast Michigan more welcoming to immigrants (including a new role as the organizational home of Welcoming Michigan, a statewide initiative that they helped launch nearly a decade ago); neighborhood-level support, where they help connect immigrant communities to the resources they need to thrive; and talent attraction/retention, which connects highly skilled international students to career opportunities with local corporations. All of this work previously involved extensive face-to-face communication, and all of it has had to be reimagined in the COVID era, but Kristin says the Global Detroit team is finding that they’re having as great an impact as ever. 

They seamlessly transitioned their Global Talent Accelerator (a series of “soft skills” workshops for international students), for instance, to a virtual environment, and have helped place 60% of the graduates of their spring and summer cohorts at corporations like Ford, even in the midst of the pandemic. 

On the neighborhood side, Kristin says that their greatest impact has been in finding new ways to do what they’ve always done: connect immigrants to resources. She notes that the beginning of Michigan’s stay-at-home order coincided with the launch of Global Detroit’s new website, which was designed to be easier to use both behind the scenes and for the communities they serve. This became helpful because they were able to quickly turn it into a one-stop resource shop for immigrants. 

Kristin says that at the beginning of the crisis, when the CARES Act and its various components like PPP, unemployment benefits, and stimulus funds were first being discussed, “critical information was coming out piecemeal, and none of it was telling you what this all means if you also have questions or concerns about immigration. So we said, ‘Why don’t we take the best of the best of the materials we’re seeing that address the needs of immigrants, translate them into multiple languages, put them on our site, and use it as a portal?’” Still finding the offerings lacking, they soon took the additional step of creating their own fact sheets and housing them on the new site as well.

“That has been one of the most critical things we’ve done and continue to do,” Kristin says. “We put a ton of work into these fact sheets, and after we distributed them digitally to many partners around the country, we’ve received feedback that this is some of the clearest and most comprehensive information that they’ve seen on these issues.” 

“I’m very proud of the materials we put together,” she continues, “because I know that they have helped people.” 

While 2020 didn’t provide Global Detroit the opportunity to have the celebration they hoped for, maybe it gave them something better: affirmation that, ten years on, their work is more needed than ever.

This is part of a series looking at how Green Garage businesses-in-residence are moving forward during the COVID19 crisis. No one story is intended to paint a complete picture, but taken together, we hope that they will illuminate, in a helpful way, the struggles and successes of some Detroit businesses during these extraordinary times.

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