Ford’s third class of Thirty Under 30 met for the final time as a formal group Thursday at the Ford Conference & Event Center to share the innovative solutions they came up with to tackle the difficult issue of homelessness in southeast Michigan and Ontario.
Over the past eight months, 30 employees under the age of 30 from the U.S. and – for the first time – Canada took time away from their Ford jobs to immerse themselves in six nonprofit organizations: Cass Community Social Services; First Step; Habitat for Humanity Macomb County; Ruth Ellis Center; South Oakland Shelter and the United Way Halton & Hamilton in Canada.
Using the principles of design thinking – which is based on understanding consumers, developing empathy and recognizing the source of emotion and stress in their lives – a team of five fellows was assigned to each nonprofit and charged with brainstorming new and different ways to help the organization further its goals.
“What we’re realizing through this program is that we’re helping to influence the culture at Ford by empowering our employees to do things that they want to do,” said Rene Palileo, manager, Thirty Under 30. “They want to find avenues to give back and traditionally we gave them opportunities to donate money or volunteer for various activities. This program allows them to become completely engaged in the community.”
As part of this year’s program, six of the Thirty Under 30 fellows participated in a panel discussion with Ford Fund President Jim Vella. The panel focused on how the fellows can translate their experience and the design thinking process back into their jobs at Ford.
“It shows me that the future of our company is in really good hands,” said Vella. “The fellows have a vision not only in their work life, but as part of the program to come up with ideas and solutions that will change the world and changes people’s lives.”
Ishmael Amegashie, an engineer in Electrified Powertrain Engineering, was assigned to work with the Ruth Ellis Center in Highland Park, Mich., an organization that provides short- and long-term residential safe space and support services for runaway, homeless and at-risk LGBTQ youth. His team came up with the idea to expand the physical Ruth Ellis Center virtually through a digital platform that would enable users to access safe spaces, mobility opportunities and mentoring online.
“Ruth Ellis has a website but it does not have the functionality that we describe,” said Amegashie. “Many people don’t have a way to get to the center, so we came up with the idea of ride-sharing. The center had ideas regarding mentorship but they didn’t know how to source people, so we came up with a way for mentors to apply. And using our platform people can also rate safe spaces so that young people can look online and see which places other LGBTQ youth have visited and how they liked them.”
Amegashie said he and his team spent a great deal of time at the Ruth Ellis Center getting to know the people there and understanding the issues they face.
“We spent so much time there that we started to build personal relationships. Phone numbers were exchanged and text messages started to fly,” he said. “Before we knew it, these were our friends and not just Ruth Ellis people. And that gaining of trust set off a series of reactions that allowed us to come up with a solution better suited to the people.”
Christiana Lumaj, who works in Executive Communications, says she and her team developed the same sense of empathy with the people they met at Cass Community Social Services, an organization in Detroit that serves the community by promoting self-reliance; providing basic needs, including affordable housing; and encouraging community involvement.
“These people struggle with a lot more than basic needs. They are affected by problems that any of us could be hit with, like debt, mental illness or the death of a loved one,” she said. “They want to be fulfilled in their lives and enriched whether it be through spirituality, creativity or even physical fitness, but because they’re tackling basic needs and just thinking about their survival each day, they don’t have the opportunity to put those needs in the forefront.”
The solution Lumaj and her team came up with is the Cass Community Center, a space where homeless people can develop critical skills that they can take into the job market, pursue creative expression and strengthen their ties in the community.
Faith Fowler, executive director, Cass Community Services, said she was delighted to work with the Ford team.
“You work at a place for a while, things become familiar and you stop seeing opportunities for growth and expansion and improvement. These young people brought fresh eyes,” she said. “They came in not knowing anything about us and because of that identified a really great place for us to work on where homeless men, women and children can have an outlet for expressing themselves. And the way they presented it was new, fresh and exciting.”
Ford’s first Thirty Under 30 team from Canada had an opportunity to work with the United Way of Halton and Hamilton in Ontario.
“Our task was a bit different than the other teams because they were partnered directly with a specific nonprofit and we partnered with the United Way, an organization that finds other nonprofits to work with,” said Steven Lapointe, dealer sales manager, Ford of Canada. “We were also challenged by the fact that Halton and Hamilton are two very different communities. One is very affluent and the other is among the poorest of Canada, so they have very different needs.”
Like the other Thirty Under 30 teams, Lapointe and his colleagues got to know the people they would be serving.
“They shared stories with us to help us understand their struggles and day-to-day lives,” he said. “We also surveyed United Way donors, other nonprofit organizations and government officials to get the big picture of homelessness in Halton and Hamilton.”
One surprising thing the team learned, says Lapointe, is that the homeless people in their communities are not willing to relocate – even if it would help improve their situation.
“A clear problem came to life which is transportation. How do people get to the services that are available to them?” he said. “So we came up with the idea of turning a Ford Transit into a mobile resource and awareness center that could bring information, awareness and basic services directly to people in need.”
The three remaining teams developed the following solutions:
- For First Step – an organization that offers free services such as shelter, counseling, legal information, transitional housing and more to those affected by domestic violence – the team proposed the idea of Open Homes. Open Homes is an existing platform on AirBnB that could be used to provide additional out-of-shelter housing and increase shelter space at First Step.
- For Habitat for Humanity of Macomb County – an organization that builds and repairs homes, while also educating homeowners to improve financial literacy – the team proposed a streamlined application process to help people apply for home loans and strengthened partnerships with the United Way and Macomb Community College which could increase skilled labor and potential homeowner applicants.
- For South Oakland Shelter – an organization that works with a diverse range of people struggling with homelessness providing emergency shelter, housing assistance programs and basic needs services – the team proposed a ride-sharing service that would provide freedom of movement to the clients of South Oakland Shelter, enabling them to go to and from the shelter to access services.
Though the 2018 Thirty Under 30 program is now complete, many of the enthusiastic participants have vowed to see their projects through to fruition by working with Ford and the nonprofit organizations to secure funding for their ideas.
“It doesn’t end here,” said Lumaj. “Our plan is to host a fundraising event in January to help build empathy around the social issue of homelessness and then use the funds to move forward with our idea to build a community center.”
To learn more about the six Thirty Under 30 projects, please click here.
Ford will accept applications for the 2019 Thirty Under 30 program beginning Nov. 19 through Dec. 14. Click here for more information.