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Rebuilding community through innovation and entrepreneurship

Detroit, MI
Dates May 21 - July 16
Program Focus

Assisting innovative social enterprises that are tackling the Motor City’s most pressing social and environmental problems to achieve increased effectiveness, sustainability, and scale of impact.

Program Leaders
Service Themes
  • Community Development & Outreach
  • Economic & Workforce Development & Social Enterprise
  • Public Policy
  • No Foreign Language Requirement

DukeEngage-Detroit Overview

The DukeEngage-Detroit program will immerse emerging young Duke change-makers with seasoned social entrepreneurs tackling some of the city’s greatest challenges in a variety of domains, including economic development, social enterprise, food security, environmental sustainability, and health.

For decades an engine of the country’s economic development, Detroit was a beacon of hope for men and women who streamed into Michigan from around the world seeking an opportunity to pursue the American Dream. A thriving industrial hub through most of the 20th Century, the Motor City abounded with jobs in automobile and defense manufacturing and associated supply chains. The second half of the 20th Century saw Detroit slide into the economic decline that has left the region reeling to this day. Barely 700,000 residents remain within the municipal boundaries of Detroit. Nearly 45,000 housing units — one-fourth of the city’s housing — have been abandoned, and 100,000 vacant lots form a patchwork of urban decay in distressed neighborhoods citywide. Detroit’s unemployment rate of 18% is more than twice the national rate; when adjusted to account for individuals who are no longer seeking jobs, the rate soars to about 50%. With median household income of approximately $28,000, nearly a third of Detroit residents live in poverty, more than double the national rate.

Despite this painful decline, punctuated by the city’s recent decision to declare bankruptcy, a new hope for economic development and revitalization has emerged. Viewing necessity as the mother of invention, local entrepreneurs and change-makers are rolling up their sleeves to tackle the city’s challenges with creativity and determination. Across the city, incubators, accelerators, and other enabling organizations are sprouting up to support these entrepreneurs and to harness social and venture capital. Social enterprises, community development corporations, and other nonprofits are harnessing principles of enterprise to address poverty and its effects in new and promising ways.

Detroit has become a seedbed of entrepreneurial leadership and social innovation aiming to rebuild the city. It is in this thriving laboratory of economic development and social change that we established a DukeEngage program site focused on social innovation and social entrepreneurship.


Goals for Students

As learning outcomes, we aim for students to have:

  • Increased ability to work with self-reliance in a new community environment;
  • Increased skills and principles in the areas leadership and teamwork;
  • Increased knowledge on social innovation and entrepreneurship, advocacy, and urban economic development;
  • Increased abilities of creativity and problem-solving, drawing upon critical and interdisciplinary thinking, and applying their knowledge to develop community-based solutions;
  • Ability to reflect upon the linkages between civic engagement, social innovation, and social entrepreneurship;
  • Increased knowledge of careers in the social sector;
  • Deepened empathy and the ability to forge collaborative relationships across socio-economic divides;
  • Appreciation of systems thinking and the dynamics of systemic change;
  • Strengthened ethical fiber, moral courage, and self-efficacy; and
  • Increased ability to work in collaboration with peers in a team setting.

In sum, through the DukeEngage program in Detroit, we aim to support the development of change-making leaders with a clear sense of self, empathy, a willingness and ability to collaborate, an action orientation, a drive to continuously improve, and a deep sense of accountability for their actions in the world.

For community partners and the community, we aim for:

  • Progress on strategic projects leading to improved effectiveness and increased impact in the community;
  • Real and beneficial results valued by all stakeholders;
  • An established base for future DukeEngage-Detroit programs; and
  • Relationships between Duke and Detroit that are strengthened, potentially leading to additional programming and/or research on social innovation and social entrepreneurship in the Motor City.


Partnership Opportunities

The DukeEngage-Detroit program will offer discrete, deeply immersive civic engagement experiences on challenging projects to support community-based strategies to develop and scale innovative, high-impact social enterprises in the areas of economic development, environmental sustainability, and health innovation, as well as with intermediary organizations supporting these types of organizations.

Typically, a team of two students will work with a community partner to define, design and implement a project important to the community partner and beneficial to the Detroit community. As these team projects are most effective when they address a pressing community partner problem or active idea, the specific priorities and projects will not be defined until the spring.

Student teams will be challenged to create significant results for their community partners – results that the students will view as a signature accomplishment when they graduate from Duke. Students will be actively supervised and coached by the program leaders and the site coordinator. One important program priority will be the development of the student cohort as a supportive, helpful, engaged community.

Student placements will be determined after student interviews. Interviewers will ask about student areas of interest, skillsets, desired work environment, etc. It will then be determined after the interview if there is a proper placement for them within our community partner sites.

Examples of team projects might include:

  • Develop a compelling program case statement to enhance communications and funding for a social mission initiative.
  • Participate in a key component of launching a new program within a social enterprise.
  • Develop and implement a performance measures and/or a program evaluation model for a social enterprise.
  • Engage in market research to better understand the stakeholders of a social enterprise and develop a marketing strategy to better connect the organization with primary constituents, strategic allies, funders, or other stakeholders.
  • Develop a compelling plan to scale the impact of a local social mission organization.
  • Evaluate a social enterprise’s organizational capacity and governance model and recommend improvements and changes.
  • Assess the feasibility of launching an earned income opportunity to generate revenues for a social enterprise.
  • Identity and explore opportunities to deepen Duke’s engagement in Detroit through social innovation and entrepreneurship.

Please review the DukeEngage-Detroit website to view past projects students have worked on.

Placements will be supplemented by a professional development and enrichment program that will introduce students to the basic concepts and tools of social entrepreneurship and to the culture, history, and economics of Detroit; and will foster reflection on their learnings throughout the summer and beyond, through weekly gatherings facilitated by the site coordinator. You can catch a glimpse of some of these gatherings on under “Program Highlights.”


Program Requirements

Language: While there is no language requirement, some students may find conversational Spanish to be useful.

Coursework: Although there are no curricular prerequisites, we encourage students to consider enrolling in I&E261/PPS256, “Social Innovation,” a course offered by the Duke Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative.

Personal Qualities: Students who want to be a part of DukeEngage-Detroit should be highly motivated to be an active and enterprising participant in a robust individual, team, and cohort learning experience. Given the nature of the projects, valued competencies include: leadership, business plans, marketing, event management, website development, database management, and documentary experience. Attractive student candidates are excited about the opportunities and will contribute to their community partner, their team, and their group. Students from a wide variety of disciplines are encouraged to apply. Placements will be determined based on the alignment of community partners’ needs with students’ interests and qualifications.


Program Details

Description of Community: Students will be housed in dormitories at Wayne State University in mid-town Detroit. The campus is close to public transportation.


Housing and Meals: Students will be in shared apartments of 4-6 people and each person will have a roommate within the apartments. These apartments have a common area, a kitchen, and bathrooms. Student apartments will be in close proximity to one another. Students will be given a stipend to cover the costs of meals during the summer. Most students cook in the provided kitchen or use their stipend to eat at local restaurants.


Local Safety, Security, and Cultural Norms: If you have special needs related to health, cultural, or religious practices, please contact the DukeEngage office,, to discuss whether or not your needs can be reasonably accommodated in this program.

For information related to how your religion, race, sexual/gender identity, ability or other aspects of your identity might impact your travels, we recommend starting with the Diversity, Identity and Global Travel section of the DukeEngage website.


Enrichment and Reflection: There are afternoon and evening commitments 2-3 days a week (1 group meal, and at least one enrichment activity per week). Formal reflection sessions will take place once or twice a week through conversations, group meals, and enrichment activities coordinated by the program director and site coordinator. The program directors and site coordinator will facilitate initial sessions, with later sessions facilitated by alternating students, to further develop leadership skills. Students will also be required to reflect through weekly public blog postings.


Curricular Connections

While all students are welcome to apply, this program may be of particular interest to students studying Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Public Policy, Economics, Markets & Management, Civic Engagement & Social Change, or Environmental Studies.  The DukeEngage-Detroit program fulfills the 300-hour experiential requirement of Duke’s Certificate in Innovation & Entrepreneurship.

Relevant Courses:

  • I&E 256/ PUBPOL 261 – “Social Innovation”
  • PUBPOL 265 – “Enterprising Leadership”
  • PUBPOL 260 – “Leadership, Policy, and Change”
  • I&E 263S –  “Entrepreneurial Problem Solving in Global Health”
  • I&E 252 – “Leaning to Fail”
  • I&E 253 – Social Marketing For Entrepreneurs
  • I&E 352 – “Strategies for Innovation and Entrepreneurship”
  • I&E 510 – Social Innovation Practicum
  • I&E 800 – “Entrepreneurial Strategies and Skills”
  • PUBPOL 206S – Introduction to Engaged Citizenship and Social Change (Gateway Course)
  • PUBPOL 211 – Engineering Sustainable Design and the Global Community
  • PUBPOL 224S – Doing Good: Anthropological Perspectives on Development
  • PUBPOL 259S – Women as Leaders
  • PUBPOL 260 – Leadership, Policy, and Change
  • PUBPOL 261SA – Whose Democracy? Participation and Public Policy in the United States
  • PUBPOL 267 – Leading as a Social Entrepreneur
  • PUBPOL 271 – Social Enterprise in Action
  • PUBPOL 328 – United States Racial/Ethnic Health Disparities: Social Determinants and Public Policy Implications
  • PUBPOL 344 – History of U.S. Social Movements
  • PUBPOL 527S – Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy in the U S
  • PUBPOL 528 – History of Poverty in the United States
  • PUBPOL 559S – Philanthropy, Voluntarism, and Not-for-Profit Management
  • PUBPOL 560S – Philanthropy: the Theory of Practice and the Practice of Theory
  • PUBPOL 563S – Making Social Policy
  • PUBPOL 598 – Economic Growth and Development Policy
  • PUBPOL 601S – Urban Policy
  • PUBPOL 602S – Law, Economics, and Organizations
  • PUBPOL 604 – Using Data to Analyze and Evaluate Public Policy
  • PUBPOL 644S – Poverty, Inequality, and Health
  • PUBPOL 676 – Media and Social Change
  • PUBPOL 726 – Innovation and Policy Entrepreneurship

More Information

Learn more about DukeEngage Detroit from past participant & guiDE, Thomas

The guiDE program provides DukeEngage alumni a pathway to continue their commitment to service and civic engagement by providing leadership, mentorship and service opportunities that support wider DukeEngage efforts on campus and beyond.

Click here to connect with Thomas