August 13, 2018

United Way’s Dr. Driver convenes nonprofit CEOs to discuss region’s progress

Attendees at Thought Leaders United

Attendees at a recent Thought Leaders United listen in during a presentation.

Detroit’s recovery continues to make headlines—from Ford Motor Company’s expansion into Corktown to the Hudson’s site skyscraper. But to truly move the city and our region forward, progress must extend outside of the central business districts. And it will take all of us working together to make that happen.  

“When you talk about the renaissance taking place in Detroit, it’s mainly the downtown area,” says United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s CEO Dr. Darienne Driver. “What are we going to do past Grand Boulevard? What are we going to do to make sure the neighborhoods are feeling that same change and that same excitement?” 

“Our community members can be part of that change.” 

That’s why we launched Thought Leaders United. We bring the leaders of hundreds of Southeastern Michigan nonprofits together to network and share ideas on how we can move our region forward.  

Getting to know our CEO

The most recent edition took place in July and featured the first chance for most of these regional leaders to meet Dr. Driver, who joined United Way as our president and CEO in July. 

The event gave nonprofit leaders a chance to learn more about her background in education and her vision for United Way. 

Darienne discussed her time as a fourth-grade teacher at Greenfield Park Elementary in Detroit, where she worked early last decade. 

“The community was alive and vibrant with children and their families,” she said. 

“That’s what I remember most about Detroit, and that’s what I want to see all day, every day for our kids and their families.” 

Dr. Driver speaks

Dr. Darienne Driver discusses her background during a recent Thought Leaders United meeting.

History of the series

Meeting with organizations we fund and partner with has long been a part of United Way’s role in Greater Detroit. Thought Leaders United was born in January 2017 after our nonprofit partners expressed a desire to work together more to solve our region’s problems. 

“The goal of these meetings is to have a forum for engaging nonprofit leaders,” said Kerri Gentry, director of United Way’s partner network.

“Initially, these were simple meet and greets. But as we met with leaders from our region, we wanted something more. That sparked the idea that led to Thought Leaders United.”

The events were interactive from the outset. Meetings have focused on topics like volunteerism, advocacy and data, with a common focus of using our collective power to tackle challenges.

“Together, we’ve been able to create a shared focus and a stronger collective voice,” Kerri said.

One result was our Mackinac Policy Conference workgroup. Together, we developed talking points on transit, the 2020 Census and economic opportunity policies, and during the conference, we began to lay the groundwork to better incorporate the nonprofit sector into next year’s conference.

“Together, we’re making a difference – not just in our region, but throughout the state,” Kerri said.

Kerri Gentry speaks at Thought Leaders United

Kerri Gentry, director of United Way’s partner network, speaks during Thought Leaders United.

The entire community

Through shared data, increased collaboration and consistent communication, our goal is to make a bigger impact on the lives of all families in our region—from Detroit to Pontiac to Warren.

Together, we’ll make it happen. 

“We have the data that’s telling us what’s wrong,” Darienne said. 

“We have the right minds and the right people who can align resources to help us figure out how to get it done. We just have to have the will and the courage to be able to do that, and I know we do because I’ve lived in Detroit before and I know there are enough people who have that belief that things can change.”