For our second challenge of the 2020-2021 program year, we were thrilled to partner with NPower, a national nonprofit organization, with a recently launched Detroit office, offers programs that include teaching tech fundamentals and advanced certifications as well as social services, career coaching, and mentorship to military veterans and young adults from underserved communities. A longtime Detroiter and the first Executive Director of NPower Michigan, we collaborated with Camille Walker Banks as well as her amazing staff – Morgan Whittler, Letisia Ruffin, Jason Gittinger, and Jonathon Orr – and NPower community stakeholders over the last couple of months. Learn more from the perspective of both our Fellow teams and our partner below.

Camille, what was your vision in bringing Challenge Detroit Fellows to collaborate alongside you and your staff for this project?

Executive Director Camille Walker Banks and NPower trainees in class (pre-pandemic).

Digital inclusion opens up pathways to economic prosperity – it comes down to Detroiters needing access to IT skills, connectivity, resources, and jobs. We can’t continue to leave Detroiters behind. With Shelley, we scoped and co-designed a Challenge Detroit project that broke the Fellows into five teams, each with a specific area – building a concept for a community help desk, helping us understand our potential customers/users of the help desk in the community and how to reach them, expanding job readiness for our trainees, looking at how to provide support to veterans locally, and creating more opportunities for women of color in tech.

Vishnu, Sabrina, Hannah (Hardesty), Erica and Chelsie, how did your team approach the concept of a Help Desk?

We learned to value accessibility first when looking at how to connect people to technology services. Accessibility came through as a theme during our interviews. As we moved through the design thinking process, our team was able to focus on how we could add the most value for Detroiters by developing a model for a community IT Help Desk which included options for mobile app and hardware support, tech skill-building, and partnership opportunities. We also created a handbook with digital and device resources related to practical needs (utilities, healthcare, grocery delivery, and more) that NPower can offer.

Jackie, Emi, Panchito, Rieanna and Tricia, as the Customer Discovery & Outreach Team, how did the design thinking process go for your team?

Toward the beginning of the project, we spent time reflecting on what went well in our previous challenge project. Our team stayed present during each step of the design process,  and because of that, we were able to clearly define, ideate, prototype, and test. Each team member was able to learn new skills in virtual collaboration, creative tools, and other concepts while we also generally played to our strengths.

In looking at how to increase awareness of NPower in the community, we see that growing NPower’s recognition as a local leader in equity, talent investment, and workforce development can be game-changing. We provided a series of recommendations for engaging individuals (ie youth, residents, parents, seniors), as well as local business associations, government, and non-profit partners through strategic programming, events, and communications, and the formation of a sustainable NPower alumni network.

Dee, Nick, Asiyah and Hannah (Morris), as the Job Readiness Team, what was a strength of your team during this collaboration? 

Our team was able to be flexible and adapt to the evolving needs and hopes of our partner. We were able to take feedback from stakeholders, the ideas we developed, and ultimately, deliver work that has many elements for our partners to build out. The major win was seeing our partners excited about exploring our proposed design! 

Our key deliverable is a comprehensive interface that creates a larger network for trainees, alumni, and the community. The “NPowered Network” interface will offer community-building, knowledge and skills enhancements for IT and Help Desk professionals, targeted job opportunities (through community and corporate partners), and an array of technology resources. This proposed platform has the ability to be easily integrated into NPower’s current model. The interface allows for free virtual training, digital simulators, and expert Q & A’s for young people to learn more about IT opportunities. And, there is potential for earned-revenue opportunities by inviting investment of corporate partners to enhance the interface with additional features. 

Jeff, Jocelyn, Andrea and Paige, as the Veterans Support team, what was a highlight of your project experience?

We appreciated the opportunity to better understand the needs of veterans returning home from military duty to civilian life, as we all were fairly new to working with veterans in a professional space. This project opened our eyes and educated us on the diverse perspectives, experiences, resources, and barriers that exist for veterans in Southeast Michigan. It is just as important for veterans to have tools tailored to their unique experiences to move forward in life. Our team is excited that NPower is looking to serve veterans in our community and our resource map and other proposed plans put them on that path. 

Maddie, Sydney, Triniti, and Vanessa, as the Women of Color in Tech team, what did you create and learn through this project?

Our team created a plan to encourage Women of Color to enter the tech space and pinpoint resources for support. This aligns with accomplishing NPower national’s target of “40 by 2022” initiative, which aims to have a minimum of 40% of students enrolled in programming as Women of Color. Our final deliverables included a recommendations report and possible partnerships for NPower, a summary of our interviews with Women of Color in tech careers, and a design for the rollout of a Women of Color in Tech Coalition in Detroit.

We are grateful for the knowledge we gained about the tech industry in Detroit and the collective efforts happening to assure it is an equitable space for all. Through this experience with NPower, our team learned that even the smallest initiatives can make dynamic change, and we’re honored to be a part of it.

Camille, now that the project has wrapped up and you and the team have received deliverables, what are some of your reflections?

Upon reflection of my six-weeks with the Challenge Detroit Fellows, I found the entire process insightful. Through their work, I discovered additional needs and opportunities available in our community that must be addressed.  The depth of the questions and findings of the Fellows far exceeded my expectations; they were confident in their respective skills yet willing to learn and grow.

We are now equipped with implementable, community-based ideas and recommendations needed to prioritize these five opportunity areas which have been under consideration. We can thoughtfully add tremendously to the digital inclusion and literacy ecosystem in the Detroit region.