Over the last couple of months, we, Challenge Fellows had to opportunity to take the design thinking, project management, and leadership skills that we developed over the year and to partner with an organization that we are passionate about or would like to learn more about.

I, of course, had a ton of anxiety about choosing one organization, when there are so many people making a difference in the city.  I talked to several friends, fellows, and alumni and received some great advice on how to choose an organization to work with.  Pretty much everyone gave me the same suggestion:  partner with someone that I could balance what I am passionate about, a hobby, and what I have a background in, my work.

For those of you who do not know, I am passionate about food entrepreneurship, and I find it really impairing when young people want to learn more about cooking, baking, and ultimately marking and selling the product to a consumer.  I also have a master’s degree in architecture, and currently, work in an architecture firm.  So, how could I leverage both of these assets in a way that could ultimately make an impact and propel an organization forward?

I decided to work with Detroit Food Academy, which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that works to inspire young Detroiters (ages 10-24) through culinary arts and food entrepreneurship. From cooking delicious healthy meals for friends and family to facilitating complex conversations with the community to developing artisan food projects from scratch to market, students learn by transforming their ideas into reality. Through this process, they grow as holistic leaders who are healthy, connected, and powerful to affect change in our communities and beyond.

Detroit Food Academy currently utilizes the commercial kitchens in Detroit Public Schools for after school programming, a space in Midtown for summer programming and an office, a space in New Center for their Small Batch Production and programming, and multiple booths at markets around the city where they sell their product.  Through the empathy phase of my project, largely emersion activities and interviews that took place in the spaces that occupy, I learned that there is a strong desire for all their programs to eventually find a home under one roof.  I also learned that there is a desire to make sure that all voices are heard in the process, to ensure that it is a successful transition for the organization.

And therefore informing a design question that would help shape the rest of the project: how might we capture the voices at Detroit Food Academy (DFA) in a way that will help craft a vision for the future home of the organization?

The final deliverable that I handed off to the Detroit Food Academy staff was a tool kit and guide for facilitating a master planning workshop that focused on participatory design.  Participatory design is an approach where all stakeholders are involved in the design process, ensuring that all people no matter their age or rank in the organization can share their thoughts and ideas in an equitable way.

The main objectives of the activity were:

  1. To encourage DFA participants to discuss their spacial relationship, as in how they feel or want to feel, in the physical DFA space.
  2. To encourage DFA participants to discuss their emotional relationship, as in how they have grown or want to grow, with DFA.
  3. To encourage the opportunity to think critically about the future of DFA.
  4. To encourage participants to work collectively to design an ideal space.
  5. To create a jumping-off point for DFA gain recognition and support from the community.

The week before the final deliverable was handed off, we did a test workshop, to see how people responded to the activity and to see how the prototype needed to evolve to be more effective in producing ideas and recommendations for Detroit Food Academy

I really enjoyed this project because instead of offering recommendations, I recommend this or I recommend that, I was able to provide Detroit Food Academy with a platform to receive recommendations directly from their organization, we recommend this or we recommend that.