The Empowerment Plan: Social Innovation Style in Detroit

The Empowerment Plan is a non-profit business innovation founded in 2011 by then 19-year-old Creative Studies design student Veronika Scott. One in 42 Detroit, Michigan, residents are homeless, in a city that experiences below-freezing temperatures or less throughout the winter months. 

With this in mind, Scott’s Detroit Empowerment project had the dual purpose of making warm coats for the homeless population, while also helping to train and employ them. With support from the community and certain key organizations, Scott turned her school project into a fully viable business model. Since Scott officially founded The Empowerment Plan in 2011 (as a graduate in her early 20s), more than seven homeless women have been trained and employed in the production of what is now called The MPWR coat (The Empower Coat).

These empowered and expertly trained -- formerly homeless -- women were recruited through local shelters and placed in housing through local non-profit partners. As of this writing, 1,000 coats have been made and donated locally, nationally and via international disaster aid relief. The goal is to grow and evolve the company over time, with the support of the Detroit community, shelters, foundations, and local brands with a ‘care-and-share’ mission.

“Where else in the world, but Detroit? It’s the Wild West of creativity. If our job that we want isn’t here, and isn’t being offered, we make it here for ourselves. ... we can really drastically change our environment and the community around us, and here in Detroit, we’re doing that all the time.” - TED X Detroit speaker Veronika Scott

The Making of a Warm Coat: It Takes a Village

A wind-resistant, water-resistant coat that morphs into a long sleeping bag or rolls up sleek into an over-the-shoulder carry strap for those on the move seems to be a slam-dunk for Detroit. The Empowerment Plan receives support from numerous companies, including Carhartt, The Women's Foundation, and ACME Mills textile company, with innovative insulation materials donated by GM. The production studio in which they are currently housed is in Corktown Detroit at Pony Ride, an enclave of artists and entrepreneurs experimenting with and addressing the foreclosure problem by inhabiting and rebuilding empty spaces that they rebuild while they inhabit them. 

According to Scott, during the creation of the project, she was told over and ovehttp://www.cultureoffuture.comr that this would never succeed. Not because the person running it had no business experience, but because the homeless women she hired would not be ‘capable.’ Says Veronika, "Everyday, I enjoy proving that the homeless women I hire are powerful and driven. I am so privileged to be a part of their lives.” 

The Future is Bright

The Empowerment Plan is part of a nationwide local solutions movement looking to empower the disaffected with socially conscious business solutions. In the near future, Scott hopes to begin transitioning The Empowerment Plan from a nonprofit to a for-profit venture, using a "buy one get one" or "one-for-one" model, inspired by Tom's shoes. "But we want to make the model more transparent," Scott explains. Whereas consumers don't know anything about the pair of shoes that Tom's gives to needy children for every pair they purchase, purchasing a coat from The Empowerment Plan would come with a back-story.

In 2010, Veronika Scott was invited to the United Nations to speak as a young woman change maker and, in 2011, by the Clinton Global Initiative to speak on her drive to create The Empowerment Plan. In 2012, Veronika Scott was awarded the JFK New Frontiers Award from the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. She is the youngest person to ever have received the honor.

 

Jody Turner is founder of Culture of Future, a brand anthropology consultancy. Turner has consulted with clients from IDEO to Nike Foundation, from trendwatching.com London to BMW Europe.

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