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Marlowe Stoudamire: The Butterfly Effect of Social Return on Investment

Marlowe Stoudamire abroad
Marlowe Stoudamire abroad

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By Marlowe Stoudamire
November 21, 2014

Have you noticed? More dialogue. More exchange. More ideas. There’s a growing energy in Detroit. A growing awareness that our story has meaning, and while most Detroiters may have always believed this, there is a growing recognition throughout the world that there’s more than a little something to learn from Detroit, its people, its history and opportunities. There are movements, shifts and changes happening all around us. In part, this has been reinforced through investment by the philanthropic community through the funding of idea exchanges and travel experiences that help to expose Detroit to the world and the world to Detroiters. A growing cadre of Detroit leaders have been deepening their understanding thanks to the investment of the Kresge Foundation in cultivating transatlantic leadership via the German Marshall Fund’s Marshall Memorial Fellowship.
As a Marshall Memorial Fellow, I had the opportunity to travel to Europe during the summer of 2013. This fellowship creates transatlantic understanding by exposing promising young leaders from the United States to their counterparts in Europe and vice versa. Through that experience, I had the opportunity to visit several social innovation incubators.
In Brussels, I met with the European Commission, which has prioritized the identification, funding and activation of incubators, accelerators and hubs to make innovations that address unmet social needs in an organized and structured way that shows impact.  In Berlin, I experienced the impact of this investment first hand at IQ Consult. IQ Consult is an agency for social innovation that supports start-ups, social entrepreneurship, regional development and cultural consulting. The IQ approach enables people from all groups of society to start their own business and increase a start-up’s ability to act and solve problems on their own. I also met with the leader of the Social Impact Lab to discuss their model of success. The model is a complete ecology of support that enables and replicates social innovations in Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne. He introduced me to SROI (social return on investment), a framework based on social generally accepted accounting principles (SGAAP) that can be used to help manage and understand the social, economic and environmental outcomes created by your activity or organization.
It may sound like a no-brainer, but I had yet to find a standard of reporting that accounted for all of the cool things happening where I live. But what really stood out is that the SROI Network aims “to change the way the world accounts for value that enables better decision-making” through mainstream approaches with a comprehensive sense of value that gives a voice to those that are affected. Wow, it’s almost like they took everything that I have been feeling and packaged it into a narrative that I can apply to show that value is missing from many decisions about funding, policy and practice in the emerging social innovation movement in Detroit.
These meetings and connections were and remain foundational to my approach at Butterfly Effect Detroit, a business and public engagement consulting firm that I founded to help clients across all sectors create dynamic collisions with diverse groups, build capacity and loyalty in targeted markets, understand and develop strong engagement culture, and ensure meaningful experiences that achieve quantifiable objectives.
Recently, the Butterfly Effect Detroit became the exclusive engagement consultant and ambassador for the Detroit Service Corps. The Detroit Service Corps is a new initiative and part of JP Morgan Chase’s $100 million commitment to Detroit. It brings company employees and their expertise and global perspectives from the United States, Hong Kong, Brazil, Australia, India, Chile, and Philippines to help four local nonprofit organizations accelerate community development, business growth and organizational capacity to realize their missions and better align activities with the social realities in Detroit.
I’m looking forward to employing my new lens for social return on investment practices throughout my engagement. This is just the beginning. And yet, it’s a continuation of a learning process. As I extend the lessons that I learned from my Marshall Memorial Fellowship into my business practice and those of my clients, I’m even more acutely aware of how experiences like these resonate and continue to impact me and my city.  

Experiences that lead to pivotal idea exchanges are happening in Detroit every day.  As I continue to engage the relationships and knowledge that I gained through the Marshall Memorial Fellowship, I also reflect on how we can maximize these experiences to benefit the many.
For those who have had opportunities similar to mine, I ask you to consider these questions with me: How do we continue to bring our city to the world and the world to our city? How can we answer who’s missing and who would make the most impact if included? How can we ensure representation and diversity of those who will lead next? I believe we need to be a culture of activation, one that demands that each of us shares our opportunities, resources, and relationships to activate the potential in all of us. From barbershops to executive boardroom, no Detroiter left behind. 

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