| Follow Us:



Institute for Population Health Social Innovation Lab

8904 Woodward Avenue
Detroit, Michigan 48202

Bill Sullivan

By Matthew Lewis
April 25, 2014

Bill Sullivan likes to ask himself this question: “What is the power of one person to positively affect people in poverty?"

He has been asking himself this question ever since a chance encounter with a stranger who helped him in his greatest time of need, despite his initial refusal to accept the help.

It is a big question, but Sullivan likes big questions. He is building a business, Bill Sullivan Enterprises, out of finding innovative answers to big questions. All of the work he takes on aims to engineer change in social systems by designing human-centered programs and processes to help people in poverty.

"Reorganize the systems and you reorganize the outcomes," says Sullivan.

While he is clearly mission-driven, Sullivan has not always been in the social innovation line of work. With an advanced degree in psychology, Sullivan was involved in the development of a niche field called investigative psychology, an area of psychology that seeks to aid in the solving of crimes by attempting to describe and develop an understanding of criminals and their actions.

Sullivan worked for years as a criminal profiler, but after awhile, he felt himself becoming emotionally scarred by the work. After burning out, he decided to reprioritize his life.

He started volunteering for a crisis unit hotline, a resource people could call in their most desperate moments when they didn’t have anyone else to turn to. He found new satisfaction in life through this work.

Volunteering led to new opportunities. Sullivan was asked to head up a community resource center, which he did. This in turn led to him being asked to help architect and implement a 2-1-1 system (a call system that connects people in crisis with the resources most pertinent to them) for Detroit by the United Way for Southeastern Michigan.

With the encouragement of others, including United Way’s president and CEO Mike Brennan, Sullivan realized he could become entrepreneurial about engineering systems that affect social change. He launched Bill Sullivan Enterprises and began taking on institutional clients like DTE Energy, who enlisted Sullivan to develop strategies to help their 120,000 low income customers keep the heat and lights on when they are struggling to pay their bills.

Sullivan is currently engaged with the Institute for Population Health (IPH), a nonprofit social enterprise that promotes health and wellness among residents of Detroit by providing health services and conducting research that is intended to inform policy.

Public health is a major issue in Detroit, and excess mortality is something experienced acutely by Detroit’s low income populations. Sullivan’s task: convene a Social Innovation Lab composed of what Sullivan describes as “passionate, creative thinkers who care about Detroit and Detroiters” over the course of eight weeks with the goal of formulating creative, data-driven ways to address the excess mortality issue.

The Social Innovation Lab will tackle other public health issues in addition to excess mortality, convening on a semi-frequent basis.

"People living in poor health in the city challenge the structures of the city," says Sullivan. "We know that your ZIP code can be a greater predictor of your lifespan than your genetics. We're applying design thinking to mitigate the factors contributing to excess mortality that the IPH has identified through data collection and analysis."

All photos by Doug Coombe

Share this page
Signup for Email Alerts

Twitter Feed