Every child must grow up with the belief that they are capable of being. It’s the first step in becoming an adult.
Many young people believe that they are not capable of achieving their dreams. They think that their limitations define them.
With this belief, many students will stay in school, whether it is because of their financial circumstances, a poor education system, or a lack of role models that they can relate to. Each time this happens, society could lose another mind or pair of hands that can help shape a better future.
Detroit, Michigan, is a city that has a long history of hard work and pride. However, it’s now facing some difficult times, mainly due to the decline of a once-thriving auto industry, which took with it many jobs.
Detroit, with its high rates of crime, racial inequality, and dropouts, has the highest rate of dropouts among American students, particularly those from lower-income households.
Many of these young people are driven and capable, but they don’t have the same opportunity to believe in themselves so that one day, they can build their community.
The ones that drop out will likely become products of the environment they live in and be unable to contribute to helping Detroit recover.
For-profit and nonprofit: Two businesses, one cause
David Merritt started Merit back in February 2012, based on a concept that he calls “cause-by-design.” The idea was born from a desire to make a difference in his community through what he is good at, which was creating products and branding.
David says, “We love product and clothing design.” David explains, “We love making things that reflect who we are and who our students represent. We also know the products are having an impact. It’s a win-win situation. We can do what we love and have a lasting effect on a community in need of solutions.
What is the main metric that they are chasing? They want to help as many students as possible graduate and go on to college.
David started two businesses simultaneously to achieve his goal.
- The Merit is a for-profit clothing business that operates online and offline but was incorporated under S Corporation.
- Fate: The social arm of the organization that funds and implements its youth programs.
The two models use the Shopify platform, but they contribute in different ways. The for-profit clothing store donates 20 percent of each purchase to a college tuition fund, while the nonprofit raises funds through traditional nonprofit strategies.
There’s much more to it. David said he didn’t “want to just raise money,” but that the real issue was: “How can we improve access and involvement of students in education?”
We wanted to make the most of our time. David says that knowing the importance of this issue for many urban communities, we discovered that it really is about relationships.
You can’t build relationships with youth by giving them money. What are we doing to really help them reach their goal? How can we help more students reach this point? “How can we increase the number of students who graduate high school to improve college access retention and graduation?
They launched the FATE program in order to see what impact they could make through a sustained and hands-on approach.
The FATE program: Small scale, big impact
FATE isn’t just a grant-it’s a four-year education program for students who are underserved in Northwest Detroit.
This program follows these students through their formative years in high school (9-12 grade), providing them with business mentors and career opportunities. They can also receive a $ 5,000 scholarship for college if they are able to meet certain criteria regarding grades, community service, and attendance.
As part of the initial run in 2012, 22 students in the ninth grade from the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy were enrolled. These students would form close relationships with their mentors, their volunteers, and their communities over their high school career.
This is the “funnel,” which social enterprises such as Merit use to measure their impact. It includes more than just the traffic to the website, the number of visitors who abandoned their shopping cart, and the sales.
David, who has completed the first round of FATE 2.0, is now looking at ways to improve the model.
What’s wonderful is that some of our students returned and took part in workshops with this new group of students, these 27 ninth graders.
David’s business had to have a tangible impact because the problem that he was trying to solve was close to his home.