Wendy Lewis Jackson, The Kresge Foundation

TITLE: Deputy Director, Community Development and Detroit

FUNDING AREAS: Detroit, community development, underserved populations, family economic security, arts

CONTACT: wljackson@kresge.org, 248-643-9630

IP TAKE: Jackson has a heavy hand in trying to rebuild Detroit, brick-by-brick.

PROFILE: As the deputy director of the Community Development and Detroit programs, Wendy Lewis Jackson oversees The Kresge Foundation's revitalization efforts in Detroit. If you've seen, read, or heard of the current state of the city, you're aware that doing so is a monumental undertaking.

As Jackson and Kresge see it, Detroit is not alone at the crossroads of transformation. There is no need for organizations to make a deal with the devil to get their hands on much-needed grant money. Of Wendy Lewis Jackson, Rip Rapson, president of The Kresge Foundation, said that her reputation as a "creative problem solver and caring grant maker preceded her arrival at Kresge."

Majoring in political science and communications, Jackson earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan. She continued her education there to earn a master's degree in social work with a concentration in community organization and social policy planning.

Political science and social work may sound like a unique combination, but the poli sci education means that Jackson knows how to work with all the moving parts of a city's government. The social work aspect means she understands the more human aspects of the equation.

Before joining Kresge in 2008, Jackson served as the program director for Grand Rapids Community Foundation in Grand Rapids, Michigan first working on their Children and Family initiatives and then as their executive director of Education initiatives. Jackson has also taught at Grand Valley State University and has served as the superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools.

Working in Grand Rapids for many years lends itself well to the work Jackson is doing for Kresge in Detroit. Not that many years ago, the city of Grand Rapids underwent a serious overhaul that began with a downtown filled with abandoned warehouses and empty storefronts. Fast forward about a decade and the city is vibrant with businesses and a thriving culture. Detroit could use a little bit of the magic that turned Grand Rapids into a trendy top spot for microbreweries and art festivals. Of course, Grand Rapids is a significantly smaller city than Detroit, but the same concepts hold—they'll just have to be completed on a much larger scale.

There are myriad ways Detroit seek to improve and must improve, and Kresge is open to a wide range of possibilities.  For example, in November 2013, Jackson wrote eloquently on the topic of how improved education for Detroit's young students goes hand-in-hand with the city's future development.

On the economic development and growth side of the Community Development program, Jackson makes grants to business incubators and workforce development projects for low-income communities. Take out the jargon and these efforts amount to attracting new businesses, nurturing startups, and providing the training for future employees of these businesses. On the housing side of the Community Development program, Jackson likes organizations that work toward providing affordable rental and homeownership for low-income individuals. The foundation's national community development efforts "focus is on replicable, innovative models and exemplary financial vehicles for equitable reinvestment."

But Detroit remains Kresge's "primary community development effort," and therefore is Jackson's as well.  As she puts it, "Every day I’m inspired by a quote on the wall in my office from Robert Storey, a former Kresge Foundation trustee, who said, ‘Detroit is Kresge’s greatest challenge and its greatest opportunity.’ I’m always focused on the opportunity.” 

“Every day I’m inspired by a quote on the wall in my office from Robert Storey, a former Kresge Foundation trustee, who said, ‘Detroit is Kresge’s greatest challenge and its greatest opportunity.’ I’m always focused on the opportunity.”  - See more at: http://kresge.org/about-us/kresge-staff/wendy-lewis-jackson#sthash.XxEMYw28.dpuf