In Detroit we talk a lot about the critical value of residents’ voices in the region’s success. However, what we don’t talk nearly enough about is how transformative real listening can be when we’re willing to act on what we hear.

At the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation, a lesson learned while listening to early childhood education leaders in Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood has deepened how we partner with the community toward the goal of improving kindergarten readiness.

As we were finalizing plans, we asked: Is there anything else you need? The team of early childhood educators pointed at Fisher’s co-design facilitator Camarrah Morgan: “We want her!” They told us the value Camarrah brought to the table was essential to continue to strengthen the Brightmoor Quality Initiative and extend the lessons they learned into actionable program enhancements. Thanks to support from our board, we were able to act quickly to secure a portion of Camarrah’s time to respond to the need.

Knowing her role would be different than traditional program officers who develop grantmaking strategies, vet proposals, track progress, evaluate results and share lessons learned along the way, we took a page from a peer foundation and gave Camarrah what seemed a fitting title: network officer.As Camarrah began her work back in Brightmoor, something unexpected happened. One of the BQI leaders asked, “Why are you called a ‘network officer?’ Can you explain that to me? Are you going to police our work?”

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