Blog: John Heiss

Across all the diversity and differences that separate us, we are working towards a common purpose in Detroit. In the past I have been involved with regional initiatives concerned with food security but now find myself organizing the Social Ventures Network of Southeast Michigan. This Network will operate as a Peer Learning Network, Business Incubator, Venture Capital Marketplace, and Resource Network. The banks, companies, non-profits and churches involved are committed to long-term, sustainable development. We are seeking to merge for-benefit and for-profit models to “Make Detroit Better”.

Photograph by Dave Krieger

John Heiss - Most Recent Posts:

Post No. 4

So What Then Must We Do?

That was the question asked by Tolstoy who passed through the streets of Moscow and saw them lined with the poor and hungry. He never fully answered that question and it still remains a great query. Here is a set of suggestions: 

Visit the Social Enterprise Alliance Web Site. There you will find a wide range of articles and discussions. 

Attend the November 8th Social Innovation Ventures Network Workshop at Lawrence Technical University. This full-day event will feature Jerr Boschee – founder of the Social Enterprise Alliance and international expert on Social Ventures, Sandra Pierce – CEO of CharterOne Bank, Dan Izzo – Bizdom University. For registration info e-mail me at

Visit one of the Monthly Meetings of the Social Innovation Ventures Network. The meetings are held on the second Friday of every month from 12-2pm at Fort Street Presbyterian Church 631 West Fort Street. Luncheon and networking from 12-12:30pm. 

Work to understand the principle of double or triple-bottom lines – economic, social and environmental. Evaluate industries and enterprises based on that triple metric. 

Grow you social and professional networks. Resolve to reach out to one interesting person you have met recently. Make building relationships a habit. Become more viral in your approach to relationships. Point people you know at each other and try to weave them together. You can become a node or a point and touch other nodes and points. 

Embrace change and life-long learning. I have recently learned that I did not pay enough attention in business school to Marketing and that was over 20 years ago anyway. I have also learned that I am not nearly as funny after three beers as I think I am.  

“If you want to build ships, do not gather wood or workers,
rather teach men to yearn for the endless sea.”  
-Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Post No. 3


At the conclusion of the Revolutionary War Battle of Yorktown, the King of England’s forces were surrendered by Lord Cornwallis. As the surrendering troops filed out of the battlements, the bands played a tune called "The World Turned Upside Down."

It must have appeared that way to the English. The United States democracy appeared to be turning the Mercantile world upside down. DeTocqueville noted a key and unique property of life in America – the preponderance of voluntary organizations and mutual support they provided. These voluntary associations persist to this day and include Rotary Clubs, Chambers of Commerce, Soccer Leagues, human care organizations and congregations. Along with institutions of the Public Sector and the Market, these Voluntary Institutions are the three legs of our stool. A delicate creative tension between all three makes for a thriving social and economic environment. Unfortunately, the Market has penetrated and co-opted very effectively the Public Sector, making it do it’s bidding. Voluntary Associations have grown weaker over the last 50 years as Americans have in the words of Robert Dowling, "learned to bowl alone."

Since the heart of the Social Innovation Ventures Network are a core of 20 non-profit corporations (NGOs) in the human care industry, we all start from a mission. Our organizations work as workforce development providers, food banks, elder care facilities, housing developers, counselors, alternative schools, congregations and community centers. We all have some focus on the development of Human or Social Capital. We also proudly declare that the world is currently upside down. It is our role as NGOs to rebuild the Commonwealth and reintroduce the creative tension and balance to our stool. We do this by developing enterprises, innovations and policy choices that take into account not just one bottom line – profits – but multiple bottom lines – social good, environmental sustainability and others. This multiple bottom-line approach brings values and stewardship back into the economic discourse.

The Network has decided to stop waiting for political solutions or trickle-down wealth flow to come to the least favored of our society. Instead we boldly declare that we are the very people we have been waiting for and propose to redevelop the Emerging Market that is Detroit, to change the attitudes of young and old and embrace life-long learning. Change is good and it is our role to create and embrace that change.

Many ask us" "Why you and the Network?" We respond "Why not us and the Network." Collectively, the management teams and boards of our institutions have existing relationships with all the powerful actors from the Public Sector and the Market. We also have trusting relationships built over many years with the residents of communities in our region that have been left behind. This change will not be easy, but change never is. Our motto is "War is hard, wear a helmet."

Post No. 2


Networks offer unique opportunities with special capacities and advantages. Networks have proven instrumentalities or technologies to increase efficiency deepen impact and expand capacity all of which combine to Create Value. Voluntary networked organizations (Peter Drucker’s Third Sector) deliver to their membership great benefits and also maximize resources.  

Networks represent a technology for change that is asymmetrical, viral and relational. The technology encourages members to make new links, bring people together across boundaries like geography or social distance, and have proven resilient and adaptive to change. Networks create value by serving as Connectors of individuals and organizations, Disseminators of knowledge, Learning Systems for key industry competencies, and Brokers of resources. A network synergizes relationships, wisdom and best practices. It can increase impact by leveraging assets that already exist in a system and connecting them to each other; build overall capacity by mobilizing diverse and flexible individuals and organizations (Plastrik and Taylor 2006). 

Many Americans now worship in large, mega-churches that are often called "Saddleback Churches" after Rick Warren’s congregation in Orange County. Warren, the author of The Purpose Driven Life, recognized that small, cellular groups within a large institution expanded the level of commitment of participants, expanded at no cost the level of interpersonal connectivity and relationship-building, while offering "something for everyone" (Gladwell, 2002). At least 40 million worshipers in this country are part of cellular faith networks and small groups. 

The problems are considerable. According to Comerica Bank Michigan Brief of June 11, 2007, Michigan is the only state in the union to experience negative growth (.5% negative growth compared to national positive growth of 3.4% in 2006). The per capita GDP in Michigan has declined to 89% of the national average. Anyone noticing how many For Sale signs decorate our lawns and driveways.  

Challenges often come paired with opportunities: disinvestment in real estate drives down the price and cost of assets to the point where they can create a competitive advantage; downsizing and layoffs in the auto economy release into the market a huge flood of entrepreneurial talent that can be harnessed to build the next wave of the economy; a concentration of African American culture and talent creates new economic opportunities and potential competitive advantage when connected to the emerging innovation economy; the sheer scale of the challenge drives social entrepreneurs to experiment with new innovative solutions that would otherwise not be tried; neighborhoods band together committed to systemic change and renewal; philanthropic funders concentrate investments in ways that enable new social infrastructure; and civic leaders are pushed to break out of their traditional boundaries and collaborate across regions, sectors, races and classes. 

In short, crisis can be the crucible of innovation, and can spawn new solutions to social and economic challenges that "leapfrog" seemingly more stable and competitive regions. But this requires the willingness to “think outside the box”, take risks, acknowledge the "brutal facts", and exercise high levels of discipline in investing in, and testing, new solutions. We believe the Social Innovation Ventures Network can be part of this innovative set of solutions.

Post No. 1


Entitlement is a guarantee of access to benefits because of rights, or by agreement through law. It also refers, in a more casual sense to someone’s belief that he or she deserves some particular reward or benefit. The Johnson Administration issued the legal term in 1965. By 2006, approximately 2/3 of the Federal Budget consisted of entitlement benefits.  

Entrepreneurs are people who take risks and assume responsibility. They have traditionally been cast as business owners, but now include those who do not own their own business, though one could argue that the vast 1099 workforce of consultants is a clear manifestation of entrepreneurial talent and spirit. Entrepreneurs embrace change; seek and pursue opportunities; and pursue life-long learning.  

Our region is at a critical crossroads. Institutions of the public sector, the US Automobile Industry and trade labor unions conspired to create some of the most dynamic economic growth in history during the early to mid-20th Century. The three-way alliance unfortunately transformed into it’s opposite, from entrepreneurial to entitlement mentality. Other models like the Toyota Production Network challenged and eventually surpassed our domestic producers. Working for a big company and belonging to a big union provided temporary safety and security. It also discouraged corporate and personal ingenuity or innovation. Michigan ranks 34th in the nation in number of graduates of 4-year colleges – arguably the best indicator of future personal income. The sector shifted and this region has not been able to pivot to that shift.  

Our regional economy is in the toilet, but that is a great opportunity for wild and crazy ideas – cultural-oriented development, transportation-oriented development, radical transformation in human capital formation. The two former categories are winning strategies in all regions of the globe and we need to push ideas like Museum Campuses, Arts Incubators, International Welcome Centers, but also look at a radical reform of Pre K-12 education, life-long learning and social innovations. This is the intersection of Non-Governmental Organizations, Entrepreneurism and Ingenuity. One instrumentality of this change is the Social Innovation Ventures Network (SIVN). Our Network of non-profits, banks, law firms and business owners boldly declares ourselves the agents of entrepreneurial change that extends to each and every community. 

Interested in learning more about SIVN? Email John at and join the organization's Google group.

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