Blog: Rishi & Anuja Jaitly

Rishi and Anuja Jaitly are co-founders of Michigan Corps, a social network for local and global Michiganders committed to change in Michigan.

Michigan Corps' Founding Corps Members include: Google Chair and CEO Dr. Eric Schmidt; Emmy Award-winning sportscaster Dick Enberg; CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta; Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jeffrey Eugenides; Former Digg CEO Jay Adelson; Skoll Foundation President Dr. Larry Brilliant; and Sun Microsystems Founder and Former CEO Scott McNealy.

In 2011, Michigan Corps was named a semifinalist for the prestigious Echoing Green Fellowship for social entrepreneurs worldwide. To date, the Michigan Corps community has connected business entrepreneurs with mentors, helped students generate ideas for community change, built public policy capacity among social entrepreneurs, and set the stage for the arrival of several nationally-regarded innovators in Michigan.

Rishi and Anuja initiated and led Michigan Corps' launch of Kiva Detroit, a microlending effort for Detroiters that was heralded by former President Clinton and represents's first locally-organized effort in the United States.

In 2010, Rishi and Anuja were appointed to Michigan Governor-elect Rick Snyder's bipartisan economic development transition team.

Rishi Jaitly
Rishi is a director at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, where he directs the foundation's investments in Detroit and works with leaders across the country to advance Knight Foundation's national mission of informed and engaged communities. In 2011, Rishi was named by Crain's as one of Detroit's "Top 40 Leaders Under 40".

After serving one year as CEO of Michigan Corps, Rishi is now the organization's board chair.

From 2009 through 2010, Rishi was director of strategic partnerships and public policy at College Summit, America's premier social change organization increasing college enrollment rates in high schools. College Summit, which activates networks of students to build college-going cultures within schools, was named U.S. Social Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2009 World Economic Forum conference in Davos. At College Summit, he brought together a coalition of cross-sector leaders, including the CEOs of PepsiCo, Google, Deloitte, and Princeton University, to ensure college proficiency is a success measure for the American K-12 education system.

Prior to joining College Summit, Rishi was a Google executive living in New Delhi, India, where he was head of government affairs and public-private partnerships for the company across South Asia. There, he led philanthropic projects with partners like Ashoka India, conducted public policy advocacy, overturned Internet censorship in Pakistan and Bangladesh, mobilized India's top political parties to use the Internet for the first time, and led the development of Google's first ever election-transparency and citizen-empowerment product.
Previously, while based in Silicon Valley, Rishi supported Google's worldwide public policy advocacy efforts from Lansing to Paris, led's product development work with the United Nations, and supported communications for Google's CEO.

Earlier in his career, Rishi has served as coordinator of public policy and government affairs at College Summit and commissioner of the New Jersey State Commission on Higher Education.

He is a graduate and former trustee of Princeton University and also a recipient of Princeton University's Class of 1901 Medal.

Anuja Jaitly

Anuja Jaitly is executive director of Michigan Corps.

From 2008 through 2010, she was senior intrapreneur at Ashoka, the largest and most recognizable organization promoting social entrepreneurship worldwide. At Ashoka, Anuja led the development of India's first commercially-viable slum housing solution in the city of Ahmedabad. After opening Ashoka's first office in Ahmedabad, she coordinated the development of market-driven low-income housing solutions across India, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Egypt from Ashoka's global headquarters in Washington D.C.

Her past experiences include a stint at the U.S. Department of Education, where her work centered on improvements in math and science education, and a later tenure at Cornell University's Office of Government Affairs where she helped shape the university's advocacy on student financial aid and research grants. Outside the United States, Anuja has worked on providing access to higher education for refugees and distributing knowledge regarding the right to an education in South Africa. Later, she led the planning, local capacity building, and implementation of a World Health Organization study in Uttar Pradesh to understand how best to eradicate the most dangerous strain of polio remaining in India. In 2008, Anuja developed and initiated the implementation of a branding strategy for Deepalaya, one of North India's largest NGOs focused primarily on developing self-reliance in children residing in India's slums.

She is a former director of Dance Marathon, one of the largest student-run non-profit organizations at the University of Michigan. From 2003 to 2005, she was part of the leadership team that raised both monetary support and awareness for the needs of pediatric rehabilitation programs in Michigan; in total, she contributed to nearly $500,000 of support for C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor and Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.

Anuja studied education and international development at the undergraduate and graduate levels. She has a B.S. from the University of Michigan and an M.A. from the University of London.

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A Crash Course in Social Entrepreneurship: Lessons from Detroit

Valentine's Day evenings are supposed to be romantic, right? Well, whatever the norm, St. Valentine struck the two of us with a peculiar dose of inspiration on Valentine's Day 2010.

On Sunday evening, February 14 of that year, we were on the road, driving from Detroit to D.C.. having just finished up a couple of weeks with family to celebrate the arrival of our eight-week old daughter. After our daughter had fallen asleep in her car seat, the two of us began talking about the home we had just left: Michigan.

Our conversation quickly turned to people: how could a place with such an extraordinary human network – both in state and out of state – not be the most vibrant place in our country? We reflected on friends and colleagues for whom Michigan was home and wondered why their loyalty and sophistication was not even more evident in the life of our state.

By the time we reached D.C., we had already decided: why don't we – yes, the two of us – try and build a social change organization that figures all this out? Looking back, with a baby girl and a not-so-baked idea, it's sometimes hard to believe we actually moved on from our jobs, drove back to Michigan, and together began a journey in social entrepreneurship.   

We launched Michigan Corps in August 2010 and initially aspired for it to serve as a new national philanthropy that raised resources from a global network of Michiganders and invested dollars back in the state's economic ecosystem (whatever that meant). Within weeks, we realized we were being awfully naïve, for there were many people within the state who were also interested in giving and leading through a new philanthropic vehicle.

Months later, another "a ha!" moment: raising money is hard, especially if you're simply serving as a broad-based intermediary. Why not, we thought, instead focus on growing the state's social capital – that is, the net sum of all of our potential relationships and collaborations? We began to present Michigan Corps as a new, social network that makes it easy for Michiganders to find, connect, and work with one another on social change.

This approach proved promising. Through Michigan Corps' digital and real-world platforms, entrepreneurs found venture capitalists, non-profits found private-sector consultants, young people started idea-generating clubs at their schools, and much more.

But that's not the end of the story. We realized quickly that it wasn't enough for a social network focused on social change to merely convene individuals, to sit back, and assume that our special identity as Michiganders would alone fuel productive social change activity. Like our counterparts in Silicon Valley, we realized we needed to launch products – no, wait, projects – that made it even easier for Michiganders to work with one another on consensus issues.

We dreamed up Kiva Detroit this past January rather serendipitously and envisioned the kind of social and economic impact that might be possible if Detroiters themselves were more easily able to champion small businesses in their own community. Little did we know that our idea would help shape the first big microlending effort in the United States and's first Kiva City.

What is Kiva Detroit? It's a growing, volunteer citizen network of Detroiters who source, lend to, and champion small businesses in their own community. The fact that average citizens – pastors, social service workers, restaurant owners, journalists, students, and more – are empowered to source small businesses in  the community and walk them through a loan application of up to $50,000 is a powerful notion. What's even more exciting about Kiva Detroit is that these Detroit small businesses – a new newspaper, restaurant, bike shop, concierge service, fashion label, and more – are then featured online, where Detroiters and others make loans to them $25 at a time. A new, horizontal model that builds community. While the likes of former President Clinton and the founder of Kiva joined us for our first events, our launch was just the beginning. Kiva Detroit is here to stay for as long as Detroiters are energetic about local small businesses: the momentum continues with a new advisory board that leads Team Kiva Detroit and many more entrepreneurs who will soon be featured for the community to rally around.   

Through all of this, Rishi was recruited to lead the Knight Foundation's grant making across Detroit while Anuja, after the successful launch of Kiva Detroit, decided to return to family for the time being. This was not part of the plan. We were named global semifinalists in the Echoing Green Fellowship for Social Entrepreneurs and were asked to join the Michigan Governor-elect's transition team. Like many social-change start-ups, we enjoyed launch PR and then anxiously awaited being able to claim that big difference we first set out to make.

Along the way, we've learned five big lessons about social entrepreneurship that we hope resonate with you.

Why does all of this matter in Detroit? Put simply, we see Detroit as the new epicenter of social entrepreneurship, a place where individuals are pursuing public service with enormous creativity and purpose. We think of artists who renew homes to create a sense of place, entrepreneurs who help one another build businesses, men who come together to form new public-safety networks, and young professionals who find time to engage the entire city in retail-business contests.

Be social about your entrepreneurship. We believe it's no coincidence that Michigan Corps – and our larger journey here
began together and during a conversation. In fact, we'd been talking for years about our ideas, about websites, about URL names, and about geographies. It all happened to culminate in Michigan Corps but it's clear to us we wouldn't have been able to make progress had we not already and together entered the "mental space" of entrepreneurship.

Know your market. Not unlike the commercial world, the social change space is full of markets and product opportunities. While we had an instinctual sense about our target market – i.e. Michigan – we could have put more work into market smarts. Had we done so, we likely would have launched Michigan Corps from the beginning with a focus on growing a local, social network through which resourceful Michiganders can connect on change – as opposed to a global organization raising and redistributing financial resources.

Start small, be realistic. Throughout our journey, we've had to temper our lofty goals with initiatives that set up the all-important baby steps. Next time, we'll start with the baby steps which, in our case, had to do with bringing wide ranges of people together and giving them easy opportunities to lead change. We would start there and then generalize to bigger goals and mission statements. This way, we'd learn more quickly about what it is what we've started and take a lot of pressure off of ourselves.

Be social about your organization, too. We believe that the future of social entrepreneurship, especially in a Detroit where there is palpable citizen energy everywhere, wrests with organizations that know how to engage networks of citizens, and not FTEs, on behalf of their missions, i.e. thinking horizontally and vertically. Not only has this never been easier, but resource constraints around the world demand it.  In the spirit of a true "Corps", every single one of our initiatives is volunteer driven – a true testament to the opportunity in Detroit and what we might, as a city, showcase to the world.

Chase inputs and outputs. We started out aspiring to create jobs, increase college enrollment rates, and pursue wealth creation across Detroit and Michigan. PowerPoint decks and Excel spreadsheets abounded. What we've realized, though, is that inputs matter as much as outputs. That is, the human narratives that our work set in motion are just as, if not more, important. Through all of our initiatives to date, from Michigan Corps and Kiva Detroit to Knight Foundation and the Black Male Engagement Challenge, we're most proud of the number and quality of human relationships and collaborations we have set in motion across Detroit and Michigan.

In the end, that's the story of all of our lives, isn't it?

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