Blog: John Heiss

John Weiss is the founder of the Social Ventures Network of Southeast Michigan and a long time advocate for food security. John seeks to merge for-benefit and for-profit models together to foster long-term, sustainable development in metro Detroit.  Read his thoughts and join the conversation!

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."