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United Way Challenge invests $1M+ in pilots to expand financial opportunities for Detroiters

Attendees discuss project ideas at the Detroit Financial Well-Being Innovation Challenge showcase held April 28, 2023, at Durfee Innovation Society in Detroit. (Photo by Creative Focus Productions)

Release courtesy of United Way for Southeastern Michigan

DETROIT — United Way for Southeastern Michigan, in collaboration with Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan, has announced the next stage of the Detroit Financial Well-Being Innovation Challenge. Out of an initial pool of over 30 entries, six unique projects have advanced to the Pilot Stage.

Over the 12-month implementation period, six Pilot Stage grantees will receive up to $200,000 and ongoing technical support. Here are the projects moving forward from the Planning Stage into the Pilot Stage:

  • Bikes4Employees: Led by the Detroit Greenways Coalition, this project aims to provide high-quality bicycles to Detroiters lacking reliable transportation, reducing expenses and improving employment sustainability while also promoting health benefits and reducing stress.
  • Community Investment Trusts: Under the leadership of Doing Development Differently in Metro Detroit (D4), this initiative seeks to pilot the use of Community Investment Trusts (CITs) to facilitate community ownership of real estate and build wealth in low-income communities.
  • Credit Escalator: Led by GreenPath Financial Wellness, the Credit Escalator project plans to change banking systems for communities of color in Detroit. The service combines financial coaching with a personal loan, aiming to improve credit scores as the loan is repaid.
  • East Chadsey Condon Alliance (ECCA): Led by the Southwest Economic Solutions Corporation, the ECCA’s Diversified Community Investment Fund (DCIF) offers all Detroiters a chance to invest in and participate in community development projects.
  • Family Mobility Savings Program: Under the stewardship of Communities First (CFI), this program will jumpstart emergency savings, helping Detroiters meet their immediate needs while setting the foundation for their financial future.
  • Home Repair Clearinghouse: Another initiative by Doing Development Differently in Metro Detroit (D4), this project aims to serve as a hub connecting low-income homeowners with contractors, streamlining the home repair process and advocating for homeowners.

These six projects were chosen from among 17 projects participating in the Planning Stage, which ran from Aug. 1, 2022, through March 31, 2023. During the Planning Stage, grantees worked to test assumptions critical to the success of their new ideas, develop partnerships, and create the processes and materials necessary to launch a functioning pilot. The six projects advanced to the Pilot Stage demonstrated the strongest readiness to implement and alignment to the goals of the challenge. They will kick off their pilot operations this fall. To assist them throughout the implementation process, United Way will also provide:

  • Program evaluation services from University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions.
  • Tailored coaching and consultation services to enhance capacities in pilot implementation, strategic planning, marketing and communications, qualitative data collection, and more.
  • Regular opportunities to exchange ideas, reflect on lessons learned from implementation, and share the impact of their work.

United Way will continue to maintain transparent communication with the grantees in the Pilot Stage, the third and penultimate stage of the innovation challenge, to identify any support needs and requests for additional technical assistance. They will also help grantees measure the efficiency and impact of the programs.

Megan Thibos, director of economic mobility at United Way for Southeastern Michigan, highlights the underlying rationale for the challenge: “Detroit residents face unjust systemic barriers to financial stability. This includes high living costs, unpredictable low incomes, and inaccessible credit. These grants aim to support the development of innovative, sustainable solutions to enhance financial opportunities for Detroiters.”

The Financial Well-Being Innovation Challenge originated from the 2020 University of Michigan Poverty Solutions report, The Financial Well-Being of Detroiters: What Do We Know? The findings revealed that a mix of low and volatile incomes and disproportionately high costs make it difficult for Detroiters to effectively manage their finances. The Challenge looks to address these systemic issues with innovative ideas that can completely change opportunities for Detroit families.

Leonymae Aumendato

Leonymae Aumentado, senior project manager at Poverty Solutions, commended the project teams on their big ideas.

“We are thrilled to continue supporting these dedicated organizations in piloting their new and game-changing programs, thoughtfully designed to improve the financial well-being of Detroiters. The Challenge itself is innovative in its approach of providing funding to build and test never-before-done program models as well as providing dedicated research and evaluation support to ensure the project teams can both do the work and rigorously measure the impact of their work,” Aumentado said.

The Detroit Financial Well-being Innovation Challenge will continue through 2026. Scale Stage grants, anticipated to be awarded in late 2024, will fund selected projects up to $1 million based on the results of the Pilot Stage.

The Challenge is made possible through funding from JPMorgan Chase, Comerica Bank, General Motors, and United Way for Southeastern Michigan.

For more details about the Detroit Financial Well-Being Innovation Challenge, visit: To learn more about the work of United Way for Southeastern Michigan or to contribute, visit:

About United Way for Southeastern Michigan

United Way for Southeastern Michigan, a member of the United Way Worldwide network and an independently governed 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, works to help households across Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, and Washtenaw counties become stable and ensure children have the support they need to thrive. For more than 100 years, United Way has been a leader in creating positive, measurable, and sustainable change in communities throughout southeast Michigan. United Way works in partnership with donors, agencies, corporate and municipal partners to help families meet their basic needs of housing, food, health care and family finances, and ensure children start school ready to learn and graduate ready for life. To give, advocate, volunteer or learn more, visit

About University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions

Poverty Solutions is a university-wide initiative at the University of Michigan that partners with communities and policymakers to find new ways to prevent and alleviate poverty through action-based research.