About the Philanthropy and Social Enterprise Fellowship

The Lee Plaza, a now-vacant high rise apartment building in Detroit. Photo by Philip Jarmain.

The Philanthropy and Social Enterprise Fellowship was a new program organized by Humanity in Action. The program supported eight Humanity in Action Senior Fellows as they examined contemporary trends in philanthropy, community development and entrepreneurship across the United States. The program began in Detroit and concluded in New York City. 

The Philanthropy and Social Enterprise Fellowship consisted of three phases:

  • Detroit: March 19-21, 2015
  • Research period: April-September 2015
  • New York: October 15-17, 2015 

About the Program

The story of philanthropy and innovation amid Detroit’s ruin and revitalization served as inspiration for the program. The program began with a three-day, intensive session (March 19-21, 2015) in Detroit. The Senior Fellows engaged in Detroit-based discussions with local leaders in philanthropy, social entrepreneurship and community organizations, including representatives of the Kresge Foundation and the Detroit Institute of Arts. The Senior Fellows explored the remarkable actions of philanthropic leaders and social innovators during Detroit’s bankruptcy, including “the Grand Bargain” – the unprecedented intervention of national foundations to fund municipal pensions and save the city’s art collection.

In the six months following the initial session in Detroit, the Senior Fellows embarked on independent research projects exploring the  role of philanthropy and social entrepreneurship in addressing economic development and issues of social equity in their home communities. Collectively, the Senior Fellows examined geographies as far as Seattle, Denver and Washington, DC and issues as diverse as agricultural development, elderly health care and the corporate social responsibility programs of technology companies.

Upon completion of the research projects, the Senior Fellows reconvened in New York City in October for a second set of meetings with local philanthropic, entrepreneurial and community leaders (October 15-17). The Senior Fellows will share their research at Humanity in Action’s New York Conference at The New School. Brief reports for each of the projects are now published online

The Humanity in Action Senior Fellows selected for the Philanthropy and Social Enterprise Fellowship are: Jasmine Burton (Atlanta), Zachariah Falconer-Stout (Washington, DC), Alexandria Margolis (Long Island), Terin Mayer (Twin Cities), Christopher McLaurin (Detroit), Fabiana Perera (Washington, DC), Ryan Richards (Seattle) and Susannah Shattuck (San Francisco). 

The Philanthropy and Social Enterprise Fellowship is generously funded by the Ann Arbor-based RNR Foundation.


The Philanthropy and Social Enterprise Fellowship is an opportunity exclusively available to Humanity in Action Fellows and Senior Fellows. Applicants must also meet two other criteria. First, applicants must have completed bachelor's/undergraduate educations before applying; applicants should be working professionals or current graduate students. Second, applicants must reside in the United States.

Applicants should have a demonstrated interest in philanthropy, public service and social entrepreneurship. Applicants must intend to conduct in-person research on domestic and localized trends in American philanthropy and entrepreneurship.


Unlike most of Humanity in Action’s programs, the Philanthropy and Social Enterprise Fellowship requires a limited time commitment and is accessible to working professionals. For a full overview of the program schedule, click here.


Humanity in Action covers most costs of participation in the Philanthropy and Social Enterprise Fellowship. Humanity in Action covered all hotels and local transportation for Senior Fellows as well as airfare/train subsidies of up to $300 for travel to Detroit and up to $250 for travel to New York. In addition, Humanity in Action gave each Senior Fellow a stipend of $1,000 to cover expenses associated with the independent research period.

Thank You

Humanity in Action is grateful to the RNR Foundation for funding the Philanthropy and Social Enterprise Fellowship for one year.

The New York City skyline. Photo by Tyler Henry.

Why Detroit? Why New York? 

Detroit and New York are quintessential American cities and provide unique settings to explore social change and economic development through the lenses of philanthropy and entrepreneurship.

In 1950, Detroit was the fifth-largest city in America. In 2013, Detroit became the largest city to file for bankruptcy in American history. Between 1950 and 2013, the city experienced massive economic, political, social and demographic change. The decline of Detroit is evident among its citizens and the built environment alike: unemployment hovers around 19% and blocks of abandoned homes and buildings are commonplace.

Yet, urban revitalization movements are growing in Detroit. Community organizations and entrepreneurs have turned empty lots into urban farms and neglected factories into small businesses. Extraordinary innovations and interventions are hardly limited to local groups. The United Nations criticized the city government when it shut water off for 19,500 residents this past summer. Perhaps the most remarkable intervention was that of the Ford, Kresge and Knight foundations in late 2013. Joined by other national and local philanthropies, these foundations pledged $330 million to save the Detroit Institute of Arts, home of one of the nation’s most celebrated collections, from being sold to fund the city’s pension debts. This unprecedented event in American philanthropy has come to be called “the grand bargain.”

Likewise, New York provided an exceptional setting to explore case studies in philanthropy and social innovation. The city remains the philanthropic capital of America and a hotbed for socially conscious entrepreneurs. The New York component of the program offered Senior Fellows the chance to meet and learn from established leaders in these fields.