December 04, 2017

Madhavi Reddy is a Detroit Revitalization FellowMadhavi Reddy considered herself lucky. She moved to Detroit from Toronto and landed a community development job with Community Development Advocates of Detroit (CDAD).

It was Reddy’s dream to continue her work in community development after moving to Detroit, but when she wanted to take the next step in her career, it led her to University of Detroit Mercy’s Master of Community Development (MCD) program.

The MCD program in turn led to her becoming a Detroit Revitalization Fellow, an honor she earned earlier this year.

“You come to a point in your career where you can go up or stay the same,” Reddy said. “I think I’m at a point where I’m trying to make a deliberate decision to advance my career. With my work with the Community Development Advocates of Detroit, I learn a lot about the city, but I also thought the Fellowship would be a way to advance and embed that learning into what I do. When you work in community development you don’t get a lot of time to think about your work, you’re just going and going, so I thought the fellowship would be a nice opportunity to reflect.”

The Detroit Revitalization Fellows are talented mid-career leaders who are stimulating progress within Detroit’s civic, community and economic development landscape.

“We’re a cohort of people who are trying to work on things that will help the region and the city in terms of civic community and economic development,” Reddy said.

Though Reddy was already working at CDAD before she became a Detroit Revitalization Fellow, the fellowship allows her to continue doing that work.

“CDAD is a membership organization of community development organizations, block clubs and neighborhood improvement organizations,” Reddy said. “Our work happens in three main buckets – public policy advocacy, community engagement and place-based work with the intent of building neighborhood power.

“I work on place-based strategies, which means I work with neighborhoods on land use and quality of life planning. I’ve done work in Brightmoor, Northeast Detroit and Cody Rouge. This winter we’re going to start in Chadsey-Condon. I work with a community to say, ‘Let’s think about what this community looks like in 15 years. What do the people who are currently living here and currently working here, what do you see that looking like?’ My strategy is to work to develop future visions that are based on current reality.”

In addition to Reddy’s work at CDAD, she also meets with other fellows once a month for two days to concentrate on different issues.

“They pick a particular topic that’s important to the region and the city, and we take two days off work to learn about the topic,” Reddy said. “I’m really looking forward to building strong relationships with the other fellows. They’re an incredible group of people and I’m really looking forward to learning from them. The fellowship includes coaching and a learning bank. I’m looking forward to using my training bank to build my capacity to do my work and learn about how they approach challenging issues in other places. I’m really looking forward to learning and building my skills to make me a more effective leader.”

Reddy believes the MCD program at Detroit Mercy has helped prepare her for the fellowship and will help her achieve her goal of advancing her career.

“The MCD program is organized under what they call the HOPE model - human, organization, physical and economic development,” Reddy said. “I’ve spent my whole career in community development but I think the HOPE model has helped me learn about community development from a Detroit perspective. I didn’t work very much on physical development in Toronto so the program is allowing me to build a theoretical and practical knowledge about physical development. The more time I’ve spent in the program and meeting people — because they bring people in to do guest lectures — the more I sat through these guest lectures, I was like, ‘Wow, there is still a lot I need to learn.’ ”

Virginia Stanard, director of the MCD program, has enjoyed working with Reddy and feels the program benefits from having talented students like Reddy.

“Madhavi is already experienced in community development and is bringing that knowledge to the classroom,” Stanard said. “She does great work. She’s a strategic framework planner. She’s working with Detroiters to envision the future of their neighborhoods on a daily basis. She brings a unique perspective to the classroom. I think her perspective is going to enlarge and be enriched from this fellowship program. She’s able to go deeper into what she’s already doing.”

The fellowship is a two-year program and Reddy is excited for the possibilities. She feels the work she is doing can make a difference in people’s lives, so she’s enthusiastic to go to work every day.

“I really find it rewarding that we get invited into a neighborhood where people want our support,” Reddy said. “I get to sit and talk with people about what their vision is for the community. I think it’s really rewarding to help people shape their own visions for the future. I don’t go in there with any of my own ideas. We just spend a lot of time, have a lot of meetings and go for a lot of walks to talk about the community.  We do a lot of activities. Then we put it all together in a vision and plan. Then the community runs with it. I think it’s really rewarding to work in a way that puts the community voice at the center because it’s a little rare, you don’t always get to do work that way, so I really appreciate that.”

— By Dave Pemberton. Follow Detroit Mercy on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Have a story idea? Let us know by submitting your idea.