United Way: Social Innovation for Early Childhood Education

Social Innovation in Early Childhood Education

United Way, Detroit, MI

Social Innovation for Early Childhood Education


In my final semester at ID, I took a faculty research workshop with Dean Patrick Whitney. The aim was to develop social innovation services in the city of Detroit revolving around early childhood education. Our small team of students, in conjunction with United Way employees, were to build upon the previous work. We succeeded in taking the social innovation concepts and moving them into the prototyping realm of the design process. By the end of the 15-week class we had visited Detroit multiple times, held 3 workshops, and prototyped the chosen concept with mothers from the local community.


Major Learning Experiences:

  • Running stakeholder workshops
  • Modeling via activity systems / value webs
  • Prototyping service concepts
  • Photo documentation research
  • Video and booklet creation as communication tools


I was most exciting by the direct interaction we had with United Way boardmembers, employees, partners, and Detroit mothers. I felt that I gained considerable experience in planning and running workshops both with internal stakeholders – like the United Way employees that are taking this project forward – and external stakeholders – such as United Way partner organizations and the mothers themselves .


The concept that we selected was called the United Moms: mother-child club. An analogy can be drawn with organizations such as the Boy / Girl Scouts. The purpose of the clubs are to bring mothers together to share their challenges, successes, learnings, and promote general conversation about running their families. We found that pockets of knowledge on many different topics, including our target of early childhood education, exist among mothers but they do not have enough interaction among one another in order to learn. These clubs are meant to empower the more active community members as the club advocates and organizers. In addition to meeting with their fellow mothers, these advocates will get together with United Way employees to discuss improvements and changes to the club structures. We intend for this to be a way for United Way to provide feedback and resources to the community, but through the direct channel of community members (mothers).


Southeast Michigan United Way CEO introducing us and our concept during a visit.