When Cities Fail , Philanthropy Succeeds

By Jake Tewel

This story is an example of a city that failed, and the community and it’s residents were saved by the goodness of others. Some say the job of this city’s government in taking care of it’s citizens, was actually replaced by grants and donations from elsewhere. As a longtime resident of Detroit, I have been following the decline of our neighbor to the north, Flint, Michigan. Flint was the home of General Motors’ largest plant. Most employees holding jobs assembling Buick automobiles. It was a flourishing and vibrant place located in the shadow of Detroit.

Then in 2002 this industrial powerhouse which was already in decline since the downsizing of GM, went bankrupt, and an “emergency manager “, was appointed. This unelected “accounting expert”, had total control over the city and the school district. To make a long story short , Flint was at the mercy of 4 different emergency managers who found every way possible to save money in an attempt to make Flint solvent.

One way to save money was to change the source of the city drinking water from the Great Lakes Water Authority to the Flint River. This resulted in the now infamous Flint water crises that poisoned close to 10,000 residents.
A study, titled “Governing without Government: Nonprofit Governance in Detroit and Flint”; which surveyed and looked at the bankruptcies of Flint and Detroit, concluded with more questions than answers. When asked to name the most important leaders during the water crises, the Mott Foundation, the United Way and the local Community Foundation were higher ranked then the elected officials of the City of Flint, who came in dead last in the survey.

flint, water, treatment, michigan

Books have been written on this water crisis and documentaries have been filmed, and the reader is welcome to look at the library of information publicly available. I find it interesting to acknowledge how many diverse grant sources and philanthropy foundations stepped up where the local government could not.

The Mott Foundation, United Way and the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, gave in excess of $250 million to a city with a population of under 100,000 people. The celebrity list of donors includes Eminem, Jimmy Fallon, Dave Chappelle, Cher, Mark Wahlberg, and Bruno Mars and the late Aretha Franklin.

Walmart, Nestle, PepsiCo and the Coca-Cola Company donated 6.5 million bottles of drinking water. In reality, countless numbers of companies, organizations and individuals contributed to help the city.

In October, 2019 Elon Musk the CEO of Tesla and Space X has donated almost $500,000.00 through his Musk Foundation to help Flint schools to access clean water. The money will be used to install water filtration systems in all 12 school buildings in the City. This high tech system consists of an UltraViolet water purification method disinfects lead and bacteria in the pipes. Another example of a private foundation doing the work for the local government.
A lengthy article in East Village magazine, written by Paul Rozycki, tells of the bottled water and the grants that saved the city residents. Rozycki stated something amazing and controversial.

“Taken together, the foundations and non- profits may play a bigger role in our future then the city government “. All I can really say to that is, that I’m speechless. I couldn’t believe resource platforms like GrantWatch and others, along with funding from philanthropists made such a huge impact on this community. A lot sure has changed since Flint was the home of General Motors’ largest plant.

About the Author: Jake Tewel holds a Masters Degree from YU, a wine seller, caterer and a million miler for the past 15 years. Jake is a best friend, great neighbor, your go to travel person, father, grandfather and loving husband. He is now focusing his efforts on heart healthy nutrition, exercise and travel.