Thirty Under 30

Since 2016, Ford Motor Company's annual, philanthropic leadership fellowship pairs 30 civic-minded young professionals with local nonprofits to tackle societal challenges.
The Ford Fund selected me for the 2017 cohort out of a competitive pool of 362 applicants from across the United States.
Pope Francis Center
Hannah Bailey + Kimberly Barr +
Kelly Bedro + Boratha Tan

2017 Program Theme: Food Insecurity

Over 8 months, fellows applied unique insight and a design thinking mindset to address issues of food insecurity with 6 Detroit non-profit organizations.


My team and I observed that Pope Francis Center's devoted volunteer and donor base was representative of a narrow demographic. Despite the remarkable work being done, a large segment of the population was left uninformed and unengaged. We saw an opportunity to tap into a generation of young professionals who live and work in Detroit; particularly as downtown evolves into a growing social & entertainment hub. The team conducted research on this demographic's values
and ideated ways the center might leverage this community. We ultimately developed an organizational strategy centered on funding, awareness, and sustainability to better position Pope Francis Center to achieve its future goals. That year, our proposals helped raise $34,000 during their 30 day crowdfunding campaign which has successively grown each year since. Based on my individual contributions, I was recruited to join its Board of Directors in 2018.

What's My Why?

I had two personally important needs to meet upon arriving to Michigan in December 2016:
● Serve & connect to my community
● Grow creatively as a design thinker
Prior academic and professional experiences were seldom conducive to these goals and I was accustomed to finding or creating ways to fulfill them independently.
But Ford's encouragement for active community engagement—and a growing emphasis on human-centered problem solving—created a supportive environment for my development.
Thirty Under 30 combined these two passions at the core of my being so I pursued the opportunity to exercise them in my new adopted city.

Building Empathy

When relocating, I was humbly aware that I knew little about Detroit's non-profit community, human needs, and historical contexts which collectively resulted in the specific socio-economic landscape of the city.

I considered it vitally important as an outsider to first listen as much as possible; learning from those living and working here for years, if not generations. This enabled better understanding and empathy for the community I wished to impact.

To gather insights, my team and I focused on human elements central to our nonprofit's operation: volunteers, staff, and guests.

Cultural Probes

What do we want to learn?
We sought to frame our understanding and discover potential themes by encouraging staff and volunteers to reflect on their unique experiences.
The team developed cultural probes in the form of activity workbooks to gather a sense of perceptions, anxieties, wishes, and joys related to the center and the guests it serves.


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We also asked participants to document daily experiences that evoked specific emotional responses. This provided insight to possible pain points as well as replicable circumstances to create joy and pride.

Guest Experience

Putting people first
We applied different ethical and empathetic considerations to collect guest perspectives:
Mornings at the center were a chance for guests to relax in safety, unburdened by the external world. Our collection methods should not detract from that peaceful atmosphere.
Privacy was also important to guests. Fears of theft and overpopulation prevented public sharing of frequented locations.
Finally, as literacy varies, we wanted to provide instructions and feedback methods inclusive to those who may not read or write.
We consulted staff on how to responsibly conduct our exploration and implemented the following methods:
A Jesuit ministry in downtown Detroit, Pope Francis Center serves the city's chronically homeless population. Its staff, volunteers, and community partners provide life-saving, wrap-around services for 200 guests daily.


Gained first-hand experience as a Pope Francis Center volunteer.

Duties included shower & laundry coordination, meal prep & service, cleaning, and general hospitality.



Sat and spoke with guests, not as an interviewee but as a fellow human.

Shared stories, discussed topics of interest, and gathered a sense of who they were and how they perceived the center.



Shadowed staff members as they handled daily responsibilities:

Resolving disputes, managing volunteers, and connecting with guests to assess overall wellbeing & current needs.

Out of respect for the privacy, trust, and dignity of guests, my team took no photos during our exploratory phase. Images of guests provided by Pope Francis Center staff or regular volunteers.

Reframing our Thinking

Engineers are fantastic problem solvers when given targets to achieve or well-defined issues to fix. But I understood that the linearity of our process-driven training can make the front end of design thinking difficult for new adopters.

Through this challenging definitional phase, I guided my team to embrace uncertainty; leading to deeper insights to unaddressed opportunities.

We had to think differently to create something meaningful.

Real Problems

Identifying a nontrivial problem proved difficult, given factors revealed in our exploratory phase

Expert Staff

The center's Chief Administrator holds a PhD centered on program evaluation & improvement and implemented several optimizations to its operation. We observed that it executed serivices and care offerings extremely well leaving little room for meaningful improvement.

Needs Identified

Just prior to our fellowship kick-off, Pope Francis Center completed a self-conducted needs assessment study; analyzing its performance, identifying stakeholder needs, and developing methods to address gaps in both direct and indirect services.

Future Planned

The center had plans in motion to expand its operation, building a transitional housing facility to combat chronic homelessness. This investment and focus limited its capacity to implement any divergent changes the team might propose.

Innovating new solutions differs from executing an established vision. At this point, the team felt stuck between conflicting expectations of Ford and Pope Francis Center; unsure how to proceed while satisfying both parties in a meaningful way...

Words Matter


My team's mental roadblock stemmed from the ways we each process language, informing how we think.

I suspected subjective interpretations of the terms theme, deliverable, user and problem were limiting our imaginative potential.

Recognizing this, I helped expand, redefine, and unify our contextual understanding.

How might we engage untapped audiences to facilitate
Pope Francis Center's expansion and enable a sustainable future?

More Research

To attract a new audience, we needed additional data to help us understand its feelings and barriers toward traditional volunteering and philanthropy.
Based on received feedback, we sought to determine how Pope Francis Center could break stated barriers to better engage this community; thereby, spreading its mission and growing support.
We focused on three key opportunity areas: Fundraising, Awareness, and Expansion

Ideative Methods

We utilized several tools to help prompt our creativity and encourage abstract thinking during this divergent phase.

Now possessing a deeper understanding of Detroit's historical and present trends, I was able to do some informed futuring to imagine idealistic and dystopian environments the center might encounter.

I considered how the organization, as my user, might proactively leverage potential opportunities and protect against threats against its mission. What might we design to enable its future success?

Strategy Proposal

Given all we had learned, we took a systems approach to design an operational strategy. Its goal was to fuel a sustainable future for Pope Francis Center.
Sustainability, in this instance, we defined in terms of organizational stability; supported by expanded funding sources and broadened community engagement.
Effective implementation builds on the center's current strengths and positions it to expand its services and reach in the near future. A thriving Pope Francis Center is key to eradicating chronic homelessness in the city of Detroit.


350 individuals completed a survey sent out to our professional and social networks. At first glance, respondents age 23-30 (58.3% of pool) weren't motivated to regularly give money like previous generations due to student debt and financial uncertainty. But a common deterrent was not knowing exactly where their money was going. Trust and transparency about use of funds was important when giving to individuals or organizations.
They also stated that volunteering is the best way to contribute to society and believe "giving back" is the right thing to do (ethical, moral, religious duty). However, 24% didn't volunteer at all while 50% only do so 1-3 times per month. Barriers to volunteering included time/schedule constraints and feeling too drained after work. Respondents felt unmotivated to invest their time unless it was in something they knew was directly impactful.

Final Exhibition


Post fellowship, I joined Pope Francis Center's Board of Directors. My continued involvement let me witness the impact of my Thirty Under 30 work.

Covid-19 cancelled our biggest fundraiser while putting the city's most vulnerable at greater risk. During the tumultuous period, the center had the flexibility to adapt—never halting operations—thanks in part to strategies I helped instill in 2017.

Elements of our proposal continue to get implemented to this day. Though difficult to see during the process, I now recognize how our contributions truly helped sustain the center and further its mission.
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