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The Answer Is Soup

Perhaps you watched the same national news program I did tonight–where they did a piece on Detroit Soup.  I hope you were as impressed as I am.

Yes, this does involve soup.

No, it is not about feeding the needy with soup.

Detroit Soup describes itself as … “a collaborative situation..a public dinner…a platform for connection…a theatrical environment…a democratic experiment in micro-funding…a relational hub bringing together various creative communities…a forum for critical but accessible discussion…an opportunity to support creative people in Detroit.”

It is definitely all of these things, but mostly, it is ingenious.  The movement hosts a monthly  soup dinner where diners pay $5 for a bowl of soup–with salad and bread (and the whole thing looked yummy when I saw it on the news).  While they are at the meal, they hear about creative projects that people in the community are hoping to fund.  As part of the event, the diners vote on which project to support.  Proceeds from that evening’s soup dinner go to that project.

There are so many things right about what Detroit Soup is doing that it’s hard to figure out where to start in discussing them.

First, it is a local effort aimed at helping local projects.  They’ve funded a company that designed and is manufacturing coats that convert into sleeping bags.  A high school entrepreneurial team is bringing out a clothing line with custom silkscreen designs with the proceeds from a different soup dinner.  (In addition to support from Detroit Soup, their advisors are students from the University of Michigan.)

Even if you don’t get that evening’s funding, it’s a chance to give your project some visibility, which is crucial to finding other sources of startup capital.

And if you not there for funding, but rather for soup, in addition to a hearty meal that’s also pretty healthy, you get the chance to learn what’s going on in the  community and the opportunity to get involved if you want.  You get to feel like you are a part of something because of that vote you got by showing up.  You get to talk to your neighbors.  And if you have kids, you get to teach them early what grassroots efforts are all about.

What would happen if we had Soup in every city in the US?  How about Chicago Soup and Orlando Soup and Tacoma Soup?  People helping people gets a lot more done than any government program ever will.  Keeping it local and face to face will cull out the charlatans and cheats in a heartbeat.  Working at the microfunding level gets mentors and coaches into the picture before the mistakes are massively expensive.  Best of all, the entire community scores a win with each success.

It is heartwarming to see the wealthy step up to meaningful philanthropy.  Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are willing to use a lot of what they’ve amassed for the greater good.  But we can all be part of this picture when the effort looks like Detroit Soup.  We get to be the “angel investors” just by having a bowl of soup.  We get to give people a leg up by showing up and being part of something really good.

You don’t have to live in Detroit to make this kind of thing happen.  (But how fitting that our mega-industrial car manufacturing Mecca is where this idea seems to have hatched.) Waiting for the big corporations to bring their jobs home won’t get us very far.  It’s time to get the ball rolling with soup.

How can you encourage new ideas and businesses in your community?  How can you be part of nurturing the next Golden Age of American business?  One, like the last one, that’s build on ingenuity, grit, and the help of friends.

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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supersharged Retirement:  Ditch he Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  For more, see her website.

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