When I think of Detroit, I see images of abandoned houses, derelict neighborhoods, and rampant crime. I see an unloved city, site of America’s largest municipal bankruptcy.
That is, I did see Detroit that way. Thanks to Life Among The Ruins, a new documentary from the good people at Nation Swell, I will carry a new image in my head. I will see dozens of residents gathered around communal tables. They will have paid $5 for soup, salad, bread and a chance to choose the next project to fund. Their money will support a wide range of initiatives, including urban agriculture, art, education, technology, social enterprise and social justice.
That is Detroit SOUP, started by a theology graduate who decided against traditional ministry. Amy Kaherl opted to work for social justice instead. Since 2010 SOUP has been holding dinners that celebrate the creativity and passion of Detroit residents. People with ideas are given four minutes to present them. The audience can ask four questions.
Then it is time for soup and conversations. People consider the pitches and choose a favorite. Then they vote, and the winner takes home the money collected at the door. Three months later, the winner is expected to come to a SOUP dinner and give everyone an update.
It is a simple and innovative way of crowdfunding that does more than fund projects that improve the quality of life in Detroit. It strengthens community. A BBC report in March 2015 said SOUP had raised over $85,000 USD.
Kaherl makes it look simple, but she and the SOUP team are obviously working hard to make it happen. This is an inspiring example of how one woman with a dream can make a huge difference.