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Welcome Ballmer Group: Let’s End Intergenerational Poverty Together!  

Aug 20, 2017 by

Tom Watkins –

Steve Ballmer, former Microsoft CEO and owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, grew up in the metro Detroit area. He is planning a homecoming that tells a powerful story: A story to end intergenerational poverty and combat the entrenched disadvantages amongst us.  

The news that he and his wife Connie, a cofounder of their philanthropic interest “The Ballmer Group” are opening a Detroit office and directing their efforts to fighting poverty and enhancing youth development is perhaps the most uplifting thing I have heard in a long while.

The Ballmer’s Net Worth is estimated at 32.6 Billion Dollars

The timing of this additional energy, focus and future investment in our youth, families and communities is exceptional as there is a momentum gelling in the City of Detroit and the surrounding region that bodes well for our collective future.

Detroit is rising and the leadership has emerged from the newly elected school board, the exceptional new Detroit Public Schools Community District superintendent they hired, Mayor Mike Duggan, foundation leaders and the countless community-based organizations community leaders. A synergy exists to not simply change, but to truly uplift the trajectory that will add value and make a measurable difference.

The planets are aligned, leadership continues to emerge from multiple quarters, and the timing is right to make a bold leap forward to address the consequences of poverty that rips the soul our of even the strongest individuals, families and communities.

We know that children raised in poverty—in many cases generational poverty with other adverse conditions—have an extraordinary burden to bear to catch up with, and stay even with their peers without having to endure such societal burdens.

Public school budgets have been strained because of declining enrollments and inadequate investment for multiple years. Often the human service support personnel (counselors, social workers, nurses) are the first to be cut with declining revenue. Local nonprofits struggle to make ends meet. Collectively, they provide the very services needed to wrap around our children that start life behind and struggle to keep up.

Out of Poverty, Success!

This past week, I reconnected with Douglas F. Manigault III, a former Highland Park Community High School student whom I helped travel to China a decade ago in an effort to open his eyes to the world.  Today, Douglas, 26, has two degrees (BA and MSW) from the University of Michigan and is the Manager of Foundation Relations for The Children

Center of Wayne County.

Over lunch, Douglas, born in poverty to a teenage mom, lamented that only a handful of students from his graduating class of over 300 could be defined as having reached any reasonable definition of “success.” A number of his classmates and people with whom he attended school have experienced extreme hardships, are dead by overdose, suicide or homicide, others are in and out of jail, doing lengthy prison terms or struggling to find and keep a job that pays enough to support themselves, let alone a family. 

One of the other Highland Park Class of 2009 success stories is his fiancée, Ebony White, who is a first year medical student at Wayne State University. 

We need to engage our communities and ask the Douglas’ and students like him how they navigated the barriers to success and engage them along with the “experts” in the answers of how we build ladders to a better life for all. 

Efforts Underway

The Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority Board ( has recently pledged $5 million a year for a minimum of 3 years to be a catalyst for change.  DWMHA works to bring others to the table dedicated changing the trajectory of our kids, families and communities in an effort to foster “success” for our children and communities. DWMHA is just one of many government, civic, nonprofit, religious, community initiatives underway to uplift our community. This is a down payment on the investment needed for our kids and our collective future.

Along Comes Ballmer Group

The Ballmer Group, currently focused In LA and Washington State and soon to be operating in Detroit, supports initiatives and organizations aimed at improving economic mobility for children and families. They accelerate existing neighborhood transformations by convening key partners, empowering local leadership, and supporting the use of proven programs and interventions.

This is music to the ears of many in Detroit and the surrounding region. As a former state superintendent of schools, I would often remind students that “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

As I began my career working with “at risk youth” I was immediately challenged to ask, “If we were doing good, well?” I have carried this question throughout my career to ask what true difference we are making with our expenditure of time, money and energy. Often in the public and nonprofit sector we can tell you what we spent, but struggle to give data to support ROI (Return on Investment).  What inspires me about what I have heard about the Ballmer Group’s focus is that they want to get to where this video reminds us–“good-intentions are not enough.” We need to take calculated risks and have measurable outcomes for our investment.

The Ballmer Group is interested in building on local success while supporting teams and partnerships, focusing on results, finding paths through challenging problems, and bringing a national and international “best practices” focus to all the work they support. 

The passions, desire, will, leadership and ability resides in Detroit to solve the generational problems of poverty.  We have laid a solid foundation. Now we have an additional partner willing to invest in our collective success.


Steve Ballmer has been quietly investing in Detroit dating back years making a major gift to Lawrence Tech University in 1999.  Yet, Crain’s Detroit Business can take a bow for accelerating Steve Ballmer’s engagement with his hometown. Through their “Detroit Homecoming” they have brought “expats” who’ve grown up in the Detroit area back to their roots, to encourage them to contribute to the city’s rebirth.

At the “Homecoming” in 2016, Ballmer spent four hours with Mayor Mike Duggan and city leaders, touring downtown and getting out to the Livernois and McNichols area. “I really got fired up today,” Ballmer told the crowd. “I’m a believer. I’m charged up. I think the things that people are talking about can happen. It will take tremendous energy and intelligence to make it happen, but I’m excited.”

After that tour, Ballmer foreshadowed his recent announcement to philanthropically invest in Detroit telling Crain’s Associate Publisher Ron Fournier that he and his wife Connie planned to donate a large chunk of their estimated wealth of $27 billion (at that time) to help fight intergenerational poverty and that Detroit will “very likely” benefit from their philanthropy.”

What is appealing about Steve Ballmer is his grasp of the need for a functioning, efficient and effective government at all levels, supported and augmented by the targeted private, philanthropic investment if we are going to see measurable results. He appears willing to cut through clutter and politics to get to the heart of what truly works. He seems to viscerally understand both are needed. Forging partnerships with community based organizations, government and philanthropy can be a game changer.

When I began transitioning the former Wayne County Mental Mental Health Agency into a separate Authority four short years ago we adopted the mantra: “We are a consumer and community-focused, data-driven and Evidence based organization in all we do. This mantra clearly tells the story of who we are and aspire to be. 

(Change, Adapt, or Die

Facts and Data to Drive Decisions 

Ballmer’s efforts to be Sargent Joe Friday (“Just the facts, ma’am”) to ensure that they have all of the information is testament to his focus and tenacity. The creation of USAFacts provides trusted facts and unbiased information about government, something sorely needed in today’s world of alternative facts:

The Ballmer Group focuses directly on data driven strategies to break inter-generational poverty.  Here’s my message to the Ballmers: 

“Our community is ready to partner with you to make this a reality.  Welcome home Mr and Mrs Ballmer.  We are ready to seize the day and move the needle of economic mobility for children and families!”

Tom Watkins has an eclectic career in the public, private, government, political, business and nonprofit sectors. He has strong roots in Detroit and relationships cutting across the political aisle under the Capitol Dome. He has served the citizens of Michigan State Superintendent of Schools and State Mental Health Director. He is the President and CEO of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority. He can be emailed at:, or followed on twitter at:@tdwatkins88

Source: Welcome Ballmer Group: Let’s End Intergenerational Poverty Together!  

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