Detroit Regional Chamber > Mackinac Policy Conference > A Conversation With Valerie Jarrett

A Conversation With Valerie Jarrett

May 29, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • People don’t trust you from your title; they begin trusting you when they get to know you personally.
  • The best advertisement for Michigan and Detroit is to be proud and brag more about our wins.
  • To keep the young talent, provide them with diverse places to culturally explore and safely raise families.


On Connecting Community, Philanthropic, and Private Sectors Together

From the beginning of her career as a working mother in local Chicago politics up to being a critical part of former President Barack Obama’s administration and now being the Chief Executive Officer of his Foundation, Jarrett has had many successes working with and among all different business and community sectors. She explained that working in these various sectors is “just like any other relationship you have: you have to get to know the other person,” and build areas where people feel safe to share their views. Having worked in all these sectors, she talked about the strong cooperation between the sectors.

“Regardless of the decibel of the voice of someone who was listening, first listen to what they want,” she said. “Part of my job at the White House was to make sure that the stakeholders…had a seat at the table. It just takes a sustained effort over time, and you have to be resilient. It’s an important lesson for a civil society that these bridges that we want to build don’t get built overnight because trust doesn’t get built overnight.”

Jarrett also dove into what role philanthropy can play to bring all the stakeholders together to build better community and place. She encouraged them to “get in there and see how you can fill the gap.”

“It gives confidence to the [private sector] when you know you’re involved in a community; they are much more likely to say ‘you’re doing the due diligence,’” she said. “Philanthropy is there to provide good offices, provide the resources that the private sector is not willing to … take risks that the private sector isn’t prepared to do that sets the table for those dollars to come in and leverage the philanthropic dollars and go further.”

Drink the Detroit Kool-Aid

Later in the conversation, Jarrett shared her perspective on how Michigan leaders and Conference attendees can continue the momentum of the Conference work long after the annual event. Jarrett explained that our Region and state’s “strength is on the ground,” so focus on the evidence-based strategies that are working and talk about them.

“Your reputation outside of Detroit is great; part of the reason is that you have people making investments and talking about it,” she said. “There are so many things in Michigan that are working. People want to be associated with what works…they want to know that their time and resources work. Accentuate the positive … Drink your own Kool-Aid and talk about [the successes].”

Listen to the Talent to Keep Them Here

Closing the conversation, Jarrett shared her experiences working with young talent and how the Obama Foundation is building ideal spaces in Chicago for young talent and leaders to live and thrive in. She has found that starting and building the strategies can be pretty simple: find out what the talent wants and embrace your city’s richness and diversity.

“That’s part of the thing that makes young people excited. They are curious in exploring,” she said. “And then just the basics of … they need to know their families can get educated … and be safe. And young people can be anywhere—the good thing about technology. Try to execute the positives of the city and…still have that sense of place as we’re in the middle of this technological revolution.”

This session was sponsored by The Kresge Foundation.