Veronika Scott

CIW Speaker Update: The Empowerment Plan’s Veronika Scott

CIW 2012 speaker Veronika Scott started The Empowerment Plan as a design school class project in 2011.  Now, the Detroit-based nonprofit’s specially designed coat has been nationally recognized by the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation—and the public—with the DVF People’s Voice Award.  Scott caught us up on The Empowerment Plan’s community impact and its plans to teach skill-building workshops to homeless members of the Detroit community.

At CIW 2012, Veronika Scott discussed the motivations—and impact—of The Empowerment Plan.
Congratulations on winning the DVF People’s Voice Award!  What does that kind of recognition mean to you? How does it affect your plans—if at all—moving forward?
Winning the DVF People’s Voice Award was not just an accomplishment for me, but for the entire Empowerment Plan team and all the women we have hired. I am beyond humbled to know that individuals from around the world—many who probably had never heard about us before—believe in our mission, our story, and the work we do.  Being awarded $50,000 from the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation will have a huge impact on our organization by allowing us to further empower the women we currently employ while also helping us to expand and assist others in need across the nation.  While in New York I was lucky to get the chance to meet some of the most intelligent, driven and passionate women, and I have since been able to build relationships that will lead to future partnerships and opportunities for The Empowerment Plan.
What impact has The Empowerment Plan had on Detroit’s homeless?  What type of feedback have you received from people who wear the coat?
We have handed out around 4,500 coats in the city of Detroit alone since the beginning of 2012.  This past winter was extremely brutal, and I remember loading my car up with coats one dangerously cold day and driving around the city looking for individuals to give a coat to and believe it or not, the only people that were outside were already wearing one of our coats. On any given day during the winter you will see countless individuals wearing the coat, and it really has become much larger than just a symbol of the work we do. It is a true testament of the immense amount of support we receive from individuals and companies in Detroit and surrounding communities.
We receive both positive and constructive feedback and try to make adjustments accordingly. We have learned what details on the coat could be improved upon, have changed the outer shell color and have even switched to a lighter-weight canvas material. 
The New York Times reported that one of your earliest employees was able to move into an apartment with her three children after working at The Empowerment Plan.  Have you seen any other success stories?
We currently employ 16 seamstresses, and each is able to celebrate her own success story! Almost all of the ladies we employ have been able to move from the shelter into a home or apartment and I can honestly say that one of the most rewarding aspects of my job is watching them during this transitional period as they begin to recognize their true potential. Even though each success story looks different, each is equally as important, exciting, and rewarding for all of us. We love celebrating one another’s successes—whether it be gaining custody of their children, enrolling in college classes, getting married or purchasing a car—and are proud to share these life milestones with one another.
What’s up next for The Empowerment Plan?  Do you have any new designs in the works?  Any cities that you plan to expand to?

Right now we are keeping our roots here in Detroit, but we do have a lot of exciting opportunities on the horizon.  In addition to expanding our hiring, production and distribution efforts, we are currently creating education and outreach programs so that we may offer other skill-building workshops and leadership opportunities.  We are also in the process of creating a “buy one, give one” program in hopes that by selling the coat to interested individuals, such as hunters and hikers, we would be able to become sustainable and therefore distribute even more coats to those in need on both national and international platforms. 

Erin Robertson is managing editor at Chicago Ideas.

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