July 24, 2011; Source: Crain’s Detroit Business | A few weeks ago, NPQ published Motown Blues: Foundations and Government Struggle for Solutions with Each Other, an article that looked at the relationship between the foundations in Detroit and the city government – an alliance that may not always be completely comfortable and aligned but is necessary for the city’s future.

Our article had been sparked by one in the Wall Street Journal on July 2nd that pointed to some friction between the Kresge Foundation and the City of Detroit as typifying the relationship. NPQ felt the framing was superficial and so it took on a more layered look.

And now, here comes a nothing but positive listing of public private partnerships in the state of Michigan overall. No doubt there are behind the scenes discomforts and even some failures but the listing itself by Robert Collier of the Association of Michigan Foundations is worth noting:

It was the initial — and ongoing — funding by Michigan foundations and the commitment of bipartisan state governmental leaders that led to creation of the Office of Foundation Liaison to the governor, the nation’s first state cabinet-level position that helps identify innovative public/private funding opportunities and strategic collaborations. Since its inception in 2003, the OFL has helped secure almost $90 million for foundation/government partnerships.

Another example is the successful foundation-supported effort behind Michigan’s “Double Up Food Bucks” program, through which a person eligible for food stamps can now draw from a pool of funds — raised from foundations — to purchase state-grown fruits and vegetables at 46 participating farmers’ markets.

A third foundation-funded effort is the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, described by Collier as the world’s largest business plan competition. Accelerate Michigan is designed to highlight the state as a venue for business opportunities. Launched in 2010, the competition drew more than 600 entrepreneurs competing for more than $1 million in awards.

Of course, NPQ has concerns about relationships between philanthropy and government that are overly close. Most of these concerns circulate around the scuttling of democracy through providing foundation players with undue influence in the public sphere. Foundations can correct for this imbalance of power by grounding their investments in plans developed with strong community engagement. Too often, however, we see foundations simply expecting to exercise influence without even a nod in that direction. It will be interesting to watch the various public/private partnerships evolve in Detroit and Michigan as a whole. Will they – on balance — be investments that produce results? – Ruth McCambridge