An Interview with Chanell Scott Contreras, CEO of Michigan Saves

What about the opportunity to join Michigan Saves appealed to you?
Meaningful work is central to my career decisions. I’ve always been someone who follows my passion in life, especially in my career. A lot of my choices are rooted in my family and cultural background. As I think about my passion for sustainability and climate resilience, there are three lenses through which this opportunity felt like the right fit for me:

Justice and Equity
Rooted in a family history dating from my great-grandparents, a sense of responsibility related to justice and equity is a thread I’ve tapped into throughout my career. It’s been hugely important to me and my sense of belonging to a community. We know that the climate crisis is disproportionately affecting people of color, and the work Michigan Saves does to support all communities throughout Michigan really inspired me to take part.
I’m also excited about the economic equity opportunities built into the growth of the green economy, particularly for small businesses and underrepresented communities. I look forward to building inclusive career and workforce development opportunities for business owners. That feels like an incredible and meaningful task that will keep me energized every day.

Leaving a Legacy
The value of leaving a legacy is very important to me. Coming from African descendants of slaves, I feel that with their suffering, work, and commitment to the future, it’s my obligation and responsibility to carry on and leave a legacy for future generations, which requires caring about the world and the environment we’re passing on. It’s imperative that we care for this planet.

Experiencing Joy
The third value I feel is experiencing joy. Coming from people who have persevered, I feel a sense of responsibility and desire to enjoy my life. My family and I get so much personal joy from being in nature, so the work at Michigan Saves connects deeply to that value, especially in a state where there are magnificent landscapes and a beautiful environment around us.

What are you most excited about as you begin your tenure with Michigan Saves?
I consider myself a builder, and this is such an exciting opportunity to build the next version of the organization based on its incredible history and the foundation that so many people worked hard to create. I love taking an approach based on curiosity, problem-solving, and strategy to build something new and exciting, whatever that vision is for the organization. I also love to understand the context, components, people, and resources that are available to reach a shared vision. Getting buy-in around an idea and then developing relationships with team members to understand what the team needs to grow—that work is exciting to me!

What do you anticipate being some of the biggest challenges?
It’s wonderful that attention and resources are coming at the state and federal levels, but growth requires rapid iteration of programming and processes. We will need to focus on deploying resources in the most meaningful way and in alignment with the values of the organization.

How would you describe your leadership style?
From others, I am often told that I inspire a vision for the future that people can get on board with. I’m a strategic thinker, and the way that translates to leadership is by collaborating with team members to understand their needs. I’m passionate about supporting leaders to help them become decision-makers so they can own their body of work and really see themselves as experts.

How do you plan to continue to expand the Michigan Saves network statewide, as well as raise awareness around that work?
Michigan is a diverse place with many different types of constituents. Programming at Michigan Saves truly builds on a community of clients and stakeholders that are reflective of that diversity. As I am getting to know stakeholders and understanding what’s important to them, it will be important to design our processes and programs with their goals and needs in mind. I’ll be very receptive to different audiences as we grow or launch new programming. It’s a human-centered approach that is focused on the end user as we seek to achieve the mission.

When you look forward five years, what do you hope people say about Michigan Saves, and where do you hope the organization is on a macro level?
I want Michigan Saves to be a quintessential household name. When people think of climate resilience, I want Michigan Saves to be known widely and broadly as a key resource in Michigan that is supporting our greater and collective climate resilience through the important tools and communities that it serves.
I also want climate resilience to be more than an idea or value system for a small group of people. Rather, I want it to really become mainstream and something that many people are engaged in and that a majority of people understand the significance of.

Also, I want people to know that Michigan Saves really pushes forward justice and equity and serves people from all backgrounds, especially people who are low to moderate income, people of color, and communities that have been disproportionately impacted.

Finally, I want us to become leaders, not just in Michigan but across the country. I want Michigan Saves to be known as an important resource and a thought leader that pushes the envelope, especially in terms of serving disadvantaged communities with resources that build climate resilience.

What do you think could be the biggest change in the organization in the future?
There’s a strong opportunity for rapid growth within the organization. Of course, that creates change because you have to adapt and preserve the culture. Growth requires strong processes and enough support capacity. We will look to build our infrastructure, which could be part of our change or growth trajectory.

What would you say about Michigan Saves being a big part of creating change in the climate space?
On the macro level, the work of Michigan Saves will continue. It will reinforce what I believe to be true—Michigan is well-positioned to address climate crises that are happening more frequently. Our work can create and protect that dynamic. On the micro level, resources and opportunities provided through the programming and financing tools that Michigan Saves implements will offer real opportunities for people to make their homes more comfortable, save money on their utilities, and invest in green technologies. It will also improve comfort and cost savings for their homes in the long term. There are real-life benefits to those very practical programs. Our day-to-day lives in our homes affect our well-being, our health, and our sense of joy, and Michigan Saves has a toolset that can transform people’s lived experience in their homes.

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