Innovation, Strategy, Design

East Saint Louis - Gangs don’t bite !

Open IDEO. Social Entrepreneurship .

In 1958 East Saint Louis was named the “All American City”. With a population of 83,000 the city was prosperous and thriving as a musical center producing big names in blues, rock, jazz (Miles Davis,Tina Turner, Ike). The city was affected by the de-industrialization of the Rust Belt area cutting back thousands of working middle class jobs.

The gang proliferation, the city’s eroding financial position along with the construction of freeways around the city broke up the city’s neighborhood and community.

Today, the city has a population of 27,000 residents, drastic urban blight struggling with stagnant economic conditions amongst a severely deteriorating social landscape.

The Challenge:

Gangs, rule. The area has been, divided and is ruled with consensus between the Crips and the GDs, the most powerful groups. 


Gangs are simply another form of social organization and hierarchy. Gang members run their lives under an assumption of segregation that has become a way to differentiate. That segregation serves a very basic risk/reward model. Peace between the gangs comes in place, when the available opportunities are exploited equally by the two groups who “share” the local market. Then, the least safe part of the city becomes the safest, as balance is maintained by the iron fist of the gang heads.

The offer:

4-5 small retail business and workshops. (e.g. hairdresser, car service, grocery, home repair, pharmacy delivery, radio station, music school).

The financing: 

A group of 2-3 entrepreneurs provide initial capital financing, training, equipment and logistical support. Gang members are put as head operators and/or owners. Businesses are divided equally between the two prevalent gangs.

In a 12 block radius, there is no grocery store, no car repair, no car wash, no pharmacy, no hairdressers and no entertainment for the young. That’s where the local population (98% african americans) spend their money. 


A segregated zone within the wider segregated area. A 4 block zone of no guns, no drugs, no violence, at the heart of the town.

Profit Sharing:

In exchange for 100% security and protection by the local gang heads a the profit sharing formula,, returns 70% of the profit  back to the community with a re-investment plan for workshops where the young can be trained in crafts and handyman services.


St. Louis

Neighborhood scout

Our starting point: An old theater, to be converted to an internet gaming cafe and cinema.

The blocks where a hairdressers, a grocery store and a car repair shop are going to be right next to the city’s new radio station(!) playing exclusively music with live gigs where we provide instruments and artist booking and event management.


St. Louis


All businesses operated by East Saint Louis residents. Longer term they can buy back the operation at book value. 


30 new jobs that reach 250 in 3 years. 


Real estate is almost free. Local market has collapsed and the city is offering brave incentives for new business. Unemployment is at 20% and rising. Population is young. (median age is 31).We have contacted interested donating partners.

Stylianos Makridis

All rights reserved.