(Photo courtesy of The Barra Foundation)
Call Bill Golderer the Midas of progress.
At least, that’s how the pastor and Broad Street Ministry founder perceives himself. Now, he’s hoping that magic will transfer to his very first political campaign.
“Everything I’ve ever put my hand to has resulted in progress,” Golderer said in somewhat of a hushed tone over coffee in Center City. “I would like to see if there is progress that can be made here. I don’t know. It’s unclear.”
By “here,” Golderer is talking about U.S. Congress — an institution he said has been stuck in the “age of stagnation” while the world around it thrives in an “age of innovation.” Golderer calls political congestion within Congress a “spiritual sickness” — an ailment he said has also plagues the nonprofit sector.
It’s “competition guised as collaboration,” he said. Everyone likes the idea of collaboration, but not many are willing to let go of what he calls “MET” — money, ego and turf. MET, he said, is what bars innovation.
Innovation enablement is the platform Golderer is running on in the nascence of his campaign. The pastor announced his run for Congress in the state’s 7th district last month.
“Most people I’ve spoken to say [Congress] is a terrible place,” he said. “Terrible things happen there. There is no high-mindedness, there are no ideas, there’s no nobility in it — there’s nothing in there that is consequential. It’s hopelessly broken.”
That might sound like the all-too-familiar anti-establishment flimflam you’d expect from a political outsider. Golderer doesn’t believe he’s the coming savior of the 7th district — a district smattered across Philly’s suburbs due to some heavy gerrymandering — but he’s an idea man wielding the founder experience and a desire to represent innovators. For Golderer, it’s all about progress.
Still, what does Golderer’s work as founder of a service-providing nonprofit in the city have to do with what’s going on in the five counties outside the city?
“I would say this is a local seat,” Golderer said. “Every place has a center of gravity, but we’re all in a larger construct.”
Golderer calls it the “phenomenon of the donut.”
“There’s this very delicious cake on the outside, and in the center there’s this hole,” he said. “In order for us to be a great region, the center needs to be as delicious as what’s on the outside.”
The concept is what originally drew the Wayne native into Philadelphia. Suburban communities in Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr, Wayne and Chestnut Hill, he said, were utterly detached from the city. “Thriving religious communities” on the outskirts of town were largely unable to tackle wicked problems like gun violence and poverty in the city. Efforts were scattered and infrequent.
So, Golderer said local Presbyterian leaders sent him packing for Philadelphia, where he founded Broad Street Ministry in the center of town. Golderer likes to think of his candidacy as an evolution of the work he’s done in the nonprofit world so far. Between creating public-private partnerships to extend Broad Street Ministry’s impact and helping to launch Rooster Soup with Federal Donuts founders Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook, the pastor has established a local reputation for partnerships.
The restaurant turns Federal Donuts’ unused poultry bits into chicken stock. The proceeds from soup sales go towards Broad Street Ministry. The social enterprise garnered nearly $180,000 on Kickstarter last summer.
“Nobody could have imagined that a celebrity chef and a genius restaurateur in Mike and Steve, combined with a crazy minister, could come up with that concept and extend an invitation to the region to say, ‘Would you like to make an investment in this possibility?'” Golderer said. “The answer was yes.”
But there’s one problem. Golderer said tax law hasn’t caught up with crowdfunding yet, and he’s amazed by the lack of discourse in the political arena surrounding how to meet triple-bottom-line entrepreneurs where they are.
“If you want to operationalize your vision, you need the tax code to help you with the Kickstarter, you need Licenses and Inspections to partner with you to help you get that store open,” he said. “You need so many different things to be in a posture of possibility and real partnership, and right now all there is is rigid, partisan scorekeeping. Unless there’s a breakthrough, none of these progressive ideas and new approaches can take hold.”
Golderer has some big ideas for how to enable innovation. They’re not entirely fleshed out yet, but they’re there.
“I’m going to blow your mind,” he cautioned. “What if the government was proactively incentivizing [innovation] by issuing bonds to say, ‘How can business do something better than we could do?'”
Golderer likes the idea of social impact bonds, but that might not be enough. He’s thinking bigger.
“Can you imagine if there was an arm of the federal government devoted to innovation and creativity?” he asked.
It’s not enough, Golderer said, to sit and be satisfied with the way things get done, the way a citizenry is governed and the way people run business. We should always be asking whether or not there’s a better way to do something, he said.
“Nobody thinks that [change] can happen. That’s dangerous. That’s fatalism,” he said. “It’s just so not American, and it’s certainly not the tone of Philadelphia. Maybe our politics can be reborn.”
As for Broad Street Ministry, Golderer said he’ll remain on the board of directors as founder, and he’ll still be overseeing “major strategic initiatives.” Right now, the organization is still searching for their next leader. And if that leader wants Golderer to get out of the way? He said he’d be happy to oblige. But for now, Golderer still very much has one hand in the nonprofit space and the other politics.
“If we ever hope to have a different outcome in our political discourse and our government, it needs to be composed of different people with different perspectives and different passions,” Golderer said. “Some people have a passion for partisan gains. I have a passion for progress.”
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