Some people want to be politicians to make a difference. Former Pennsylvania State Senate candidate Omar Woodard was one of those people.
That is, until he was presented with an opportunity that would allow him to make more of a difference, more often, over a longer period of time. The North Philadelphia native recently dropped his run for the third senatorial district seat to become the executive director at local venture philanthropy firm GreenLight Fund Philadelphia.
“For me, the question was, ‘Where can I have the greatest impact?'” Woodard said. “Is it in the state Senate in Harrisburg focusing on issues of poverty alleviation and prosperity in high poverty neighborhoods … or with a tremendous organization investing in high performance organizations working to solve those issues?”
Woodard believes it’s the latter. After spending the last six months campaigning the corridors of his old stomping ground and listening to the concerns held by North Philadelphians, Woodard said taking the gig with GreenLight “wasn’t a difficult decision to make.”
"For me, the question was, 'Where can I have the greatest impact?'"
GreenLight Fund Philly aims to bring high-performing nonprofits tackling specific problems in other cities into Philadelphia. It’s a local chapter of a national network, with sister sites in San Fransisco and Boston. A few years ago, the local GreenLight Fund chapter faced some criticism from local nonprofit leaders for this; critics accused the firm of not working to hoist local nonprofits. Woodard said the firm is also committed to helping high-performing nonprofits in Philadelphia find opportunities to replicate their models in other cities.
“It’s import and it’s export,” Woodard said. “Strong organizations focused on solving poverty. I can wake up every morning and feel good about that as opposed to waking up every morning heading to Harrisburg and hoping to pass a budget.”
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Venture philanthropy is not new to Woodard — the 32-year-old spent some time in D.C. as a principal at Venture Capital Partners managing a $20 million portfolio.
As for GreenLight Fund Philadelphia, there are three nonprofits in its current portfolio:
- Year Up, a Boston-based workforce development program for young adults in the tech space.
- Center for Employment Opportunities, an NYC-based transitional work opportunity and skills training program working to lower recidivism rates.
- Single Stop USA, an NYC-based organization that provides easy access to benefits for community college students.
Woodard said a fourth is on the way that has done some work in Philadelphia in the past.
“We identify high performing organizations to fill that gap, we work with them to understand if it would be a good fit, and we make a three- to four-year investment in them,” he said. Not just a financial investment: The group, which boasts a stacked and diverse advisory council, helps incoming organizations develop a board of local leaders, hire locally and develop a local network.
It’s a cross-sector initiative, which seems right up Woodard’s ally.
“All of this is because of my background growing up in North Philadelphia. That experience for me informs the type of work I do and why it’s so important to focus on strengthening organizations focused on ending poverty,” he said. “Because it’s going to take more than government, more than business, more than nonprofits and philanthropy. We all have to do it together.”
As for politics? Is a future run totally out of the question?
“What’s on my mind right now is raising money to make sure we can continue to invest in high performing organizations that want to end poverty in Philadelphia,” Woodard said. “That’s my focus right now.”
Beats bickering in Harrisburg.-30-
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