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How including more than the usual suspects helps our conversations

April's OpenAccessPHL meetup. April 7, 2016 Category: EventMediumMethod
Friday was Tammy Dennis‘s first OpenAccessPHL meetup, and she jumped right in.

“Omar, you say that there’s a parent-child initiative that’s coming up through the Sharswood area,” said Dennis, who learned about OAP on the city’s website, when pressing Greenlight Fund Executive Director and OAP presenter Omar Woodard about his organization’s upcoming parent-child home programs.

Knowing the Sherwood community — I don’t live too far from there — and knowing some of the services that have been provided in the past; is the focus to always go for something new? Or, why not help the existing organizations fine tune their operations to be more effective? Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me that I’m not hearing that connect where there’s already an operation and help them to better serve their communities.”

What could be more appropriate than questions about development projects in specific communities coming from people who live in those communities?

At April’s meeting, held in a small room on the fifth floor of Alter Hall at Temple University, OAP saw a few newcomers to the conversation — exactly the kind of growth the organization had been looking for and more of what the city needs. The topic of the night, after all, was neighborhood economic development. What could be more appropriate than questions about development projects in specific communities coming from people who live in those communities?

“There are millions and millions and millions of dollars that are being invested into organizations that currently exist in that space,” Woodard responded. “The question for us is, ‘Is there a gap in the social service landscape where the community says that their [existing] programs aren’t at the quality that we need to address the challenge we have in the community?'” 

He went on to explain that new organizations can be brought into communities to fill niche needs, and for “disrupting the general system” where it’s faulty, but that it would be a waste of money to replicate functional orgs.

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“There’s millions of dollars going into improving existing organizations — we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Woodard said. “We can actually continue to [build] up those organizations that are homegrown that are doing well, and also in the meantime, find those gaps and invest in improving models.”

The more opportunities that we give the Tammy Dennises and the Omar Woodards of the world to meet and understand each other, the better.

Each month’s OAP meetup is full of leaders who are interested in learning about new projects and initiatives that are making waves in the city. Moving April’s event outside of the downtown area was well worth the ride to bring in people who are not usually a part of the conversation.

That’s not to say conversations like that don’t happen elsewhere. Take a look at any CDC or neighborhood association website and you will see a plethora of events that invite neighbors to sound off about their neighborhood’s development.

The point is, the more opportunities that we give the Tammy Dennises and the Omar Woodards of the world to meet and understand each other, the better. Friday’s panel also included Ellen Weber, executive director of the Fox School of Business‘s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute; Lee Huang of Econsult Solutions Inc.; and Saleem Chapman, policy and advocacy manager for the Sustainable Business Network. These decision makers became more accessible to citizens, if only for an evening. 

As a forum for open conversation, this OpenAccessPHL meetup was a mix of sharing strategies and pressing leaders with hard questions to which they should always have an answer. I hope to see more of this at future events in the series.

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