(Photo by Flickr user Flazingo Photos, used under a Creative Commons license)
In Philadelphia, the digital divide impedes access to economic opportunity for low-income individuals across the city.
One by one, the Digital On-Ramps collaborative is helping those individuals land jobs with online tools and training programs. Those tools, ranging from cloud-based ePortfolios to career exploration services, are offered by the collaborative’s impressive roster of 13 partners (consisting of a number of large institutions and city agencies):
- City of Philadelphia
- Community College of Philadelphia
- Drexel University
- Free Library of Philadelphia
- JOIN Collaborative
- Mayor’s Commission on Literacy
- Pierce College
- Philadelphia Academies, Inc.
- Philadelphia Works, Inc.
- Philadelphia Youth Network
- School District of Philadelphia
- Urban Affairs Coalition
Here’s the thing: According to Joanne Ferroni, director of university and community partnerships at Drexel University (where Digital On-Ramps lives), the collaborative’s roster of 13 founding partners came together before funding was even on the table.
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“[The partners] came together because we want to improve the system of training and employment in Philadelphia. The existing system is somewhat silo’d,” Ferroni said. “Whether you’re a youth or adult or young adult, you’re being forced to navigate this really complex system. We needed a way to put learners and job seekers in the driver’s seat.”
The fact that the partners came together before dollars entered the conversation is unique, she said. Though their missions vary across the board, each has a shared commitment to improving workforce development systems in the city.
Last month, Digital On-Ramps landed $40,000 from the Fossil Foundation to pilot some new programs.
“We saw a problem and are committed to doing it, and the money started to follow,” Ferroni said. “It usually doesn’t happen that serendipitously, but for us it really did.”
Ferroni said not having constraints from grant requirements or request-for-proposal parameters allowed the partners the space they needed to come up with a solution.
And solutions always look better on paper than they do in practice.
“It’s great to tout the pie in the sky idea, but what does that really mean? What would it really mean to have limitless data sharing across all these systems? We learned it’s a whole lot harder than it sounds,” she said. “You have to really structure and phase your approach, understand what is manageable and start working that way.”
For Digital On-Ramps, those manageable solutions were online tools that helped them “start chipping away” at the city’s employment opportunity gap — products that Ferroni said came from an iterative ideation process.
A process that somehow seems to be working for a collaboration comprised of heavyweight partners.
“You wouldn’t think with a collaborative of such large organizations that we have the ability to be agile and flexible,” she said. “But I think that’s really been our strength.”-30-
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