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Ellen Hwang on her move to the Knight Foundation: ‘This is my dream job’

April 18, 2019 Category: FeaturedPeopleShort
Ellen Hwang, the city planner who for the past four years has been a staffer of the City of Philadelphia and overseen the creation of SmartCityPHL, has been named the Philadelphia program director of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

“I am really excited about the opportunity,” she told Generocity. “This is my dream job.”

Hwang takes on the job four months after the former program director, Patrick Morgan, left to take a city government job as Parks and Recreation’s first deputy commissioner for strategy and engagement.

Immediately after the appointment was made public, Hwang tweeted that she had some “big shoes to fill,” and thanked Knight for what she later told Generocity had been “a wonderful [hiring] process, even the interview!”

The Knight Foundation’s mission, and her own personal mission — to engage and inform people — are particularly well aligned, she said. (Check out the organization’s recent report on its Reimagining the Civic Commons project, for instance.) She admires the work the foundation has done, and having been a resident of the city for the past 13 years, she’s very familiar with it.

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“Two things I think I’m bringing to the organization are the fact that I was a Knight grantee, so I know the process and can share my perspective of what Knight brings to the table,” she said. “The other is that much of my work with smart cities has been exploring collaborations, partnership opportunities, and the type of work that Knight invests in.”

Hwang, who was a presenter at last year’s Tech in the Commons, says the greatest challenge she sees in Philadelphia is the sheer number of people and organizations doing great things in the city. “There are so many opportunities,” she said. “What I hope to do as I start my job is to prioritize where Knight investments can make the most impact.”

“I think it is incredibly important to know who you want to impact,” she added, “because that informs how you can impact them.”

And she doesn’t mean only the grantees Knight funds — she means a broad swathe of Philadelphians.

“I started out at a nonprofit in the community,” Hwang said. “I intend to continue that process of interacting directly with community members. This is not just about funding, this is about having a dialogue.”

Her message to the nonprofit sector in Philadelphia?

“I can’t wait to see what we can do together.”

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