(Photo by Ashley Sinha)
Anyone who knows Omar Woodard knows that his superpower is solutions.
At last year’s ADVANCE 2020 conference — a virtual event burdened by the failure of the political class to act in a global pandemic — Woodard, the executive director of GreenLight Fund Philadelphia, spoke about how politicians struggle with the issue of poverty year after year because comfort allows them to feign ignorance of the truth: that systemic racism and class warfare continue to make Philadelphia the poorest big city in the nation.
His solution? Long-term investment in the community.
“Investment is actually something we should learn,” he told the crowd. “When you put into place a pipeline and long-term champions who are going to do sacrificial investment — they might not see any social or financial return for 20 years, but they’re building something that 20 years later, 25 years later, will have real power and a real relevance.”
Investing in Philadelphia communities is what Woodard has done for the past five years leading GreenLight Fund Philadelphia.
“This has been a dream job for me,” Woodard said in a statement Tuesday, announcing that his departure would be effective March 12. “I am forever grateful for the opportunity to work on behalf of this mission and this beloved community.”
At its core, Greenlight Fund is a venture philanthropy fund that invests in critical infrastructure needs for children and families struggling with poverty. Founded and headquartered in Boston, the organization is now spread throughout urban centers across the country, including Atlanta, Detroit, Kansas City, and others. The Fund describes its yearlong investment process, — in which one high-impact organization receives support — as both scalable and sustainable.
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“We continue to grow our network nationally and have just launched GreenLight Baltimore,” Co-Founder and CEO Margaret Hall told Generocity, noting that the organization is now looking for two executive directors. “Philadelphia is one of our oldest sites. It was our first expansion site.”
Woodard accomplished much during his tenure. Since 2016 his work with the Fund has served almost 15,000 people, including upward of 4,800 this year alone. He also managed a $3 million portfolio focused on Philadelphia’s education sector that included groups such as Year Up Greater Philadelphia, Single Stop-CCP, and Center for Employment Opportunities. In partnership with the Philadelphia Housing Authority, Woodard oversaw another $1.2 million investment in ParentChild+ and Compass Working Capital, two programs that support families.
“Omar has really had an incredible run as the leader of GreenLight Philadelphia,” said Hall. “I think one of the ways he has innovated in our network and really led the way is by creating deep partnerships, cross-sector partnerships.”
Last year, amid COVID-19, Woodard’s efforts at creating sustainable partnerships saw him raise $3.5 million for GreenLight Philadelphia Fund III. In September, GreenLight Fund lit up the Ben Franklin Bridge to celebrate the achievement, which included support from various Philadelphia mainstays, including the PHA, Vanguard Group Foundation, William Penn Foundation, and others. In total, over 25 family, corporate, and philanthropic investors threw in their support.
One of those involved was Dr. Keith Leapheart, who, as chair of the Lenfest Foundation, praised the Fund’s work in a post-COVID economy. Today, he called Woodard’s transition away from GreenLight bittersweet — but said he’s confident that both the individual and the organization will succeed in the future.
“Omar [is] an exceptional leader and he’s done a fine job over the past five years in that organization,” he told Generocity. “It’s sad to see Omar leave because any time an organization loses a strong leader like Omar there’s always concern. Will they be able to sustain and maintain the same level of work?”
“But I’m very confident in [GreenLight’s] board leadership as well in the mission of the organization,” he added.
Over the past few years, along with his success at GreenLight Fund and in the nonprofit sector in general, Woodard’s been a headline-maker. The nonprofit community and the public-at-large look to him not only as a professional but as a community leader.
It’s a mutal respect.
“If we’re going to get at racial equity in investing we have to involve and center the people that we hope will benefit,” Woodard said in a Generocity piece last summer. The words represent his respect for the whole, and his willingness not to be complacent.
According to GreenLight Fund Board Chair and Co-Founder John Simon, it’s that attitude that will make Woodard so difficult to replace.
“Omar is an absolutely amazing and talented guy, and he did a phenomenal job building GreenLight Philadelphia, and making a huge positive difference for so many (with measurably improved outcomes) in Philadelphia,” Simon said via email.
“[Woodard] is transitioning from GreenLight Philadelphia at exactly the right time/transition point (with our third fund having recently been raised/announced) and everything in great shape,” he continued. “While it is sad/bittersweet to have Omar transition, it is a great and wonderful thing that he is transitioning too … doing this work on a national stage which will be hugely complementary to what GreenLight is doing — in Philadelphia and elsewhere.”
As a vice president at Results for America, Woodard will have that national stage. The organization is a consortium that helps government decision-makers use data to make better investments, and Woodard will be advising state and local governments. But he plans to keep his home base in Philadelphia — which will allow him to remain rooted in the local philanthropic scene, he said in his statement.
Woodard told the audience at last year’s ADVANCE conference that he is positive the city can see significant change by bringing the public sector, the private sector and the nonprofit sector together around big goals.
United Way’s Bill Golderer, who cohosted last year’s session at ADVANCE with Woodard, told Generocity that Woodard is the ideal person to help usher that kind of significant change.
“In Omar you have the unique constellation of a person who has lived an extraordinary life of resiliency and commitment,” said Golderer. “Someone who possesses insight and knowledge that is unparalleled and possesses empathy and urgency to persuade and convince others to make change.”-30-
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