(Photo by A. Ricketts for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®)
This story is part of TRACE (Toward Response and Community Equity), a year-long series that will track how and where the region’s government, philanthropic, civic and private sector is working toward a more just recovery.
If Philadelphia were a school kid, it’d be in big trouble with its parents.
The leaders who responded to Generocity‘s second Regional ‘Just Recovery’ Self-Assessment in December/January offered almost uniformly terrible ratings, relative to expectations, in response to questions in three categories: Public Health; Community Engagement and Economic Resiliency (with racial equity embedded across all the questions).
Those who received the self-assessment tool included the same 100 leaders from large social service providers and community-based organizations, civic and government leaders, and private sector representatives who received the first self-assessment survey in October. The response rate from these leaders was disappointing — less than a quarter of the original cohort returned their surveys in January — but those who did had a lot to say.
Many of their assessments declined precipitously since the first report card. The region’s response to the health crisis of COVID-19, for example, fell from an A to an F (even before the Philly Fighting COVID fiasco). “Many are trying so hard to respond effectively,” wrote one of the respondents, “and certainly there is a lot more attention being paid to racial equity and racial justice — lots of discussion about inequities and systemic racism — but the response overall to the pandemic has been so shockingly inadequate, disorganized, and racially inequitable that while I can give many an A for effort, I can’t ignore the actual performance.”
The assessment that earned the lowest marks in October — confronting systemic change to law enforcement — managed to sink even lower in January. But the worst ratings, this time around, were claimed by the question about prioritizing racial equity into stakeholdership.
“Times of crisis are opportunities for transformation,” wrote one of the January survey respondents. “This country, this region, our leaders do not have the moral compass or courage to make transformative change.”
The only category that outperformed October’s assessment was the category asking these leaders to rate their own organizational contribution to the recovery. The ratings in January were slightly better than in October, but still the equivalent of a D. As one of the respondents explained in a comment about the self-assessment, “everyone’s just trying to keep their heads above water right now.”
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A snapshot of the region’s recovery in aggregate
The report card is part of Generocity’s year-long reporting project, TRACE, which started tracking the region’s response to pandemic, economic crisis and structural racism in July 2020. The bar graph below charts the rating of each question — both in October 2020 and January 2021 — on a simple scale of 1 to 5:
For context, the organizations represented in October’s cohort varied greatly in size — from tiny grassroots organizations to large and very complex ones; fewer grassroots organizations participated in January. In both cohorts, the majority of respondents are headquartered in Philadelphia, with only a few respondents headquartered in the suburbs.
A closer look at the qualitative responses
The self-assessment form allowed respondents to include anonymized comments at the end of each category, and the majority of the members of this cohort of respondents took time to explain their thinking. Here is a representative sampling from each category.
FEEDBACK ON RESPONSES TO THE PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS:
- “I think the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed long-complained-about conditions that people of color, especially Black and Latinx people, have encountered in medical settings. I think that public health professionals are shifting strategies and getting innovative with solutions but we are early days into that work.”
- “The lack of clarity about the threat (dining, gyms, etc reopening as experts are predicting a post-holidays surge, etc), the roll out of vaccines and letting people know the plan or set expectations, and what we can and all should be doing about it is infuriating.”
- “We are not doing enough to meet the needs of the most vulnerable. The handling of Riverside Correctional Facility and the closure of the temporary hotel housing are two especially egregious examples of this.”
- “Granted, a strong federal response would help create the way for a strong local response, but still there is a lack of local leadership and disciplined messaging as well.”
- “I still believe that we do not have strong cross-systems collaboration. We also have not talked about using the pandemic and racism in America as a spring board to real transformation.”
FEEDBACK ON RESPONSES TO COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ISSUES:
- “We are beginning to shift back into creating greater engagement opportunities for residents with elected officials, but this momentum must be sustained beyond a summer of public demonstrations. The continued development of commissions and advisory boards that convene a cross-section of Philadelphians is critical to the path forward.”
- “We have done nothing of significance in the area of accountability. There is a lot of talk, but not a lot of action about involving grassroots groups. The $10 million given to the United Way who requested proposals through a hasty process without the input of community representatives and with limited opportunity for grassroots groups to apply is an example of this.”
- “I do a lot of training, nationally, so it is hard not to answer through a lens of comparison. If comparing, Philadelphia is way ahead of many other major cities, despite our poverty levels.”
- “While other regions and cities have used this as an opportunity to push innovative policies and solutions, our region seems stuck a decade behind. The overwhelming emphasis seems to be avoiding blame rather than delivering solutions.”
FEEDBACK ON RESPONSES TO THE ECONOMIC CRISIS:
- “We have not done enough about evictions. The city mandated representation for renters in eviction court without any money for implementation. This is ridiculous. There is also not enough being proactively done to increase the supply of affordable housing managed by the city or other entities that can be held accountable for maintaining affordability.”
- “None of this has to be the way it is. Pay people to stay home, pay for businesses to close temporarily, aggressively tackle the pandemic and vaccine rollout. Instead, everything is just a mess, and 2021 is going to reveal things are much worse than we thought.”
- “This is a tough one. I think the region is doing what it can but federal dollars are needed to make a dent. Having restrictions isn’t what’s killing small business. Not having a subsidy to keep them whole is. In Europe, people and small business are being subsidized so when the pandemic is over, they can kick start the economy. We need to do the same.”
- “This presents a massive opportunity for entrepreneurship, supporting businesses owned by BIPOC, and equitable seed funding. It is happening, but not through the regions’ leadership but rather private innovation.”
ADDITIONAL FEEDBACK ON THE RECOVERY:
- “Are we in recovery? I guess so but it doesn’t feel that way yet.”
- “We need to stop thinking about it as ‘recovery.’ We are still in the throes of it.”
- “Very skeptical about any kind of change. Those who have always suffered the most will continue to suffer the most because our systems are designed to keep it that way.”
- “There is a dearth of collective impact initiatives on the region’s efforts in public health, employment, educational attainment, improvement of mental and behavioral health services, etc. A strategic plan isn’t collective impact … that requires alignment of providers and stakeholders across common actions and outcomes anticipated.”
- ” We have so many challenges — but we did before the pandemic, too. I am hopeful that we can use this opportunity to make some of the big, long-overdue changes that were stymied by the incredible comfort of our leaders with mediocrity, but I am worried the opportunity to make those changes is slipping away.”
Generocity will ask these same questions of the same 100 regional leaders twice more as part of the project.
Christopher Wink contributed to this report.-30-
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