May 31, 2023 10:54 am

Solutions at the Intersection: Lessons Beyond Philadelphia

A dive into one reader's idea about how government and philanthropy can work together to get to the root of long-standing problems.

Photo by James, used via a Creative Commons license

In our ongoing series, we value the insights of our readers and community members when it comes to addressing pressing issues and finding effective solutions. To conclude our focus on “Politics & Philanthropy” this month, we’d like to take up one reader’s idea about how government and philanthropy can work together to get to the root of long-standing problems.

I am commenting on the “Government for the People” article. The issues highlighted there each and collectively have downstream causes that have yet to be addressed in decades. Many of us recognize that we have had the same leadership (or lack of it) for over 20 years in Philadelphia. Government and media are highly visible, but I suspect that the private sector (including philanthropy) has also been somewhat lacking in innovation. Politicians have embraced safe and conservative approaches to housing, education, workforce development, and even healthcare. We deliver and listen to great speeches celebrating incremental change, while our children make radical moves and have no patience with antiquated methods that yield little impact on the source of these issues. We can only mitigate the damage that has been done over all these years to our cultural infrastructure, fraught with intractable discrimination and bias. I suggest we go downstream to recreate the pipelines from our elementary schools to meaningful work whether in the trades or the professions. Let’s subsidize land reclamation so that people can affordably build homes and communities; and let’s teach civics to our youngest citizens, so that their capacity for debate improves, giving them other tools besides violence with which to communicate.”

The reader astutely points out that many of Philadelphia’s issues are downstream causes that have not been addressed institutionally for decades. They emphasize the need for innovative approaches, particularly in housing, education, workforce development, and health care, rather than sticking with safe and conservative methods that insufficiently create incremental change for our complex challenges facing our cities.

How are Philanthropic and Government Partnerships uplifting other cities?

Land reclamation for community benefit:

Newark, NJ, is an example of successful collaboration among nonprofits, foundations, and government agencies to redevelop land and create affordable housing. The City has partnered with the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA) to establish the Homeownership Revitalization Program. This program allows homes to be sold for as little as $1 to residents who already live in the city, provided they meet certain residency and financial criteria. It also provides training on home buying, ownership, maintenance, budgeting, and repairs. Such initiatives counteract institutional hinderances such as redlining, gentrification, and residents being pushed out by companies,  while providing affordable housing opportunities that contribute to overall wealth building in the community.

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Pipelines for occupations and jobs:

New Orleans is an example of effective collaboration among nonprofits, foundations, and government agencies to promote education and youth development. The Orleans Parish School Board has partnered with organizations such as the Cowen Institute and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to launch innovative education programs, support teacher training initiatives, and invest in youth development. These collaborative efforts have led to improved educational outcomes, higher graduation rates, and more opportunities for young people in the city.

At the Intersection

At the intersection of successful collaborations in other cities lies an opportunity for Philadelphia to benefit from bold similar partnerships. While solutions may not translate exactly from one city to another, the principles and approaches that have yielded positive results can serve as valuable guidance for Philadelphia and beyond.

For instance, collaboration between the Philadelphia Land Bank, TD Bank Foundation, LISC Philadelphia, Urban League of Philadelphia, and Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia could lead to land reclamation and affordable housing initiatives. Financial support and expertise from TD Bank Foundation and LISC Philly, combined with the construction and monitoring capacity of Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia and the personal education and counseling services of the Urban League, could create affordable housing units that meet community needs and address root housing issues.

Similarly, education and workforce development can also be improved through collaboration. By working with local labor unions, business leaders, philanthropic foundations such as the Hamilton Family Trust and the William Penn Foundation, and educational organizations such as the Center for Black Educator Development, the School District of Philadelphia, and the state Department of Education, Philadelphia can revise curricula, train teachers, and develop apprenticeship programs and internships that are aligned with the evolving job market. These efforts could provide students with practical skills and prepare them for the changing economy.

While each collaboration has its own challenges and contexts, the underlying principle is that together nonprofits, foundations, and government agencies hold great potential for creating stronger, more equitable cities. It is critical to adapt successful models to Philadelphia’s specific needs and circumstances, taking into account the city’s rich cultural diversity, root issues, and unique challenges.


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