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Coalitions: True Partnership or Impossible Relationship?

June 14, 2023 Category: ColumnFeatureFeatured

Time and again, we see the government inundated with bureaucratic hurdles and restrictions on the use of funds to support communities, while philanthropic funds have the luxury of funding community-led efforts without bureaucratic hurdles and restrictions. Does the government really have a hard line, and philanthropy is encouraged? Should these two separate entities formally join forces in communities? Is there an advantage to having both partners at the same table?

We are talking about roles, responsibilities and expectations here.

 In Greater Philadelphia, there are more than 5,000 foundations and grantmaking entities in the greater Philadelphia metro area that earn more than $14 billion in each revenue year and have assets well over $60 billion. There are more than 8,000 nonprofits organizations that raise thousands of dollars, and the City of Philadelphia, on behalf of Mayor Jim Kenney, has proposed a 5.6 billion dollar budget.

You might think that, given these cash flows, there would be a formula for everyone to live a utopian dream – but it’s not that simple.

One goal is simple: address gun violence in the city.

For more than a decade, young people have said they do not feel safe in the places they should feel safest – at school, at the rec center, and even on their way to the corner store. Young people continue to be murdered, parents grieve, and the government continues to pump money into measures that, according to the data, still do not improve.

Gun violence in Philadelphia has increased inexorably over the past five years. Recently, Civic Coalition to Save Lives, a coalition initiated by local philanthropic partners: William Penn Foundation and Philadelphia Foundation, stated in their announcement that,

From our Partners

“We cannot wait and hope things get better. We need to bring about change and act together.” The coalition brings together more than 90 philanthropic partners, businesses, and civil society organizations.

To the surprise of many, Mayor Kenney and his administration have accepted the offer to work together. For the first time in Philadelphia’s history, there is a formal non-traditional public safety table made up of partners who transcend government and have the power to influence government.

 Since the founding of the Civic Coalition to Save Lives, this is the first initiative of its kind to bring philanthropy partners and government to the table to support an intervention strategy. In their newly established partnership with the government, will these philanthropic partners be able to bring the community together and truly work for a common goal?

Other coalitions such as 57 Blocks Project, bring community members together to organize around how to stop the gun violence that plagues the city of Philadelphia. Reverend Gregory Holston of the Black Clergy and one of the founding members of 57 Blocks Project believes the coalition takes a specific and unique approach that sets it apart from other groups fighting gun violence,

“We appreciate that all organizations and individuals are coming together, but the 57 Blocks Coalition has a particular approach to empowering community organizations and individuals closest to the pain and focusing on non-law enforcement solutions like greening and lighting. This is a critical racial justice issue of intentional disinvestment in black communities, and without that determination, there will be no solution to the crisis in our city.”

So whose responsibility is it?

Why are there so many coalitions and groups in Philadelphia working on the same issues? What needs to be considered for effective coalitions to work?

Michael O’Bryan, Founder of Humanature and a researcher at the Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation at Drexel University, states that,

At scale, what we’ve tried hasn’t fully worked. It doesn’t mean that folks are not doing impactful work and helping to literally save lives and invest in the wellbeing of neighborhoods and communities. We have plenty of stories that prove that meaningful work in prevention and intervention is taking place in the city. However, we have to shift our framing. For longterm and systemic impact, we will have to center Black lives and the humanity of the communities where this issue has been centered for decades. Gun violence in Black communities is not void of inputs from forms of violence rooted in policies that have restricted the well-being and opportunities for neighborhoods across Philadelphia. The kind of in-depth reckoning and sense-making this will require will undoubtedly be uncomfortable for many of us but it is necessary; not for the purposes of blame or pointing fingers but to help us better understand and choose the proper corners of the puzzle we’re trying to solve. Problem-framing matters and the policy-backed dehumanization of Black people and Black communities has to be included in that constellation of root problems.


What are your thoughts?

What will it take for the city’s various coalitions to be successful?

What solutions do you have to reduce crime and increase public safety in Philadelphia?


Share  your insights HERE




Gun Violence & Public Safety

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