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Public, private, philanthropic: We're all in it together

Wednesday, January 28, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Amy Seasholtz
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Posted 1/28 by the Philadelphia Business Journal

In the following guest column,Maari Porter, incoming executive director at Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia, discusses the importance of corporate giving and how she learned that the public, private and philanthropic sectors can work together to help the region thrive.


Maari PorterI've spent my entire career working in the public sector on both sides of the Atlantic, from the heart of the British government in Whitehall to the Nutter administration in City Hall. You can imagine my excitement when I was approached to apply for the role I now hold as executive director of the Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia.

The common thread between my public sector experience and this new opportunity became quickly apparent: effecting change. I've come to realize that if you're driven to make an impact on a large scale, if you're passionate about building a robust and thriving economy and region by creating opportunity and growing talent, philanthropy is the place to be. It's the place I'm meant to be.

And there couldn't be a more exciting time to dive into Greater Philadelphia's philanthropic efforts. A recent survey of Philanthropy Network's members revealed that regional giving has increased 10 percent over the past three years, and the future of giving in the region looks promising. Likewise, a national study on the state of corporate citizenship by Boston College reported a similarly positive forecast for all aspects of corporate philanthropy.

Despite growing population and economy, many perplexing challenges beset our great city, including a woefully underfunded educational system and significant poverty rates. Among the nation's 10 most populous cities, Philadelphia has the highest rate of deep poverty, defined as a household income below half of the federal poverty level. In other words, there are way too many people in our region living on alarmingly meager resources, with little hope of escape.

The scope and complexity of these problems can seem daunting, and the reality is that no one entity alone — be it a business, foundation or government — can solve our most pressing social and economic problems. But working together, we can make meaningful change. That's why I'm so eager to delve into my new role at Philanthropy Network.

For more than 25 years, Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia has convened funders from around the region to exchange ideas, inspire new thinking and align resources to move the needle on pressing issues.

Philanthropy Network recently launched a new initiative — Sparking Solutions — to galvanize collaborative action on high-priority issues that our members believe will yield the greatest return for our coordinated investment of time and resources. The five persistent, poverty-related social problems in our region that the Sparking agenda targets include:

  1. Reading on grade-level by fourth grade.
  2. Promoting youth safety and youth development.
  3. Increasing access to health care.
  4. Preventing and ending homelessness.
  5. Reducing hunger and fostering healthy eating.

While the Sparking initiative is still in its early stages, the work is gaining momentum and showing real promise to achieve results. One of the most successful and inclusive Sparking endeavors so far is the READ! by 4th Campaign. Modeled on the national Campaign for Grade Level Reading, READ! is a citywide effort that aims to double the share of students entering 4th grade reading at grade level by 2020.

Why 4th grade? Research — a lens Philanthropy Network relies on to focus our efforts on the most potent strategies — indicates that a key predictor of a child's academic and career success is the ability to read on grade level by the 4th grade.

Sadly, less than half of Philadelphia's public school students meet this target.

An impressive list of 50 organizations, public and private, large and small, have already signed on to reverse the trends in Philadelphia with the READ! by 4th Campaign. Spearheaded by the Public Citizens for Children and Youth and the Urban Affairs Coalition, with seed funding from the Barra Foundation, the initiative brings together government offices, agencies, and nonprofits — including Drexel University, Philadelphia School Partnership, the School District of Philadelphia, the United Way, and the Mayor's Office of Education — and funders like the Eagles Youth Partnership, The Lenfest Foundation, and the Samuel S. Fels Fund. The Free Library of Philadelphia serves as the central organizing entity for the vast array of collaborators and Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin acts as the campaign's spokesperson.

Two corporate partners, Wells Fargo Bank and Clear Channel Media and Entertainment, have played key roles in the initiative and serve as models for how the business community can take an active role in advancing our region — and developing the potential of their future workforce.

This widespread group of partners represents an extraordinary coalition that, combined with a coordinated action plan and major investment from key stakeholders, has real potential to effect significant and lasting change.

As my own career shifts from the public to the philanthropic sector, I hope others will join me in clearly articulating and pursuing common goals for growing our economy and building a thriving, vibrant region. Philanthropy's power to advance Philadelphia and the region is amazing, but that power comes only through collaboration: corporate, private, and family foundations, the community, and the public and private sectors working together.

Maari Porter assumes her role as executive director of Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia in February 2015. She comes to the Network from the City of Philadelphia, where she served in key roles as chief grants officer, executive director of the Mayor's Fund for Philadelphia, and deputy director of finance for recovery.