Philadelphia is home to more than 8,000 nonprofits.
If that surprises you, you're in good company. Many nonprofits, businesses, and civic leaders are tackling our city's challenges — poverty, drug abuse, homelessness, discrimination, unequal education, and access to health care — head-on and making a truly meaningful difference. But some of the best work in the city is going unnoticed.
Philly's deep-seated challenges are simply too complex for any one entity to solve. Yet, we're used to working in siloes. As an African proverb reminds us, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."
This independent approach ends up limiting the awareness, community support, and broad impact that could otherwise be achieved in partnership. If we're working for deep, lasting change — and not just an immediate splash — we have to work together. And that means creating both expected and unexpected partnerships.
I have seen the power of uniting government leaders, businesses, neighborhoods, and individuals around a common challenge or opportunity. It's not enough to be the biggest or most well-known organization. Instead, we have to make sure that we are building relationships and engaging everyone who is close to the problem, from community members to academic researchers.
That's why, when it comes to addressing serious issues such as the opioid crisis, our city is partnering with corporations, nonprofits, churches, neighborhoods, residents, and law enforcement for a strategic and multipronged solution. Conrail is cleaning up the abandoned railroad tracks under Gurney Street, which previously served as a well-known drug market. Individual residents are joining forces to clean and beautify the streets through a community summit hosted by Mayor Kenney and the Drug Enforcement Agency. Additionally, Philadelphia has engaged nonprofits like Prevention Point, One Day at a Time, and Impact Services to offer safe housing, medical assessments, and social services to addicts willing to get sober. And the Independence Blue Cross Foundation, through its Supporting Treatment and Overdose Prevention (STOP), is deeply engaged in raising awareness for prevention programs.
This type of impactful response can only be accomplished through trustworthy relationships — when unrelated groups are connected around a unifying cause and community members are both heard and empowered. When all the voices and perspectives are in the room, we can work together to craft solutions that will be both nuanced and effective.
If we want to keep making a difference in Philadelphia and continue to improve the health and well-being of our communities, it's essential to create forums for the free exchange of information, ideas, and viewpoints among diverse organizations and leaders in nonprofit community, business, government, and academia that otherwise may not intersect. The free "Partnerships with Purpose" conference hosted by Independence Blue Cross this week is one such event, and I'm delighted to be participating to explore creating new dynamic cross-sector partnerships.
With 8,000 nonprofits in Philadelphia, and nearly four million residents, 50 colleges and universities, and 10 Fortune 500 companies in Southeastern Pennsylvania, I think it's obvious that our region is filled with smart, caring, and innovative change-makers.
Let's work together to accomplish what none of us can do alone.
Sharmain Matlock-Turner is president and CEO of the Urban Affairs Coalition. firstname.lastname@example.org