Let's Chat Workforce Diversity

RE: ACE | PIPELINE TO INDUSTRY-WIDE workforce diversity


Let’s work together to build a pipeline for a more diverse workforce into the design and construction industry…

This discussion is being championed, analyzed and promoted today by numerous professional disciplines and organizations across the nation.  But, are all these individual groups just silos that further perpetuate the lack of diversity in our industry? This is an industry-wide conversation and we must work together in order to attract the best and brightest to the design and construction industry as a whole.

As an African-American female architect, I daily engage in a conversation about diversity in the design and construction industry. And, as the Affiliate Director of a non-profit organization dedicated to building a diverse pipeline into this industry, the conversation becomes the air I breathe. 

Building a strong pipeline into the industry and creating bridges of access to largely untapped populations – women, people of color, and individuals in underserved communities – are essential. As professionals we need to build bridges and serve as mentors, sponsors, cheerleaders and advocates for the future generations of our industry.

This is not just a job for Architects, Contractors or Engineers.
It’s a job for everyone.

Exposure and access to the design and construction industry are essential for the development of a diverse workforce having the sensitivity, cultural competence and ability to provide a voice in response to the needs of different communities. In this regard, diverse or equitable design practices will equate to a more profitable business model and practice. The client base that we serve will be ever evolving over time. The design and construction industry will need to evolve and develop new approaches relating to and serving the needs of an all-inclusive audience.

I have a secret…
Magic happens through diverse collaborations.

The ACE (Architecture, Construction, Engineering) Mentor Program is steadily expanding and giving Philadelphia youth access and exposure to the design and construction industry, but we are only as powerful as our mentor base and resources available for engaging our students. As an industry we need to establish a firm foundation that includes exposure, informational tools and the professional guidance required for students to even consider the design and construction industry as a viable career direction. Our industry needs to become more relatable and accessible to younger people, in order to introduce them to industry careers and to create more informed future clients. The ACE program provides exposure to all industries involved in the design and construction industry by encouraging diverse collaborations between students and professional mentors.

With ACE, it’s not just about getting students into an office and giving PowerPoint presentations, it’s about creating a professional culture that includes many different experiences and perspectives – from various career paths and a diverse mentor base. Students are given an overview of each discipline associated with our industry coupled with hands-on activities or real-world experiences to reinforce the lessons crafted by project-based learning objectives. By exposing students to all facets of the industry, ACE provides the tools they need to make informed decisions regarding their post-secondary educational goals – hopefully within an A-C-E related profession…

The future of our industry will rely on the diversity of creative thinkers.

Beyond ACE, youth and community engagement initiatives are increasing among the plethora of design and construction projects in Philadelphia. Real estate developers are beginning to think outside of the box and encourage visibility and access to projects impacting our existing communities. Community-based revitalization projects become beneficial to all parties involved as developers open the lines of communication with the community and create trust for the development/construction process while providing a structured environment for educational opportunities.

The design and construction industry has been slow to welcome diversity, yet its mission is to create a built environment that responds to the needs of a diverse humanity. To fulfill this mission, the industry must create a workforce that reflects the diversity of society. A diverse workforce will generate a sympathetic design conscience.

It’s really this simple.
So, let’s work together to make this happen!


PGDG 2018

Defining Our Impact

Five Years In  |  75+ Women Strong  |  Impact Reaching Thousands

Last Wednesday evening, Philly Girls Do Good welcomed its 5th new member cohort in suitable style. In a place-making “practice what you preach” moment, Danielle and Sylvia converted an unfinished space at 990 Spring Garden with twinkle lights, lime green porch chairs, a rainbow of confetti dots, and bright paper lanterns. The space, provided by new PGDG member, Kelly Edwards, who manages community relations at Arts + Crafts Holdings, was the perfect spot to host a pop-up-party with 30 of Philly’s most spirited civic-minded women.

This year, PGDG kicked off an effort to define the collective impact of a network that’s now more than 75 women strong. After a (literal) warm-up round of introductions (including jumping jacks), new and returning PGDG members gathered to map out their positive imprint on Philadelphia.

Here’s a snapshot of the top responses to the informal, wine-glass-in-hand, real-time polling:

How do you make your greatest impact?
24%: I’m a connector.
21%: I work to improve neighborhoods.
12%: I advocate for the underserved.

Drop a pin to show where you live. Also, locate the geographic centerpoint of the communities you serve:

Annually, how many people does your organization directly engage?
17%: Up to 500 (Lucky Ducks).
39%: Up to 2,000 —and I know everyone’s name!
17%: Untold thousands throughout Philadelphia.
17%: My good knows no bounds!

If you could connect with anyone to promote your organizations’ interest, who would it be?
Michelle Obama
Eleanor Sharpe (consider it done, she’s one of us!)
Anne Pappageorge (ditto!)
Women who want to run for office
… and many more people.

We know from research that women succeed as relationship builders, and it’s clear from this quick sketch of around half the current PGDGers that building personal connections and using them to support Philadelphia communities is at the core of this network’s collective impact.

While the polling provided a glimpse into the activity of those gathered on Wednesday night, PGDG will make a concerted effort this year to define the impact of the entire membership of Philly Girls Do Good in order to demonstrate and communicate that impact outside PGDG, to leverage it toward even greater good. Another goal is to identify gaps in the network, geographic holes, or missing areas of professional expertise. The findings will enable PGDG to grow its future membership with an eye to closing those gaps to reach broad and diverse representation of Philly’s women leaders in design, arts, and community development.                                                

On Wednesday night, the power of the network was already evident in the room. “Now you’re someone I want to talk with!” Jen Mahar, Senior Director of Civic Initiatives, Fairmount Park Conservancy said to Fern Gookin, PGDG ’15 and Director of Sustainability at Revolution Recovery. Jen is starting to work on a challenge the City faces: how to make use of beautiful Ash trees felled by the Emerald Ash borer, an invasive beetle. Fern, who is also the co-founder of RAIR (Recycle Artists in Residency) specializes in connecting artists to unwanted materials—a perfect match for finding a sustainable use for the Ash trees.

Jill Fink, new PGDG member and Executive Director of Food Moxie, a nonprofit organization that promotes nutrition and healthy eating habits in Philadelphia, is excited to expand her network of professional women outside of the people she meets in her non-profit world. As a women studies major in college, she has always sought the company of smart women—but she’s particularly animated about joining this group. “PGDG is part of a groundswell of women stepping into their power. It’s exciting to be a part of that.”

Throughout the coming year, the members of PGDG Cohort 2018 will focus on the power of building relationships in a series of organized small-group conversations. At the same time, the full PGDG network will begin defining its impact—and use that information to grow.




Each year we carefully weigh the balance of nominees with regard to the overall make-up of the cohort, potential contribution to the existing group of women, diversity, impact, and relevance to the PGDG mission. This year, we broaden our definition of leadership to include Arts, because we see that the Community Development sector has this strong subset of PGDG members. We send a special THANKS to the community of folks who sent in the nominations that allowed us to build such a strong new class of PGDG. 


Erin Cooper
Heather Coyne
Kelly Edwards
Jill Fink
Maud Lyon
Jennifer Mahar
Mo Manklang
Caitlin Martin
Stephanie Michel
Ivy Olesh
Ellen Owens
Jennifer Rodriguez
Hazami Sayed
Eleanor Sharpe
Lauren Vidas
Kimberly Washington

click here to check out our SPOTLIGHT on each member of Cohort '18

Seeking nominations for PGDG Cohort 2018

This is our fifth annual call for PGDG nominations. Started in 2014, we have four cohorts of amazing women leaders who come together to share their experiences of doing good! each year we grow the membership through your nominations.


Here are a few testimonials from some of our current members. We hope these inspire you to nominate a colleague or friend to become a member.


“Being welcomed into the PGDG family changed my outlook on Philadelphia. Meeting these women who create meaningful change in various sectors in our city, widened my network and exposed me to new ideas, businesses, and collaboration opportunities. I'm grateful my contributions were recognized in this way, and will continue to be an active part of PGDG—and the lives and careers of those involved —for as long as they will have me!”

–Leigh Goldenberg, Executive Director of Theatre Philadelphia    PGDG 2016


“Philly Girls Do Good: Generations of women activists and advocates, all in one place, with wine. What could be a better way to gather strength for local action to counter the madness (often male madness, just let it be said) gripping our federal government?”

–Kiki Bolender, Founding Principal of Bolender Architects    PGDG 2014


“I have enjoyed having the opportunity to interact with other PGDG members, especially those from different fields or even similar fields but different areas of expertise, we all have a common thread in that we all want to ‘do good.’ PDGDG lets us be open to just listening and learning about the other’s field or challenges and having the opportunity to recognize the similarities or differences and explore them a bit to a mutual benefit.”

–Jill Roberts, Executive Director of the Healthy Rowhouse Project    PGDG 2017


"Being part of PGDG (since the first class) has been a great way to grow and connect with ambitious, active women that want this City to flourish in all sorts of ways--from soul to skyscraper. It's an even better network of professionals that face similar challenges and encourages one to persevere."

–Erike De Veyra, consummate volunteer architect    PGDG 2014


“Becoming a member of the PGDG community has been incredible. I've (finally) met some women I've long admired and have become fans of others. In fact, the latter point has been incredibly rewarding, as I've met several women from industries different from my own, and have grown from conversations, some which have led to exploring collaboration around projects. Each PGDG class is awesome and I'm grateful to be a member of the PGDG Network.”

–Valerie Gay, Executive Director of the Art Sanctuary    PGDG 2017


Can We Talk About Equity?

Two heavy hitters from our PGDG Cohort 2017 discuss real initiatives to build Inclusivity toward Equity

By SOPHIA LEE with additional content from Locus Partners

Exploring Equity

We like juicy topics. To continue our summer blog theme of equity and its many subtexts, we brought some heavy hitters into the conversation: Anne Papageorge and Rebecca Johnson. Locus Partners sat down to learn from these two members of PGDG Cohort 2017 about the institutional initiatives each of them are involved with to advance equity in the design fields. Anne is the Vice President of Facilities and Real Estate Services at University of Pennsylvania and Rebecca is Executive Director at AIA Philadelphia and the Center for Architecture and Design.


Equity is a BROAD TOPIC. To talk about equity in the design professions and our urban communities means we are really discussing inclusivity of various minority groups—or lack thereof. For example, Rebecca pointed out how hard it is to have a conversation about racial equity in architecture when there isn’t a single person of color present in the room! Anne mentioned Impolite Conversations, a book by Cora Daniels and John L. Jackson Jr. that describes how difficult it can be to be honest and open when we try to talk about difficult topics.

So who is talking about Equity?

Rebecca is working with AIA Philadelphia’s Board of Directors to host a series of Town Hall meetings with members and the broader design and construction community to discuss values—to explore, “What do architects stand for?” Upcoming Town Halls will address the topics of “Equitable Neighborhoods” and “Diversity in the Profession,” the results of which will help develop direction for AIA Philadelphia’s Strategic Plan. Our discussion focused on the diversity angle: it’s time to address the pipeline..

Rebecca was excited to share that AIA Philadelphia has been hard at work mapping an architectural curriculum for the Common Core (CCSS). To broaden the demographic diversity in the design professions, we must broaden the base of applicants for college. Educating a broad base—including people who aren’t represented in the profession today—at a younger age, from elementary through high schools, will broaden the demographic of those entering the field. So for four weeks in four schools during spring 2018, they will pilot an Architecture in Education program with 3rd through 6th grade students. The coursework will be interactive and feature game-style modules to keep kids interested and engaged. We’ll ask Rebecca to report back!

Anne and her team, along with Penn Medicine, have been involved with the ACE Mentor Program, which connects high school students with industry professionals in architecture, construction, or engineering. Sponsoring two groups for the last three years, UPenn has also introduced the students to operations and maintenance, demonstrating a fuller picture of how a building comes into being, and then its lifecycle considerations.

Beyond the design disciplines alone, Anne attests that Inclusion is at the forefront of UPenn’s goals to improve the institution. Penn President, Dr. Amy Gutmann, has committed to PennCOMPACT2020, a university-wide initiative to push forward Inclusion, Innovation, and Impact. It takes many forms, including increasing access for students from all socioeconomic backgrounds with financial aid, especially students who are first-generation college students. Anne says that measuring progress and demonstrating the positive outcomes has enabled this effort to be sustained.

Equity: it’s hard to be the little guy (or gal!)

AIA Philadelphia Town Halls will also address firm health and prosperity. Rebecca attests that many architecture professionals have been breaking out of bigger offices to set up their own practice. This affords a degree of flexibility and work-life balance that is not available in the traditional firm. The work culture and lack of diversity in many traditional firms may squeeze many (especially women) out to pursue work in related fields, or to apply their skills to seemingly unrelated work pursuits. Anne points out that the needs of larger projects are beyond the capabilities of smaller businesses.

One question PGDG tries to address is how it can support small design businesses and community development organizations to help them grow.

Danielle and Sylvia chimed in from their perspective as owners of Locus Partners, which is a small, WBE certified business. There is a lot of movement for local business, municipal, and institutional procurement initiatives to remedy the representation of small or minority-owned businesses on contracts. For example, Rebuild Philadelphia will work with Project Users to invest upwards of $500M in Philadelphia’s parks, rec centers, and playgrounds. Rebuild will include contract requirements, from design through construction, to compel inclusion.

Moreover, there are several relatively new programs geared to small and diverse businesses and non-profit organizations to assist them in accessing financial, networking, and educational resources. In Philadelphia, the Sustainable Business Network, Chamber of Commerce, and the Arts and Business Council offer such resources. The Enterprise Center helps to grow minority-owned firms through capital, business education, and opportunities. PIDC offers workshops and capital access to small and diverse business owners. A national initiative, the federal SBA mentor-protégé program offers a model especially relevant to design professions. By connecting a small business “protégé” with a larger “mentor” firm, they each benefit from the association. The mentor may compete for a job set aside for small business. In exchange, they support the small business in fulfilling the bulk of the contract. That’s a good example of competitive inclusion that benefits all.

Thanks, Sophia!

We would like to thank Sophia Lee for her leadership in the PGDG Blog from its inception. Sophia was instrumental in launching the Philly Girls Do Good Blog, introducing us to bloggers and new audience, organizing conversations with PGDG members, and writing for the blog. Sophia will be shifting her time and energies to other personal and professional pursuits. In her words, she is "getting more involved in the leadership of the women's cycling community in Philly through Women Bike PHL, an incredible organization that teaches women to race bikes and build a community to change the statistic of USA Cycling (USAC) membership consisting of 83% men. [She] will be co-coaching the first year of WBPHL Development Cyclocross racing team this fall, which will be quite a big time commitment." —Best of luck, Sophia! We hope you'll come to our next panel convo and keep asking the great questions!

Women's Leadership Advances Workplace Equity

Women@Langan—a model of good business practice to retain and advance women in the design professions.


This is our second in a series of posts following a conversation led by PGDG blogger, Sophia Lee, with three of our Cohort ’17 members, Charlene Drake, Kelly Vresilovic, and Maggie Reed. Our official topic of sustainability provided the framework for that discussion, with each of the women offering such unique content, we decided they each deserve their own post. Today we are happy to provide the platform for Charlene Drake to present the great initiative she's involved in—being a woman leader supporting women's leadership— @Langan. Let's learn from the model.               —Sylvia & Danielle

Women@Langan was created as an internal employee resource group about two years ago to foster an atmosphere of mentorship and support to empower women to achieve career and personal success. Over the past two years, I have connected with many women who want to create or energize a similar program at their own companies. It can be difficult and even scary to bring change to an established organization. To help you, I’d like to share how we started, how we are succeeding, and where we are headed.

To set the stage—Langan Engineering and Environmental Services is a multi-disciplinary firm that was founded as a geotechnical firm and has expanded to include site survey and civil engineering, traffic, landscape architecture, ecological resource management and many facets of environmental compliance and site remediation. The three founders of Women@Langan represent this diversity. Caryn Barnes, LSRP, leads our environmental practice here in Philadelphia, Michele O’Connor, PE, LEED AP, leads the site/civil group in New York City, and Cristina Gonzalez, PE is a leader of our geotechnical practice and the Principal-in-Charge of the Miami and Ft. Lauderdale offices. Inspired by a desire to mentor and advocate for women leaders, the Women@Langan founders consulted their professional networks and did their research. They reviewed statistics about the representation of women in science and engineering fields at the college level, at staff levels in industry, and at leadership and ownership levels in the engineering fields. They explored the benefits of implementing an employee resource group, specifically looking at retaining women at the mid-point of their career. The research showed that not only does implementing these programs attract and retain talent, but there are demonstrated benefits to the bottom line that come from diversity. Ultimately, the founders presented their proposal to our Board of Directors resulting in the launch of Women@Langan in September 2015.

Women@Langan’s Doylestown group dressed in pink during the Breast Cancer Walk to commemorate Breast Cancer Awareness Month

“I’ve been in the industry for over 25 years and it’s still hard to find female senior role models,” said O’Connor. “Women are looking for other women to support them and help them achieve career and personal success, which is why we felt it was essential to create Women@Langan.”

Women@Langan had a good foundation, but it takes a lot of dedicated people to run a women’s resource group for a company of more than 1,000 employees, with over 40% women. There is a Women@Langan group in each of our 22 US offices and in Mexico and Panama. Women@Langan has even been active in remote offices with only one woman! Each office has a leadership team, and we report back quarterly on our activities. To foster communication, we are converting our sharepoint site into an external newsletter at the end of the year. Each office has a high degree of autonomy in the frequency and type of program they implement. Volunteers are encouraged to lead programs in their topics of interest to their office. Programs are open to everyone in the office, and are attended by women and men alike.  

Langan employees were treated to a sneak peak of the Philadelphia Rail Park during a Women@Langan-sponsored tour. Phase I of construction is on track to open in 2018!

The list of the over 100 Women@Langan events implemented by our team in the first year was unfurled at Langan’s Manager’s Meeting to resounding applause. Programs have ranged from monthly lunch sessions where we watch and discuss a TED Talk (on topics like time management, finding your motivation, and body language) to our flagship event last year: The Women@Langan Leadership Summit held in New York City. The Summit, Trailblazing a Path to Leadership, featured a panel of industry leaders, a keynote by Marilyn Jordan Taylor of University of Pennsylvania, and an informative training session on the attributes of leadership by Robyn Forman Pollack of Trellis Consulting. We’ve held mixers with other women’s groups, sponsored philanthropic activities, and invited guest speakers on topics such as public speaking and internal networking. In one of my favorite programs, Stacey Darrohn, Director of Safety and Loss Control at Turner Construction, held a workshop on effective communication on the construction site, which included informative and entertaining role playing on the challenges women can face in that environment.

Namaste! Women@Langan’s New York group prepared their minds for the day ahead during yoga session on International Women’s Day;

Ladies at Langan’s Panama City office enjoyed an internal networking opportunity (with delicious dishes) during a Women@Langan lunch;

Photo op at the first annual W@L Leadership Summit on March 29, 2017.— David Gockel, Caryn Barnes, Victoria Cerami, Anne Papageorge, Palmina Whelan, Michele O’Connor, Richard Anderson

“Because W@L is a relatively new, I’m always looking for ways to grow the initiative,” Barnes said. ”When I’m at networking events, I often ask people if they have an internal women’s’ resource group. I only get one of two answers; either “Yes, and we’d love to connect with you to share our successes!” or, “No, but we really want to and we’d love to hear how you started your program and hear about the successes you’ve had so far.” It’s been a great way to network with other like-minded companies who are looking to retain and advance women.”

Women@Langan strives to be a resource for women in the business community. If you are looking to invigorate your women’s resource group, or mustering your energy to start one, we’d love to connect with you. I’ve worked in brownfields redevelopment and environmental consulting in Philadelphia for the past 20+ years and I love my job, but I have to say that the chance to support women leaders through Women@Langan, Philly Girls Do Good, and the Urban Land Institute Women’s Leadership Initiative here in Philly has given me a whole new level of motivation. Being part of Women@Langan has created opportunities to network internally and externally, and I always have something to talk about if I am feeling awkward at a conference or happy hour.

Looking ahead, we want to keep up the enthusiasm and momentum. Some of our offices have incorporated men into their leadership teams and we have champions throughout the Langan leadership team. One challenge is to reach beyond our core group and engage more of our colleagues to express themselves and learn so we can avoid being in our own “echo chamber.” We’ll do this by continuing to be inclusive and offering vital personal and business resources and energy.

Even women who are just starting out can take control of their own careers by strengthening their network and learning leadership from leaders. Stay tuned to this blog for upcoming events and ways to engage. We have a lot of fun. Langan is always on the lookout for talented professionals; check out our website to learn more https://www.langan.com/jobs/.

Charlene Drake is a Senior Project Manager at Langan Engineering in Philadelphia. She is an advocate of women's leadership, a Tae Kwon Do black belt, and devoted recycler. She is a member of PGDG Cohort 2017.


A Quest for Equitable Sustainability

Promoting Justice through Green Design in Architecture


A few weeks ago, PGDG blogger, Sophia Lee, sat down with us along with three of our Cohort ’17 members, Charlene Drake, Kelly Vresilovic, and Maggie Reed to discuss their work in sustainability. As broad as that topic could be, the conversation strayed to related concerns at the forefront of our minds and PGDG actions today—notably: Politics (we’ll spare you), Equity, and Women in Leadership. Long story short, we landed with material for more than one blog post. As a result, today’s and a couple future posts will feature each of these PGDG members, each with her specific variation on the theme—to see what PGDG offers as facets of the meaning and practice of Sustainability. Here's what Maggie has to say.                                  —Sylvia & Danielle

Sustainability, and more specifically the green building arm of sustainability, has long been considered a “nice to have”. It’s been called costly, hard to navigate, too technical, elite, or requires specialized skills. Those in the field who practice sustainability on a daily basis know this is not the case. In 2013 USGBC’s Community Advancement team began to explore ways to engage underserved and underrepresented audiences specifically around the benefits of sustainability. It became apparent that one of the biggest hurdles involves taking these perceptions and misconceptions and breaking them down.

ADVANCE is a framework to increase access to resources and expertise for new, underserved and underrepresented audiences. ADVANCE is built to meet organizations and communities wherever they are on the path to sustainability and assist them along that path.

The Philadelphia community is fertile ground for campaigns such as ADVANCE. As a Philadelphia ADVANCE Ambassador, I teamed up with Frank Sherman, one of the first generation of USGBC volunteers, and we started to meet with community-based groups to talk about sustainability and USGBC’s ADVANCE Campaign. More importantly, our goal is to understand what their mission, goals, and frameworks are so we can find volunteers to help these organizations understand and take actions that increase health, energy, and resource performance. From these initial meetings, we identified two groups now being served by ADVANCE Philadelphia: Action Wellness and the Southwest CDC. Over the past few months we have identified additional organizations who are interested in an ADVANCE campaign of their own.

Our work with SWCDC is what I would like to highlight today. SWCDC is 30-year old Community Development Corporation that pours its heart into the community every day. They work with residents and businesses in the Southwest neighborhoods of Philadelphia and have a strong track record of success. The organization was interested not only in making their building greener and more sustainable, but they are also interested in ways they can use sustainability to improve the local community.

The goal of ADVANCE is to guide participants through the green building process in a collaborative, explorative, and engaged manner. It’s an opportunity to leverage all the green building expertise in our community.  Using local green building experts and a framework established by USGBC, we began the process through a Kickstart workshop with board and staff members.

Kickstart is a values-based workshop that explores how green building/sustainability values align with the mission, goals, and values of the organization. It ignites collaborative engagement and understanding of where everyone is on their journey to green. Following the December 2016 Kickstart event, we began a cycle of information gathering which culminated in March 2017 with a full building assessment. Following a review of the information collected, we then moved on to helping SWCDC build a customized plan.

Planbuilder uses a workshop format to engage key decision makers within the organization. It is designed to help them define performance goals and identify appropriate strategies to meet these goals. Once again, we enlisted board members and staff to review 6 main green building categories and begin to think about goals and strategies that the organization can use to move their building toward green. This process helps organizations determine what is of immediate importance, what no- and low-cost actions can be immediately implemented, and what may take a financial investment.

The amazing thing at the end of the day is that everyone involved has become a de-facto green advocate for the organization and are now able to begin the journey to becoming a more sustainable organization. Our next steps will be to roll out a comprehensive plan to SWCDC’s Board of Directors and to confirm which goals and strategies, created by the newly empowered SWCDC green team, will implement over the next 6, 9, and 12 months.

It is exhilarating to see people engage when they realize that sustainability is accessible and implementable. As team leaders, I work with Frank to provide training and volunteers to make these events possible, but it is the community of passionate volunteers, and empowered community members that make great things happen.

Maggie Reed is Project Manager at Gilbane Building Company, the Philadelphia ADVANCE Ambassador for USGBC ADVANCE, and Co-Chair for the Philadelphia Emerging Architects Committee of AIA Philadelphia. She is a member of PGDG Cohort 2017.


Women Creating Equitable Places and Good Practices

PGDG’s 3rd Annual Open Conversation hosted by Locus Partners and The Philadelphia Citizen


“We are claiming this as our space. We have a right to be here,” Dr. Carmen Febo San Miguel, Executive Director of Taller Puertorriqueño, said in a soft-spoken but forceful voice. She was referencing the development and December, 2016 opening of El Corazón Cultural Center in North Philadelphia—but her emphasis was more universal. Building an equitable place is about “claiming a space where we can celebrate who we are as human beings.”

On Tuesday, June 13, Locus Partners convened their 3rd annual Philly Girls Do Good Open Conversation, co-presented this year by The Philadelphia Citizen to draw a broad audience of Philadelphia’s proactive citizenry. The evening’s program assembled an expert panel to discuss building “Equitable Places and Good Practices” in design and community development. The conversation was moderated by executive editor of the Philadelphia Citizen, Roxanne Patel Shepelavy, and included members of PGDG Cohort ‘17, Jill Roberts, Executive Director of the Healthy Row House Project, Donna Carney, Director of the Citizens Planning Institute, and Carmen, alongside co-founder of Locus Partners and Philly Girls Do Good, Danielle DiLeo Kim.

Perhaps it is Carmen’s 38-year career as a physician, but something about the way she said “human beings” struck a chord. There was an implicit caring for each individual person and our common humanity. Celebrating our unique identities and tapping into a sense of pride in home, neighborhood and city were themes emphasized by each panelist.

“It’s incredible” Jill Roberts commented, “the pride that people, whether they own or rent, have in their own home.” For Jill, building an equitable place has always been about healthy housing and she sees tapping into that sense of pride as one tool in helping Philadelphia residents improve their homes. “It is simple. It should not be a privilege to have a healthy home. Everyone should have one.” Right now, Jill is leading the Healthy Row House Project towards their goal of creating financial instruments and programs to help low- to moderate-income homeowners repair their homes.

In Philadelphia, the home improvement loan denial rate is 62%—high enough to make most people suck in their breath during Jill’s presentations. While the connection between home and health seems obvious to her, it is apparently not so clear to others. The right people aren’t talking to each other. “People working in health, they aren’t talking to the people who are dealing with housing” Jill said, “and people who are talking about health and housing aren’t talking to the people who understand financing.” The Healthy Row House Project is working on improving communication and they are seeing progress: City Council President Darrell Clarke recently introduced a bill to create a Tax Foreclosure Diversion Program to help keep people in their homes. Ultimately their goal is to restore health to 5,000 homes a year.

While the Healthy Row House Project is focusing on housing as a key to equitable development, the Citizen’s Planning Institute (CPI) is providing education to residents about the planning, zoning and development process so they can effectively advocate on behalf of their communities. Donna Carney didn’t initially think of CPI as playing a key role in equitable development until the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations credited the program for improving citizens’ capacity to create inclusive communities. Over the past seven years, CPI has received over 1,400 applicants for the low-cost course and 420 Philadelphia residents have graduated from the program. With so many applicants to choose from, CPI selects residents who demonstrate participation and pride in their communities. One audience member was hailed as a prime example: CPI graduate and PGDG Cohort ’15 member, Joyce Smith, has helped the Viola Street Residents Association in East Parkside work with developers in the community, and she has recently taken up Jill Roberts’ call for housing preservation and healthy homes in the neighborhood. She attended Tuesday’s panel discussion to connect with Jill to get their mutual agenda addressed.

For Danielle, building equitable places begins with thoughtful engagement—a hallmark of Locus Partners’ planning and design process. For a community revitalization project in Wilmington, Delaware’s West Side, Locus Partners strategized a way to bring disparate community groups together to address common concerns and interests. First attuning themselves to each group’s identity and needs, through a process of engagement-based design, they developed a series of playful open spaces to unify the neighborhood and its resources. This commitment to problem-solving with community, and the seamless integration of urban design, landscape architecture, and urban planning is Locus Partners’ strength. Locus Partners is breaking ground with their interdisciplinary approach toward social and environmental justice. While many clients come to them with a specific discipline in mind, Danielle thinks one of the keys to equitable development is looking at problems holistically, leading clients to understand they need more than a design, they need “urban strategy.”

In the audience, Gabriella Nelson, a current student in Penn’s City & Regional Planning Master’s program and CPI grad, was happy to hear such a clear emphasis on people when talking about equitable development. She had been looking for conversation that focused on community in the development process when she heard of Philly Girls Do Good. “It had everything I was interested in,” she said “people, community, outreach, and women.”

The twelve year process of developing El Corazon Cultural Center definitely had people at its heart. The new facility has become a significant resource for the Latino community—hosting everything from an American Heart Association Event for 200 Latina women, to a family’s Quinceañera celebration. But Carmen acknowledges that just developing a physical space is not enough to overcome negative perceptions of a place and build equity. “We’re hoping that the magnetism, the beauty of the space will challenge some of those perceptions.” Carmen said. “That the art we produce will continue to overcome those barriers and bring more and more people to the community.” But, “Build it and they will come?” she questions. “Not necessarily, right? We are very aware of that challenge.”

Together, with a focus on healthy housing, free expression of cultural identity, civic education, and community engagement, the Philly Girls on this panel are piecing together the puzzle of building an equitable city. 


Building Community Connections Through Arts & Culture


 “Artists are the Research & Development group for humanity,” Georgia Guthrie, Executive Director of The Hacktory, said at the start of our conversation, quoting Zach Lieberman, a media artist and programmer. It’s an idea she has taken to heart. The Hacktory, founded in 2007 to provide formal instruction on technical topics and a space where people can use sophisticated digital tools, derives its name from two root words: “hack” – to find a new (sometimes inelegant) solution to a problem and “factory” – a place where products are made, or art, in reference to Andy Warhol’s Factory.

When Georgia started attending the Hacktory’s first course, Microcontrollers for Artists and Makers, which taught people the technical skills behind working with small computers on a single integrated circuit that can be used in all sorts of devices, she noticed a lot of hobbyists coming in and out. Artists came less frequently. The cost of the classes proved to be one barrier for interested artists but another was their self-perceptions. Georgia would hear a refrain “oh, I’m an artist.” Translation: “I’m not a tech person.” She called their bluff.

Believing that it is critical for artists to work with technology as a medium like any other, Georgia, whose volunteer work with the Hacktory eventually landed her as Executive Director, won a grant from the Knight Foundation to create a special residency for artists. The Unknown Territory Residency (so-called because arts and tech is still a new frontier) allows Philadelphia-based artists who are established in visual or performance art to experiment with programming or technology over a 6-month period. Through the residency and on-going classes, Georgia has found that creating an environment where artists feel welcome is crucial to getting them in the door. In turn, welcoming artists into the world of tech has helped the Hacktory expand its programming to engage younger students in after school workshops in machines, digital programming and electronics, including a joint course with Fleisher Art Memorial.

At Fleisher Art Memorial, Executive Director Liz Grimaldi says creating a welcoming environment has been key to Fleisher’s success in making art education accessible to all Philadelphia residents, regardless of economic means or artistic experience. Providing that welcome is as critical today as it was when Samuel S. Fleisher, the son of German Jewish immigrants and vice-president of a successful wool company, started the Graphic Sketch Club to offer free art education to neighborhood children in 1898. Since then, the Graphic Sketch Club evolved into the Fleisher Art Memorial, which continues Fleisher’s vision of making art accessible to everyone, including a long history of serving South Philadelphia’s immigrant communities.

To guide their efforts in connecting with the growing populations of Southeast Asian and Mexican families in South Philadelphia, Fleisher staff engaged in multiple listening sessions with community members and developed an internal community engagement mantra: “Come to Us. Show Us. Welcome Us.” This resulted in initiatives such as ColorWheels, a mobile art studio that brings a teaching artist and lesson into a neighborhood. Once community members discover Fleisher and art-making, staff work to ensure that the experience onsite is as warm and welcoming as its initiatives offsite. Faculty members receive professional development in arts-based community engagement and Fleisher has added multi-lingual staff and faculty, with the capacity to talk with new families in Russian, Cantonese, Mandarin, Khmer, and Spanish.

Liz reflected on increased enrollment in classes, “Fleisher is a community space. In one of our free classes, you might have a person of considerable privilege who feels comfortable here, making art next to a person who has just arrived in Philadelphia as a result of displacement, is learning English, navigating new policies, and who values art as a way to process emotions, next to a person who has just graduated, has three roommates and needs studio space. Here, they’re all artists. More than ever, we need spaces where people of different perspectives can find common ground.” Not surprisingly, the art produced at Fleisher is reflecting the current political climate. “We have our Annual Adult Student Exhibit up right now and you can definitely sense political urgency through some of the art,” she said.

The change in tone in Fleisher’s student art show is not surprising to Michelle Freeman, Executive Director of Witty Gritty, a business that creates purpose-driven experiences through marketing, community engagement and event production, and who has seen a significant rise in social practice art, where artists are engaging directly with residents to give their opinions and concerns a visual voice.  For example, when Flying Kite Magazine, now locally produced by Witty Gritty, started their neighborhood program “On the Ground” in 2012-2013, they took over temporary residency in four different neighborhood storefronts over the course of the year and hired local artists in each community to make the space feel welcoming.  One result of the program was a joint show. “We worked with the Painted Bride to have all of the artists in the neighborhoods come together to show a joint exhibit for a month. We saw a lot of interaction between artists that would never have talked to each other.” Moreover, connecting neighborhood-based artists also helped connect local residents.

Now Witty Gritty is working with Temple Contemporary, the art gallery at Tyler School of Art, on social media and community engagement for the Symphony for a Broken Orchestra. Through this initiative, recently profiled on philly.com, hundreds of broken instruments have been retrieved from closets in Philadelphia School District Schools to be catalogued, analyzed and put up for adoption in Temple Contemporary. Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, David Lang will develop a symphony using the instruments in their broken state to be performed one time in October. Money raised from the symphony will be used to make instrument repairs, return fixed instruments to the schools and provide education about instrument repair to local music teachers – helping to improve music education in Philadelphia.

For Michelle, one of the biggest challenges facing community arts is the tendency to talk about art as the actor. Referencing Erica Hawthorne of Small but Might Arts, Michelle said her philosophy is that “people will say a mural on a wall is life changing, when it is really the artist that was the mechanism for the change.” Valuing artists and the skills they bring to the community process is critical to advancing community based art. Georgia couldn’t agree more. As she said in the beginning of our conversation, “Artists are the ones that will help us see what’s possible.”

Attend these upcoming events to see the critical work of these organizations first hand:

Junkbot Jam and Joust
A robot-themed fundraiser for The Hacktory
Saturday, April 15th, Friends Meeting House, 15th and Cherry

Building Philadelphia’s Community Art Spaces
Panel discussion about Arts & Community Making, moderated by Liz Grimaldi
Saturday, April 8th, El Corazon Cultural Center, 2600 N 5th Street

Symphony for a Broken Orchestra
October 2017
Tickets released this Spring! Sign up online for advanced notice.

Represent! Education Policy in Pennsylvania


Why is PGDG interested in education policy in Pennsylvania? Public Education is a cornerstone of Community Development. Friday morning, Danielle and I sat amidst nearly a hundred attendees at a gathering organized by Represent! PAC to learn more about current issues in education policy and how we progressive women in Philadelphia can work to turn it around. The roll call of statistics presented a dire situation. But the panel discussion moderator, Christine Jacobs, founding board member of Represent! (impromptu stand-up comedian), pointed out that a banquet table of donuts were provided to keep us engaged. We fed ourselves while listening to the FACTS (remember those?) and eventually starting to understand how crucial it is to PLUG IN NOW if we hope to shift the tide toward support of public education in PA.

Represent! is not one, but actually TWO political action committees (a state PAC and a federal PAC) formed to increase the number of Democratic women elected in 2016 to representative office in Pennsylvania and from PA to DC. So here the sad statistics begin. A century ago, Pennsylvania women led the way for representation in public office, but today only 17% of the PA General Assembly is women. Now here’s how Represent! will change that: already, a full 75% of democratic women currently in the State House of Representatives are Represent! endorsed candidates.

And the first call to action—support Represent! now, for the 2017 election cycle, so Represent! can support more women, identified for their capacity to WIN.

Following the rally cry of introduction to Represent!’s mission and impact, Christine shifted our attention to today’s Breakfast Briefing topic. The guest panel to address education policy in PA included Represent!-endorsed State Representative, Maureen Madden, along with Deborah Gordon Klehr of the Education Law Center, and Ebony English of Partners in School Innovation, and Claire Roberson-Kraft, PhD, Director of ImpactED. Each of these impressive do-gooders described her path to her current work, each informed by extensive training and broad experience in the fields of education and public policy.

Deborah brought the payload of bad news (reminder: go to donuts). Pennsylvania ranks 46th in the country for state education funding. They use a formula for apportioning funding that is based on history not need. PA ranks DEAD LAST (and by that I mean FIRST) in disparity of funding for the poorest versus richest school districts. Last year there was a TEN MONTH delay in delivery of funding from the state to our schools. Here’s the good news. Legislation was passed last spring to change the apportioning model. Deborah stresses that the new formula is important in that it "takes into account poverty, number of ELLs, tax effort, tax capacity, etc. It’s just that [PA only sends] 6% of the state’s basic education funding through that formula. It’s the other 94% that is sent out not through the formula but rather based on history not need. A formula is only as good as the dollars sent through it."

Claire is a passionate researcher who started as a teacher and worked in policy development before launching ImpactED at UPenn’s Fels Institute of Government. From that three-pronged foundation, she advocates for informing education policy through research—the research representing the perspective and experience of on-the-ground practitioners (read teachers and school administrators). It is the practitioners who know from their direct experience the impact of policy on the children and communities they serve.

Ebony’s work is in the realm of these practitioners, consulting at schools that are most impacted by state funding policy. With a background in public school teaching at the middle school level, to kids with autism, and in the Head Start program, she now trains teachers and staff how to transform the learning experience for kids in public school as well as English learners. Through her work, she hopes to change the narrative about public schools in support of school equity. And no, the answer is not vouchers. Great things are happening in public schools, and those victories are drowned out by proponents of alternative school system models.

Representative Madden urges we must anticipate the new federal administration’s policy that compromises the public school system. With foresight, she has already introduced legislation to protect transgender and LGBT kids’ rights at school including House Bill 303. With regard to funding, she described the new “Fair Funding Formula” as not nearly enough to make up for a twenty year policy called “Hold Harmless” which promised not to decrease funding to school districts even while they lost population, as well as the gutting of school funding during the Corbett years. Hold onto your hat, this is because the new formula would only be applied to six percent (6% !) of the overall funding—not enough to make a dent in the current pattern of inequity.

So what’s the answer? How is a small pie divided to resolve school equity? Perhaps the pie should grow. Pennsylvania is the ONLY STATE with natural resources that does not have a severance imposed. In Texas, there is a tax of 8-9% on resource profits to benefit its population. Education funding MUST come, not from property taxes, as property values decline, but from a natural gas tax of at least 5%.

What else? ADVOCATE for what is important to you. Implementation on-the-ground matters. Volunteer at your local public school, write letters to the editor of your local papers, write blog posts! And VOTE! Every election matters. There is an election THIS MAY where progressive Democratic dames can make more headway. Check out what Represent! is doing to support candidates positioned to make change. Madden declares DT (aka, the Administration) is “the gift that keeps on giving” —in that every time he opens his mouth, he rallies THOUSANDS.

On my way out of the Represent! breakfast briefing, another attendee confirmed that Deborah (and the Education Law Center) is both an authority on the statistics (however dire), and the BEST source for talking points to engage your elected officials. Representative Madden says, don’t talk to those in our camp, talk to (call, post-card, rally) the representatives who have been there too long, voting the wrong way. Apparently her office can offer some ideas of where/with whom to start (so give them a call first).

So let’s get started, EH? After all, we are NOT moving to Canada. We are staying here, to Represent!

Tackling Poverty: One block, rowhouse, and wall at a time


Recently we sat down with three members from the 2017 Cohort of Philly Girls Do Good to discuss their roles in community development— Valerie Gay, Executive Director of Art Sanctuary; Jill Roberts, Executive Director of the Healthy Rowhouse Project; and Joanna Winchester, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC). The women quickly bonded over their common goal of eradicating poverty in Philadelphia. They identified universal themes of cultivating ownership and empowerment, and also shared individual success stories from the neighborhoods in which they work. These three women are committed to equipping people with tools and identifying resources that will continue to strengthen communities throughout Philadelphia.

Joanna described NKCDC’s innovative programs and partnerships with organizations to offer wraparound services and expand current offerings to residents. She emphasized that art is not just ancillary, but rather an important thread that runs through the NKCDC’s work. Valerie agreed that culture is present in everything she does and helping community members find their voice is key. Art Sanctuary carries out its mission to use Black Art to transform communities by reaching out to makers and training them to teach local children. Valerie joyfully clarified, “You don’t have to be Black to appreciate Black Art!” Art is present in all neighborhoods, and artists are everywhere. By arming the artists with employable skills, it serves both our communities and the artists themselves.

Valerie’s holistic approach extends beyond her job. Recently she moved back into her childhood home and connected with her neighbors through a spontaneous art project: creating a neighborhood-built mosaic on an existing wall. This transformed an eyesore into a gathering space as neighbors collected broken, discarded items and added them to the collaborative art piece. A street corner which once was a dumping ground for trash has become a beautiful, clean place in which neighbors feel invested and proud.

Jill emphasized ownership and homeowner support as part of a broader effort to stabilize neighborhoods. The Healthy Rowhouse Project recognizes that creative financing is needed for homeowners to make critical home repairs in order to maintain safe and healthy homes and stabilize neighborhood blocks. The Project collects data to understand the gap between currently available funding sources and what types of new products could be offered to homeowners for preservation of Philadelphia’s iconic rowhouses. The whole conversation group recognized that the poor “health” and condition of a rowhouse can contribute to long-term and chronic diseases such as asthma and lead poisoning. Jill declared that a home is personally symbolic, and for a homeowner to say “I own this house” provides grounding to his/her family and supports them to pursue other goals as well.

All three women agreed that the aim of their work is to treat the root causes of poverty instead of just the symptoms. Often residents are told about the weaknesses and deficiencies in their communities. So instead, focusing on a community’s strengths can be transformative and powerful. Joanna spoke about a program which identifies and empowers block leaders to take on a project and enlist their neighbors to get it done. Instead of looking at it as a scarcity problem, it celebrates the people and resources that are already there to champion a solution. Jill pointed to how important it is for design solutions to be unique to each neighborhood and block and not cookie-cutter. Positive change will be longer lasting when initiatives start with listening to residents from within their own communities.

Valerie wrapped up our conversation by sharing her belief that gathering a disparate group of people around a table and attacking a problem together can lead to a stronger and more creative solution. In this case, poverty can be addressed from multiple approaches that neither supersede nor separate from each other. We could not have said it better ourselves, while the aim of Philly Girls Do Good is to connect women who are already tackling challenges on their own and to strengthen their efforts by exchanging ideas and working together. Thank you to Valerie, Jill and Joanna for sharing your thoughts, and we look forward to learning more about your ongoing good works! 

​Work like a Girl: Businesses Need You


Today, white women earn 78 cents for every dollar a man makes. For women of color, the average rate is even lower – 52 to 64 cents. At this rate, Sallie Krawcheck, former Wall Street executive, says men and women won’t earn equivalent pay until 2133.[i] That’s 116 more years!

While this ever-present pay gap is concerning, it’s the long-term effects of the investment gap between men and women that propelled Sallie Krawcheck to write Own It: The Power of Women at Work and to found Ellevest, a digital investment platform for women.  Most women don’t invest to the same extent as men. As a result, women retire with two-thirds the money men do and live five years longer![ii]  The Arts & Business Council of Greater Philadelphia, a non-profit supported by the Chamber of Commerce, hosted Krawcheck at the Academy of Natural Sciences on January 25th for a frank conversation about how to take advantage of good news: the business world is changing and women’s skills will be in high demand. Harnessing these skills will help women close these financial gaps and realize their economic power.

Sallie Krawcheck has held some of the highest positions on Wall Street, including CEO of Smith Barney, CEO of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and CFO of Citigroup.  She credits her unique perspective as a woman in a sea of men for propelling her to the top and landing her on the front page of Fortune in 2002 under the headline “The Last Honest Analyst.” She says conventional advice for working women, to “act like a man” may have helped in the past but it is woefully out of date. Instead, women should focus on six uniquely feminine qualities that make them stand out in the work place:

1.     Risk awareness
Women think through risk carefully and are less likely to mistake confidence for competence.

2.     Managing complexity
Women consider all options before making decisions.

3.     Relationship skills
Women foster relationships and react with empathy.

4.     Long term thinking
Women tend to favor long term benefits over short term gain.

5.     Love of learning
Women show a desire for life-long learning.

6.     Desire for meaning and purpose
oThe number one thing women look for in work is meaning and purpose. Money ranks at number four while it’s number one for men.[iii]

By emphasizing strong female traits, Krawcheck says women bring an attribute sorely lacking on Wall Street and in business– diversity. According to her, one of the main contributors to the stock market crash in 2008 was groupthink. Too many men surrounded by too many other men in the same social circles reassuring each other that subprime mortgages were a sound investment or at least a risk worth taking.[iv] More women in business means more diversity, better businesses and more money in women’s pockets. Krawcheck also affirmed that these recommendations are not about excluding the guys but about including the women. “I love middle aged white guys” she says, “I have been married to a couple of them.”

While Krawcheck’s theories come from her Wall Street experience, these attributes apply to other fields as well.

Valerie Gay, Executive Director of the Arts Sanctuary and PGDG ’17 provided closing remarks to the event. Across her career spanning three sectors (banking, academia and non-profit arts), Gay agrees with Krawcheck’s emphasis on diversity; “I firmly believe that when we fully embrace diversity, and look for individuals who will complement not copy the attributes, skills and thoughts of the existing structure – workplaces and indeed society will be stronger and healthier.”

Krawcheck’s emphasis on women’s strength in risk awareness hit home for Leigh Goldenberg, Executive Director of Theatre Philadelphia and a member of the 2016 PGDG cohort. “If you saw me on a bicycle” she said, “you'd know that I have a real sense of risk awareness. It doesn't keep me from getting out on the road every day, but I have in my head everything that could go wrong and am conservative because of it.” Had women with this level of risk awareness (bicycle commuters or not) been in the C-Suite offices prior to the 2008 economic crash, Krawcheck contends we may not have had such a serious downturn.

So what steps can men and women take now to increase diversity in the workforce and abolish the economic gender imbalance?

Jennifer Kriebel, partner at the professional auditing services firm, KPMG and panelist during the event, founded a mentoring group for audit working moms in the Philadelphia office. Since the development of the group, the number of working moms within KPMG’s global auditing business has grown significantly and the company has retained top talent.

Ellyn Shook, head of HR at Accenture says that people need to be willing to have “courageous conversations.”[v] Women must be ready to have serious conversations about diversity in the workplace, the need for flexibility and higher earnings.

Panel moderator, Grace Killelea, founder of her own leadership consulting firm, the GKC Group, encouraged women to speak up. “Even if it comes out as a squeak,” she says, “speak up. Eventually it will be a ROAR.”

All references from Own It: The Power of Women at Work by Sallie Krawcheck, 2017.

[i] 23

[ii] 120

[iii] 60

[iv] 37, 40

[v] 2

PGDG Marches in Philly and DC


On Saturday, January 21st, the Women’s March brought together millions of people across the United States and in cities around the world in a non-violent movement to advocate for human rights.  Much has been said about the march – of its origin, the massive number of people who attended, its challenges with diversity and inclusivity, the tremendous grass-roots action it has inspired, the passionately-witty homemade signs, and serious questions about how it will translate to long term action on behalf of the millions who attended. Among the crowds, some clad in pink pussy-hats, were several PGDG women – who no doubt will shape the implementation of the Women’s March principles in their communities moving forward.


Sara Pevaroff Schuh, principal of SALT Design, said the experience was “exhilarating.” She marched with her daughter for “equality, for genuine social justice and to defend the rights of those who cannot or are unable to speak up for themselves and their needs. I can't quit my day job,” she said, “but we have to find a way to channel our energy into action.”

PGDG Co-founders Sylvia Palms and Danielle DiLeo Kim marched in DC together. "As women business owners we marched for women's equality in the workplace, particularly around equal pay and benefits. As women designers in a still male-dominated field, we marched for equal opportunity and representation on projects. As owners of a firm that designs for vulnerable communities, we marched for those threatened by urban injustices."


In keeping with the many bright pink signs declaring, “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights,” the Women’s March embodied a broad platform of values that moved beyond what many consider to be traditional women’s issues including: Ending Violence, Reproductive Rights, LGBTQIA Rights, Worker’s Rights, Civil Rights, Disability Rights, Immigrant Rights, and Environmental Justice.

It’s a platform that connects deeply to the mission of Philly Girls Do Good – "to do good to all, all the time." The women of PGDG march for human rights every day in their daily professional and personal commitment to improving the public realm, advancing social and environmental justice, and facilitating the success of local communities and businesses.

And while people across Philadelphia stand together to create a more just and equitable world, the PGDG folks have formed a sisterhood to support each other’s actions. As another popular sign from the march says, “I’m with her, and her and her and her.”

I'm With Her.jpg


Building a New Narrative


NY Public Housing Innovator Addresses Philly's Own Leading Women

Rasmia Kirmani-Frye, Director of the Office of Public/Private Partnerships at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) likens the start of the Fund for Public Housing to someone passing along a to-do item on a scrap of paper. “It’s as if someone handed me a post-it note that said, ‘start a non-profit and raise money to help fill a $17 billion budget gap.’ ” While NYCHA recognized the need for innovation, Kirmani-Frye had to piece together the beginning of the independent non-profit that would fundraise for the biggest public housing authority in the country.

In a thought-provoking and energetic presentation to some thirty women gathered for the Philly Girls Do Good 2017 Welcome Party on December 1st, Kirmani-Frye detailed her process for building the Fund for Public Housing from the ground up. Straddling two worlds—as both NYCHA’s Director of Public/Private Partnerships and President of the Fund—puts Kirmani-Frye in a unique position to re-write New York’s public housing story.

NYCHA (pronounced as one word, “Nycha”) is the largest landlord in New York, with more than 600,000 residents – greater than the population of Miami or Atlanta. While NYCHA receives some funding from the City, and occasional state dollars (NY State just contributed to its budget for the first time in 16 years), the organization is 99% federally funded so Congress must ratify its budget each year. Currently, the organization has a $17 billion capital budget gap and annual operating deficits of tens of millions.

This is the dominant narrative—a laundry list of federal funding problems and deferred capital needs enmeshed in a bureaucratic tangle of constraints.

Kirmani-Frye is building a new narrative

It starts like this: New Yorkers value publicly funded services—take public parks, public libraries, public art, public schools, even public transportation. But public housing? It doesn’t have the same positive ring.

And yet, says Kirmani-Frye, consider this:

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor grew up in NYCHA housing. So did Howard Schultz, soon-to-retire Executive Director of Starbucks; Lloyd C. Blankfein, the chairman of Goldman Sachs; and rap artist Jay Z. And this recognizable list doesn’t include all of the past and present NYCHA residents that keep New York running every day. Nine of the top ten NYCHA employers are public agencies. Every New Yorker has a connection to public housing Kirmani-Frye says – even if they don’t think of it. Public housing residents provide tickets at the MTA, work as cops for the NYPD, or help children learn as teaching assistants in public schools. This is the value proposition of NYCHA.

The Fund for Public Housing, which aims to raise $200 million by 2019, hopes to address problems NYCHA doesn’t have the flexibility or skill capacity to solve. Kirmani-Frye asked Luis Ponce, the Senior Vice President for Operations and Support, to list NYCHA’s needs. Then she asked him to cross out all those that NYCHA knows how to solve but need more funding, like a broken elevator. Those stubborn challenges remaining on the list are the ones that the Fund for Public Housing will tackle—Kirmani Frye considers it the “innovation escape hatch” for NYCHA.

Creating a culture of innovation at the Fund started with building a board. After telling her husband she needed two nights a week to “date other people", Kirmani-Frye met potential candidates one-on-one to piece together the right group. Her requirements were straightforward:

1.     Check your ego at the door.

2.     Pick up the phone when she calls.

3.     Be okay with hugging (she likes hugs).

4.     Devote 5-10 hours each month of your time to the board.

5.     Unabashedly promote public housing.

Enough dates ended successfully for Kirmani-Frye to build a well-rounded board, including two current NYCHA residents. Now the group is focused on finding NYCHA alumni, connecting them back to public housing, and asking them to provide financial support. So far the Fund has raised over $900,000 and Michael Slaby, who masterminded the tech solution behind the crowdfunding for the Obama and Clinton presidential campaigns, has recently offered his company, Timshel, to help identify NYCHA alums.

Non-profit foundations for other city services like parks and libraries are more common, but the Fund for Public Housing has raised some eyebrows. Does raising private money for public housing take away the onus on government to provide housing authorities across the country with consistent and adequate funding? Kirmani-Frye agrees NYCHA should be properly funded by the government but doesn’t see any silver bullets coming soon. With a $17 billion budget gap—even under a favorable federal administration—it’s time to do business differently. (NYC Council member, Richie Torres recently spoke with NPR about the $17B gap in light of last week’s HUD cabinet appointment. Here’s a link to the report.)  

Kirmani-Frye’s 20-plus years of experience in community development in Brownsville, Brooklyn have given her a deep knowledge of affordable housing challenges in New York and an appreciation for innovation. She knows a lot, but not too much. As Natalie Nixon, PGDG ’17 tweeted after the event, “Naïveté is her superpower.” The key, Kirmani-Frye says, is to be naive enough to stay optimistic without being fantastical—to tell a truthful narrative about the challenges but not be paralyzed by fear. 

The early strategy of the Fund for Public Housing will focus on three areas: People, Place, and Work. Already the Fund has started a resident leadership academy with CUNY and kicked off the creation of youth councils within NYCHA. These councils will prove a voice for the 33% of NYCHA residents under the age of 21. Leaning on the tech side of her board to bring new approaches to old challenges, the Fund will invest in “place” by solving difficult operational issues. Lastly, Kirmani-Frye will borrow from her own experience at the Brownsville Partnership, to help start programs that develop the entrepreneurial skills of NYCHA residents to help people find work.

Ultimately, Kirmani-Frye evaluates her success with a simple question, “Am I being kind?” It’s the question she discusses with her five year old son and it is a question that informs her work every day. As President of the Fund for Public Housing, that kindness can go a long way towards improving the lives of over 600,000 New Yorkers. 

Welcome PGDG 2017


Pantsuits Optional. Leadership and Innovation Required.

philly girls do good welcome cohort 2017

PGDG welcomed its 4th annual cohort of fifteen remarkable women on Thursday with an evening of superheroine power poses, pantsuits, an energizing presentation from Rasmia Kirmani-Frye of the NYC Housing Authority, and of course, splashes of PGDG-pink.

The growing influence of “girls” doing good in Philly was clearly on display. This year, Philly Girls Do Good alumnae welcomed the first cohort of women picked exclusively from professional community nominations— and there were MANY.

PGDG co-founders, Danielle and Sylvia of Locus Partners, spent weeks combing through recommendations, statements, and resumes to pick the most diverse group of PGDGers to date. Ethnically diverse, hailing from widespread Philadelphia neighborhoods, and working in a variety of fields related to design and community development, from affordable housing advocacy to construction management to the arts—this new cohort comes ready to build lasting connections and use each other as resources to work on some of their most intractable professional challenges.

“Relationships matter” Kirmani-Frye repeatedly emphasized throughout her presentation about the Fund for Public Housing, the first non-profit fundraising arm for a public housing institution in the country. They were not empty words. Kirmani-Frye formed one of her most significant relationships while filming a PSA in Macy’s basement furniture department early in her career—an unlikely start to a professional relationship that would inspire some of the most innovative thought to affordable housing in the U.S.

Forget the chit chat and banal networking conversations; these women kicked off their new relationships by writing down their biggest professional challenges on a piece of paper, and used hot pink tape to post them on the wall for the rest of the group to read. Topics varied from improving opportunities for female and minority designers, to fostering and supporting creative staff, to sensitively eliminating programs that aren’t working.

After some time for reflection, bit by bit, ideas on addressing those challenges appeared on colored paper beneath the original posts, with personal notes or business card invitations to work together on solving a particular problem. The strength of the network could be measured in colored pieces of paper stuck on the wall – a visual testament to the compassionate and professional network developing in the room.

New PGDG Cohort 2017 member Maggie Reed, Project Manager at Gilbane Building Company already has a good network, but in a male-dominated field, she’s excited to meet creative women working in related professions. Tya Winn, Program Manager at the Philadelphia Housing Authority also said PGDG will help her develop connections, but she used a more intimate word, “sisterhood.” A sisterhood of women known for doing good.

“Do the hardest, most challenging thing first,” Kirmani-Frye told the group. Over the next few months, in small group discussions and private Facebook conversations, the 2017 Cohort will work on exactly that, and we’ll cover their new ideas, lessons learned, and inspiring stories right here on the PGDG blog.


Blog Post by Maggie Dunn

photo credits to Sophia Lee

Locus Partners: Disruptors for Social Good!

The PGDG blog is our way of spreading the word about the good work of our Philly Girls Do Good members. Turns out, we (Locus Partners) are are just as committed to doing good work! We had the opportunity to sit down with Roxanne Patel Shepelavy of The Philadelphia Citizen to share our community-led approach to planning and design. It's a great article about what makes us different and hopefully, disruptive for the social good!   Read it here


Sustainable Business_sm

On March 17th, Philly Girls Class of 2016 Tarsha Scovens, Leigh Goldenberg, and Anna Shipp all came together with Danielle DiLeo Kim and Sylvia Palms at the lovely Industrious PHL location for a conversation about Sustainable Business in Philadelphia. I, Sophia Lee, posed some discussion questions to get the conversation rolling, and some great thoughts and ideas got passed around. Read on for more!

First, let’s introduce ourselves and our sustainable business as a refresher to those present.

Tarsha Scovens, the founder of “Let’s Go Outdoors”, set up her business with a goal to engage more minorities in outdoor experiences, such as camping, fishing and hiking, which are activities that lack participation by people of color. By connecting the familiar (eg, trees in the immediate neighborhood) to the less familiar but related (eg John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge), Let’s Go Outdoors makes Nature accessible and approachable through experience and education. There is also a desire to bring families closer together by encouraging caregivers to attend classes and workshops with the children who are signed up, and they learn together. Let’s Go Outdoors is also part of an exciting initiative called “Nature Rx," spearheaded by Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, to promote youth-focused outdoor health activities as a means to combat health issues related to sedentary lifestyles such as diabetes and obesity.

Leigh Goldenberg is the Director of Marketing for Wash Cycle Laundry which not only aims to reduce carbon footprint and pollution through bike delivery and eco-friendly detergents, but also promotes social change by making a point to employ individuals with a history of incarceration, addiction, homelessness, or welfare dependence. These are people who deserve a second chance at a stable life, but suffer such stigma from society that it’s very hard for them to find employment and a way out. She is really excited that the new Kenney administration is prioritizing helping formerly incarcerated people find employment and to be a part of this social movement.

Anna Shipp is the Project Manager of the “Green Stormwater Infrastructure Partners” at the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia (SBN). SBN strives to support and celebrate local sustainable businesses by helping them organize together and advocating on their behalf for actual policy change. SBN is also associated with a broader network, Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) which is comprised of over 80 community networks across America.

Jennifer Rezeli was not able to make it in person on Thursday, but she is the co-founder of Re:Vision Architecture, an architecture firm that makes sustainability a focus of their practice and also provides sustainability consulting. Re:Vision is a certified “B-Corporation” - a “for-benefit” corporation. She believes in the power of community engagement as a means to educate the public about sustainability.

Sustainable Businesses are not the norm (yet!), so do you find particular challenges related to being one?

Promoting healthy lifestyles, connecting with nature, reducing carbon footprint, promoting social change are all incredibly valuable goals, but Tarsha and Leigh both find that convincing clients and customers of their relevancy can be the biggest challenge. Another piece is that even when there are programs and credentials, such as the “B-Corp” certification, intended to help sustainable businesses, the certification process or requirements can be so cumbersome that they can be more of a burden and a hindrance rather than an advantage.

This is why it’s so crucial to have organizations like SBN to support and advocate for businesses like Let’s Go Outdoors! and Wash Cycle Laundry because they need time to grow and gain acceptance as viable businesses that can not only accomplish the bottom line, but also achieve other social and sustainable goals. For example, SBN could provide support for B-Corp certification for Wash Cycle or Let’s Go Outdoors.

Anna is really excited that BALLE continues to grow across America and that SBN is expanding its capacity to  advocate for policy that better supports small local and sustainable businesses start, grow, and thrive. Businesses can have a stronger voice when advocating for policy changes that could improve the local economic climate for small businesses.

Is there something special about Philadelphia that helps sustainable businesses? What can Philadelphia do more to help you grow?

Leigh explained that Philly is a big city but operates like a small town because there is a sense of pride and loyalty to its local people. We all went on to discuss how currently, Philly is a very hot market, and the challenge will be to keep the jobs local and continuing to foster more sustainable practices in a market increasingly contested not only by other US National companies, but also international ones such as Foster + Partners from London, England designing Comcast’s second tower in Center City, or Bjark Ingels Group from Copenhagen, Denmark constructing an office building in Philadelphia Naval Yard. We need to make sure that clients are aware of the depth and skill of knowledge locally available, that the city needs to convince businesses to headquarter here, and that these strategies will eventually help drive more investment into the local economy rather than losing it to other cities or abroad.

Especially with the speed of development occurring, we would all love to find a way to bring not just the City of Philadelphia, but also the private developers to the table to show them how relevant Philly’s sustainable businesses are to this city, and to gain their buy-in for positive social change and commitment to the environment. The greater the size of the project, the greater the impact upon the city, and depending on how that impact is designed, it can swing bad or good. Let’s work together to make the impact great!

Thank you to Tarsha, Leigh, Anna, Danielle, and Sylvia for a wonderful conversation!

—Sophia Lee