Fairmount InSights

We were delighted by the recent splash heard on local and national news this week. President Obama announced that West Philadelphia is one of just five communities nationwide selected to be a “Promise Zone.” This is a new federal initiative to target resources to areas with significant poverty in order to transform the lives of area residents without displacing them.

Fairmount is proud to have served as the lead facilitator and author of the City’s successful plan and application. Why was Philadelphia successful against steep competition from across the country?

What was most striking throughout the process was how people from 20 different organizations came together. Typical to any major federal proposal, there was a ton of data collection and analysis, program design, strategic decisions, budgets, overly-complicated forms, mapping and writing to be done in a very short period of time. We had about 3 weeks. Participants included community representatives, multiple city departments, the school district, the zoo, higher education institutions, nonprofit service providers, and content experts. Ideas flowed back and forth with thoughtfulness and respect.

The process worked and we were successful because the people and organizations in the room mostly knew one another, or had at least one degree of separation. Even though they represented very different types of organizations – and on occasion advocate at one another, or compete with one another – everyone was familiar with each other. The group was able to focus on the tasks at hand.

What are the lessons here?

  • If you want to create a winning proposal or program with another organization(s), don’t wait till the RFP is out to meet or figure out with whom you want to work, and how to work together. Relationships take time to nurture.
  • Creating a big tent where every organization’s interest is advanced is difficult but can be achieved if you begin by building trust and find common ground.
  • Recognize the larger ecosystem in which you work and who else needs that system to be healthy in order to find that common ground.

We’re thrilled that Philadelphia won this recognition and the resources that will follow. The award holds promise for the people of West Philadelphia both for the federal resources that will hopefully follow, and because the organizations working in and for the community have already strengthened their capacity to better work together.

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