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Member Perspective: Uva Coles

Posted Friday, February 9th, 2018

Programs & Events, Member Submitted, Action Teams, Roadmap for Growth, Education & Talent, Diversity & Inclusion

Guest Commentator: Uva Coles, Vice President, Institutional Advancement & Strategic Partnerships, Peirce College @PeirceCollege

How can employers leverage their resources for community involvement in distressed neighborhoods? How does this improve Philadelphia’s economic and civic life?

The conversation is changing.  Just a few years ago, I found myself in meeting after meeting discussing Philadelphia’s economic disconnects and determining who should be held responsible for bridging the divide. Today, the dialogue is more focused on our respective accountability in narrowing our most pressing socioeconomic divides.  We are shifting from engaging in conversation about these issues to engaging in the development of solutions.  The pivot in our dialogue is less choice, more necessity.

We know the numbers. Philadelphia’s poverty rate hovers at 26%. In 2017, our unemployment rate was 5.6 % (while the national rate was 4.1%), and the numbers are disproportionately more disturbing when we introduce race and socioeconomics.  For some time, I worried as these numbers were tossed around from one sector’s lap to another’s as issues for “them” to solve.  Today, I am encouraged by the seismic shift, a departure from a wagging finger about “their” problem hurting “us” to conversations about how the city’s issues are “ours” to both own and address.

At the core of these discussions, distressed neighborhoods have risen as both our issue and our solution. They are the backdrop of Philadelphia’s thriving economy, reminders of who we are leaving behind — the under-credentialed, the under- or unemployed, our immigrants, our returning citizens, our disconnected youth, our communities of color, and our poor.  They are also our most untapped talent.

Employers who understand the strength of strategic community involvement are taking notice and leveraging their resources for the betterment of our most vulnerable individuals and distressed communities.  In my work as a higher education administrator focused on building collaborative, cross-sector partnerships, I have observed a few salient best practices utilized by employers.

  1. They invest in the communities that invest in their businesses. Paying taxes to support a community’s economic growth matters. But investing with intention — into school systems, sustainability efforts, and initiatives that address health disparities — is also impactful.
  2. They promote skills-based volunteering. Encouraging employees to volunteer episodically can be a value-add to a distressed community. But galvanizing a well-educated and trained workforce around a corporate social responsibility strategy that hones in on a community’s most pressing needs lifts volunteering from helpful to transformative.
  3. They tap into the non-traditional workforce. Those most overlooked by traditional recruitment efforts–the under-credentialed or underemployed, opportunity youth, immigrants and returning citizens—can be the very talent employers need. Sometimes, a few adjustments in recruitment processes and criteria can unveil a relatively untapped workforce-ready pipeline.
  4. Partner with innovative colleges and universities. Peirce College, for instance, understands the importance of alignment between employers and our institutions’ graduates.  We confer degrees, certainly, but we also partner with employers to build more expedient, customized stackable credentials and trainings that more precisely address employer needs.
  5. They give community leaders a seat and voice at the table. Just as employers prioritize understanding the needs of their stakeholders and create mechanisms to ascertain them, they consider the members of the distressed communities where they are based key stakeholders. Building strategies to address neighborhood issues must be done in partnership, not isolation.

Recently, the City’s Commerce Department and the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, among others, have focused on the intersection of economic and civic life. The City’s Workforce Development Strategy, launched earlier this week, and the Chamber’s Roadmap for Growth, launched in 2016 are indicative of Philadelphia’s business community’s changing dialogue.  In both cases, they have determined that prioritizing the needs of our most vulnerable citizens and our distressed neighborhoods is not somebody else’s issue to solve.  It is ours. The pivot is less choice, more necessity, for Philadelphia to enjoy a more robust and inclusive economic prosperity.

We may have miles ahead of us but, again, the conversation is changing.


Peirce College is a member of the Chamber’s Roadmap for Growth Action Team, a group of business, civic and community leaders committed to the development and execution of a pro-growth, pro-jobs agenda to lift and improve Philadelphia’s economic and civic life.

Upcoming Program

Roadmap for Growth: Vulnerable Populations Issue Forum

Wednesday, May 30, 2018
8:00 – 10:00 a.m.
Taller Puertorriqueño
2600 N. 5th St • Philadelphia, PA 19133
Tickets starting at $40

Learn more and register »

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