Commentary: A new generation of leadership for Philly

By Liz Dow

In this holiday season, following closely on the heels of a particularly divisive national election, we need a heavy dose of hope. We're not going to get it by watching the news. But it's available in abundance when we simply connect with one another's humanity. Look people in the eye - it's in there.

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Lindsey Scannapieco in the art-deco style auditorium of the former Bok school.

When I need a lifeline to hope, I think about the millennials in this city and in my own family. I see in them a refreshing tendency to think in terms of "we," not "me," where "we" is broadly defined and inclusive. My work gives me an up close and personal look at what drives them, and I am encouraged. They are engaged with this city in ways I have not seen before - not as armchair critics, but as activists taking responsibility for the common good in a variety of ways.

In the private sector, head of Technically Media Chris Wink not only reports on the tech sector, but supports and encourages it. He convenes and connects professionals in ways that benefit their businesses and our local economy. From the public sector, Archna Sahay, manager of entrepreneurial investment for the city, proactively supports and connects entrepreneurs while advocating for diversity and inclusion.

Millennials are actively working to improve our schools from inside and outside. Ami Patel Hopkins, kindergarten transition fellow for the Philadelphia School District, has evolved from classroom teacher to mayoral advisor to fierce advocate investigating and creating solutions for the challenges that hinder successful kindergarten transition. While Hopkins works from the inside, Ivy Olesh, vice president at Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., chairs the Friends of Chester Arthur School (a board she also founded). She rallies neighbors to raise funds to revitalize the playground and support efforts to increase STEM and arts education.

Millennial professionals are driven to include neighbors as part of their work. Lindsey Scannapieco, managing partner at Scout, purchased the Bok School and has converted it to space that houses a preschool, a summer rooftop bar, and a dog park designed to welcome neighbors. Chris Bolden-Newsome, co-director of the Farm at Bartram's Garden, goes beyond his work cultivating fresh food for the neighborhood to preserving and sustaining African American foodways and teaching neighborhood kids about traditional recipes and heritage crops. He nourishes their spirit while mentoring them on nutrition.

Speaking of feeding our community spirit, Paul Farber, a Haverford professor who will be Mural Arts' first scholar in residence, is curating a citywide civic engagement project that challenges people to imagine "What is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia?" He elevates our thinking about what we want to embrace and memorialize as our legacy.

In City Hall, Lauren Swartz is the new director of international business investment. Rich with global experience, she is finding creative ways to bring overseas businesses to Philadelphia. While she keeps her eyes on the horizon, Matt Stitt keeps his nose in the numbers. As CFO for City Council, he analyzes the finances behind bills and initiatives and serves as their data expert, while also serving as a committeeperson and on the board of the Freedom Valley YMCA. And watching over Council and working to bring new voices to the city's political discussions is Ali Perelman, Philadelphia 3.0's founder and executive director.

This is just a small sampling of the large population of millennials who are committed to serving Philadelphia and improving the quality of life for all of us. They see their work as a calling. They care about us. They give me hope. As the new year begins, I find peace and comfort in knowing that the future of this city is in their good hands.

Liz Dow is CEO of Leadership Philadelphia. edow@leadershipphiladelphia.org

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