Articles by

Donna Frisby-Greenwood

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    Donna Frisby-Greenwood is president and CEO of The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia and the former Philadelphia program director for Knight Foundation. Knight is supporting the efforts of the fund with $250,000 in support to promote success in Philadelphia’s schools and encourage talented people to stay in the city. Above: Students at J.S. Jenks Elementary School take part in a special program in the  auditorium. Photo courtesy The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia. Education is supposed to be the great equalizer.  But let’s face it. In Philadelphia, too many of our children are in schools that have not helped them get where they need to go, to college or to careers that are meaningful, productive and fulfilling. The quality of education should not depend upon how much their parents make or their ZIP code. A high-quality education should be available for all of our children in Philadelphia.   This year, Philadelphia School Superintendent, Dr. William R. Hite has a plan in place to fix that. Dr. Hite’s Action Plan 3.0 is all about equity.  He has pledged to be accountable for providing “the best academic program, and the chance for a better life that comes with it, to each student: the student who excels, the student who struggles, all the students in between and to our neediest students, those who continue to be failed by adults and therefore need us most.” In Harrisburg, lawmakers are finally working on a fair funding formula that would bring millions of additional dollars to our schools. We are reaching a turning point in the fight to keep a promise we made to our children: to give a “thorough and efficient” free public education to every child. It’s the cornerstone of American progress.  Andrew Jackson Elementary School teachers work with a class of  "young scientists." Photo courtesy The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia. This is also the year that The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia has a new mission, new leadership and renewed commitment to making a difference in the fortunes of 142,000 Philadelphia public school students and to making an investment in this city.   In the next five years, The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia has a goal of raising $25 million to champion and focus on Philadelphia’s public education priorities such as early literacy and college and career readiness. We intend to provide support where it will have the most impact, which includes in the classrooms where passionate teachers and committed principals are struggling to meet the needs of bright, talented students. Our mission is to identify, coordinate and connect philanthropic resources—with effective public-private partnerships—to leverage investments in neighborhood public schools. 
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    Photo of Philadelphia by Flickr user Ahd Photography. I participated recently in Philly Innovates, the city of Philadelphia’s innovation summit in partnership with Salesforce. Mayor Michael Nutter, Chief Customer Service Officer Rosetta Lue and Deputy Mayor Rich Negrin unveiled “The Philly Innovates Blueprint” to become a more connected city. Salesforce, best known for its customer relationship management product, has created an enhanced Philly 311 platform that allows for a multichannel user experience.    As I talked to Michelle Lee, co-founder of Textizen, in the exhibit area, I saw a demo of the newly unveiled Open Data Philly platform. During lunch I looked around the room a bit more, and it became clear that Knight Foundation has been a catalyst for much of the city’s innovation in recent years.
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    Photo by Paul Gargagliano. Last week in partnership with NextCity, 900 AM WURD and AL DÍA News we launched City Sessions, a series of conversations with Philadelphians and national experts about the future of Philadelphia. Now is the time for us to think about how we want to continue growing and strengthening our city.  We’ve had seven straight years of population growth, fueled by baby boomers moving in from the suburbs, immigrants and college-educated millennials, a mayor in the last year of his term and a booming Center City. To continue moving forward, we need to engage all facets of our community in these important discussions.  Not many groups can do that alone. ­It therefore requires most groups to partner with others that they may be unaccustomed to working with.  It is these unlikely partnerships that will cause the collisions between young and old, new and established, and upper- and lower-income individuals that will move Philadelphia forward. 
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    Philadelphia's Independence Hall, via IceNineJon on Flickr. In the city where our Founding Fathers created this great republic, Thomas E. Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, recently heard from some very informed and engaged citizens during a closed-door meeting coordinated by Media Mobilizing Project and hosted at the Independence Mall studio of PhillyCAM. The people in the Sept. 22 meeting represented low-wage workers, persons with disabilities, minority and independently owned media outlets, academics and activists. They eloquently described the state of media in Philadelphia for Chairman Wheeler.  
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    Photo credit: Flickr user Morgan Burke. Philadelphia is part of Knight Foundation’s soul. The relationship is more than 40 years old, reaching back to the years when the Knight brothers first bought The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News. Although the newspaper chain has passed into history, the foundation carries forward their principles and their belief in the power of information to connect people and help them shape their lives. Knight has deep local roots and a national network of ideas, and it’s fitting that those resources help mold Philadelphia. This city, more than 300 years old, is part of the American soul. It has stood at the center of life on this continent since before our country was founded. The First Continental Congress met here. The Declaration of Independence was signed here. Philadelphia was once America’s first city, with an industrial heart and a thriving population from diverse backgrounds.  That is a history we cannot take lightly. After 50 years of decline, Philadelphia has seen an increase in population, primarily associated with an influx of young talent, empty nesters and immigrants. It has been a great source of pride for many of us, but if we are to become the world-class city that we should be, that we once were, there is more work for us. That is part of Knight Foundation’s commitment to Philadelphia. Our middle class, while more educated than 40 years ago, has declined. We have about the same percentage of middle-class residents as Boston and Chicago, but that’s not good news. We have a higher percentage of lower-income residents and a smaller percentage of higher-income residents, according to a recent Pew research report, “Philadelphia’s Changing Middle Class.” In addition, about 50 percent of our new residents have a college degree but it is slightly higher for both Boston and Chicago. Furthermore, our ratio of people with college degrees to the percentage of people with less than a high school degree is 1-to-1. Boston is 3-to-1 and Chicago almost 2-to-1. That is troubling for the future of this city, with its rich history. 
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    Photo credit: Bryant Sanders Photography Journalist Soledad O’Brien, CEO of Starfish Media Group and a correspondent for Al Jazeera America, last week moderated a discussion on mentoring here in Philadelphia as part of the launch of a new guide released by Urban Youth, a local nonprofit that works with kids. Urban Youth developed the “Lessons Learned E-Mentoring Guide for African-American Men and Boys” in partnership with Knight Foundation and United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. The guide, a project of Urban Youth’s What It Takes initiative, recommends “e-mentoring” to connect kids with positive role models anywhere in the world, using e-mail, text messages and social media. A reception and screening of an installment of O’Brien’s “Black in America” documentary series followed the discussion. As a follow-up to the events, I asked O’Brien to reflect on her decision to participate and the importance of mentoring African-American youth. You are a very busy person. Why did you decide to participate in the Urban Youth discussion? Soledad O’Brien: One of the things I think is really interesting in communities is the way that people connect to try to solve some of the most entrenched challenges in the United States. You look at a program that has some legs, not just in Philadelphia but could be a model around the country. As a journalist, anytime you see a thing that has repercussions and is not just working where it is but could be much larger [that] is always intriguing, and to sit down with the major player and people who have also assessed the program is very intriguing to me. 
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    Photo credit: Elizabeth Manning/Temple University Knight Foundation supports the Urban Apps and Maps Studio to foster diversity in Philadelphia’s tech community and inspire young people from the city’s low-income neighborhoods with solutions for solving the city’s problems. If you have a problem and can’t come up with a solution, I suggest you take it to Temple University’s Urban Apps and Maps Studio. The 130 Philadelphia teens who participated this summer seem capable of solving anything. Thursday I attended their demonstration day, and when I heard Lencys, a Frankford resident and 10th grade public school student, say that she was proud to be a part of history, I knew these young people had come up with some good ideas.  Over the past six weeks, all of the students did research and fieldwork in the community, learned principles of design and basic coding (Ruby and HTML), and developed prototypes. The demonstration day was their opportunity to show what they had learned, what problems they had tackled and what solutions they had developed. They learned from Temple faculty and students in architecture, art, business, computer science, design, English and engineering. The faculty, undergrads and grad students were as excited as the high school kids.  A group of about 10 students shared their mockups for reuse of vacant lots in Old City, Fairmount and North Philadelphia.  Two of them said they originally thought there wasn’t anything they could do to help their city, so it felt amazing to contribute ideas that might make a difference. In fact, Moira Baylson, deputy director for the Philadelphia Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, was so excited that she wanted the students to get started with their plans immediately. The groups that just blew me away were those that did not know coding before entering the program six weeks ago but developed tech solutions anyway: GotCha, Heart Rate Headphones, Philly Data and Philly YC2.
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    Introducing the Project Liberty Digital Incubator from Project Liberty Incubator on Vimeo Two years ago, I was excited to sit down and interview the first round of applicants for the Project Liberty New Media Incubator, an effort to bring innovation to the heart of traditional newsrooms and create a community of startups in Philadelphia. I once led Rock the Vote, and the company that intrigued me most during those conversations was ElectNext, the eHarmony for would-be voters. I recall firing questions at Keya Dennanbaum, ElectNext’s founder and CEO. She holds a Ph.D. from Princeton and is a graduate of programs at DreamIt Ventures and Good Company.  Keya made it into the first class of the incubator, and I thought: We’ve attracted this talented young woman to Philadelphia; what do we have to do to keep her and ElectNext—and others like them—here? That goal is central to Knight’s work in Philadelphia, and it’s why we’re increasing our funding for Project Liberty with $345,000 in new support. We want to attract, retain and maximize talent—talent that brings the knowledge, knowhow and skills to help Philadelphia reinvent herself for the 21st century economy. Project Liberty is operated by Ben Franklin Technology Partners and is embedded in the offices of Interstate General Media, the corporate owners of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com. It has helped to attract and retain new talent here, in our city, while promoting sustainable digital media projects that better create, capture and distribute news and information. When Knight made the initial grant in 2011, it was our hope that the new media startups would have an opportunity to grow and develop partnerships with the newspapers. We also hoped that the newspapers would embrace new technologies and ideas. The results of that partnership have been encouraging, and we want to expand on that success. Project Liberty has become a viable platform for delivering new digital ideas and products. It is a learning ground for local college students and a magnet for attracting talent to Philadelphia. SnipSnap, a coupon app, has raised a little over $1.6 million, including investments from Knight and Ben Franklin Technology Partners. ElectNext, through its partnership with Philly.com, is able to provide an easy and interactive platform for everyday people seeking information about political candidates. And while we didn’t keep Keya here—ElectNext is now based in New York—her company still has an office and two team members in Philly.
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    Dale Mezzacopa - Philadelphia Public School Notebook - IgKnight Speaker from Knight Foundation on Vimeo. Last week, we had the inspiring opportunity to gather our grantees in Philadelphia at The Barnes Foundation. What was really unprecedented was that the grantees were from all of our portfolios. It was an opportunity to share, learn and connect beyond those boundaries. I wish I could say it was all my idea, but our grantees came up with this. They told me last fall that they would like more opportunities to meet one another and form connections. So, we designed the gathering to allow them to create new relationships, share information and learn new things. Many met each other for the first time. Others already knew one another but learned a little more. Two grantee panels shared how you can spread the word about your work on a shoestring budget and how to raise money whether you are an individual, a small startup, or a large, seasoned organization. Faye Anderson, a donor-advised fund grantee, who is usually in the tech space, connected with BMe grantee Lovett Hines of The Philadelphia Clef Club. They plan to work together to develop and disseminate a Philly jazz app. Barbara Allen of Fresh Artists grabbed some folks, including me, and talked about what could be a possible next step: working to create an exchange for grantees to share resources, skills and knowledge. Michelle and Anthony Martin of the Urban Youth Racing School sparked interest in Jon Gosier, a Knight News Challenge winner from the design firm D8A, to become an e-mentor in their What It Takes program. Thom Butler, a BMe grantee with the Philadelphia College Prep Roundtable, spent time with David Clayton of Breadboard, a Knight Arts grantee, talking about doing an IgnitePhilly talk. And we had our own version: Seven of the grantees set the stage on fire when they shared their passion and their work with us through their IgKnight talks, short presentations limited to five minutes and 20 slides.  
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    Photo credit: Flickr user Brad Jacobson *April 30 update: An archived link of the National League of Cities' webinar on civic engagement in Philadelphia can be found online. The National League of Cities, as part of its work with Knight Foundation, is hosting a free webinar highlighting civic engagement in Philadelphia at 2:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday, April 24.  While many tech entrepreneurs are passionate advocates for their communities, most are ambivalent about city hall: neither expecting nor offering assistance, and often working around rather than with local elected leaders. This is not the case in Philadelphia, where a dynamic partnership has developed among city government, civic leaders and entrepreneurs from the technology community. RELATED LINK  "Bright spots in community engagement: Philadelphia - 'Civic Fusion' at work" on KnightBlog The city has launched one of the country's leading open data portals, attracted millions of dollars in broadband stimulus and is thinking differently about the way local government delivers services. This “civic fusion” is the result of a new kind of engagement between city leaders and some of its most active, entrepreneurial residents. It is also part of a new philosophy about the role of each in supporting strong local economies.  Join the webinar if you are interested in a lively discussion on how technology can connect public officials with private and nonprofit civic leaders for meaningful community engagement. The conversation will also highlight examples from the soon-to-be released report, "Bright Spots in Community Engagement: Case Studies of U.S. Communities Creating Greater Civic Participation from the Bottom Up." Additionally, it coincides with Philly Tech Week.
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    Photo Credit: BalletX Today we’re proud to share a group of new and innovative ideas to enrich Philadelphia’s cultural scene. Sixty-nine innovative ideas have been chosen as finalists in the 2013 Knight Arts Challenge Philadelphia. Arising from more than 1,200 applicants, the finalists below represent the rich cultural and artistic diversity of the city. From public art to jazz to film, printmaking and more they are born from the minds of people and organizations that seek to transform the experience of art in Philadelphia. We started the Knight Arts Challenge in Philadelphia three years ago because we believe the arts can engage and enrich communities. We recognize great ideas can start from anywhere — with individuals, artist-driven organizations or at the city’s premier cultural institutions. That’s why the $9 million challenge is open to the entire community. We asked a bold, original question: “What’s your best idea for the arts in Philadelphia?” And we’re delighted to share your responses. Read on below for the full list of finalists and their ideas. And stay tuned, winners will be announced in the spring! We congratulate the finalists and thank everyone who submitted an idea!