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The Ways and Means of Collaboration

A letter from Executive Director Diana Spencer 

Dear Friends,

Collaboration comes in all forms—in the creation of a new workforce development program, in a teaching method that engages by helping students raise questions and formulate answers, and in the many partnerships we have with grantees as they serve people in need. Today, we’re celebrating all three.

First is RISE, Readiness In Skilled Employment, a comprehensive workforce development initiative, which launched last month. However, the collaboration behind the initiative began over a year ago. With an eye to solving problems for those living at or below the poverty line, the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund reached out to highly respected nonprofits in our northeastern Pennsylvania region. We hoped to co-design a program that could enable participants to attend classes, coaching sessions, and other activities by removing barriers such as housing instability, lack of transportation, a dearth of quality childcare, and more. The goal: a viable pathway for people to earn certificates in a trade of their choosing and, ultimately, a living-wage job with benefits.

The collaboration eventually involved Johnson College, United Neighborhood Centers of Northeastern Pennsylvania, The Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development, and McGowan. Our concerns ranged from eligibility to metrics, and included onboarding, curriculum design, coaching and mentoring, and a public relations campaign, as well as opportunities to celebrate every success along the way. The team met for hours each month and gradually a very special program emerged.

Needless to say, we are all very excited about the program, knowing of course that there will be challenges and that we will tackle them together.

Meanwhile, as the McGowan Fund works on its strategic plan, we’re exploring the common threads that weave across our grant making programs. This month, with the generous help of William Hughes of The Kern Family Foundation, we explore how critical thinking and character development are linked and how they might be taught. Interestingly, Hughes’s recommendation—Socratic teaching—is another kind of collaboration. It gives voice to student thought, hones questions and answers, fosters mutual respect, and leverages all the minds in the room in productive give-and-take. We thank Bill for his time and expertise and encourage you to reach out with your thoughts on Socratic teaching.

The third collaboration is of course our partnership with grantees. Our work cannot be done without our nonprofit partners, those we know and those we look forward to meeting. It’s through grantees that we reach people in critical need—neighbors, citizens, parents looking for work, children learning how to read amid disruption. We want to hear your ideas about how to effect sustainable change in McGowan’s program areas. We want to see powerful partnerships emerge demonstrating “the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts.”


Diana Spencer
Executive Director