Exchange to Change: The Leadership Exchange’s Key Ingredient

In the fifth installment of the Economy League’s Exchange to Change series, Josh Sevin examines how new relationships and collaborations seeded at the Leadership Exchange have led to lasting change in Greater Philadelphia.


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With one month to go until the 2015 Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange, Economy League staff are hard at work putting the finishing touches on this year’s event. And while we take great pride in the quality of speakers, learning visits, and new ideas and innovative approaches to regional improvement featured at the Exchange, we know what truly sets this annual event apart – the participants.


A central premise for launching the Leadership Exchange 10 years ago was that Greater Philadelphia would benefit from more intensive relationship-building among cross-sector leaders who share a passion for our region’s potential. We designed the Exchange – both for our multiple-day trips to other regions and our shorter in-region events – to maximize learning and interactions among a diverse group of difference-makers who otherwise might not come into contact in their hectic day-to-day work.


That’s why we’ve continued to use a competitive application process with diversity goals across sector, geography, race, and gender to select GPLEX participants. It’s with an eye toward ensuring that a growing set of established and emerging business, nonprofit, government, labor, and philanthropic leaders have a chance to create and strengthen the kinds of relationships that will drive progress in our region.


Over the past decade, the Economy League has seen how new collaborations and relationships seeded at the Exchange have led to change in Greater Philadelphia. Broad business, nonprofit, and public sector coalitions emerged from our initial trips to Chicago and Atlanta to take on funding for SEPTA, campaign finance reform, and resources for parks – and each achieved success. And on a more informal level, we’ve seen friendships forged over late-night beers bring together seemingly strange bedfellows to address pressing economic development and community challenges.


One of this year’s Leadership Exchange co-chairs, Comcast Senior Director for Entrepreneurial Engagement Danielle Cohn, provides a good example of the impact of relationships forged and strengthened on the Exchange. Cohn points to the experience and people on her 2010 trip to the Bay Area and subsequent Leadership Exchanges as helping lead her down a different career path.


Having worked for several years as a leader in Philadelphia’s tourism industry, she was intrigued by our visit to Mission Bay in San Francisco and learning about the Bay Area’s rich entrepreneurial ecosystem. Conversations with University City Science Center President & CEO Steve Tang and other local startup leaders on the trip stoked her interest in Philadelphia’s growing startup and maker communities. At the 2011 Exchange, Cohn met successful tech entrepreneur Bob Moul, who was about to become president of Philly Startup Leaders and asked her for her volunteer expertise to help tell the story of the region’s evolving tech startup scene. The connections forged at those two Leadership Exchanges paved the way for a new civic passion that resulted in a leadership role at Comcast where she continues to support and shape the region’s entrepreneurial community.


Social scientists call it “the strength of weak ties” – that the connections forged just outside of our immediate and most familiar communities are the ones that end up leading to the most fruitful collaborations. The Economy League recognizes that creating a space where Greater Philadelphia’s leaders can establish and strengthen those ties might be the Leadership Exchange’s most significant and lasting accomplishment for our region.


Explore the full Exchange to Change series 


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The Exchange to Change series is made possible through the generous support of the University of Pennsylvania