Last month brought the announcement that William Penn Foundation executive director Laura Sparks has accepted the position of president at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, a college in New York City founded on principles of equity and inclusion. Given Sparks’ longstanding commitment to underserved urban communities and demonstrated leadership capacities, this should bode well for Cooper Union. But what does it mean for the William Penn Foundation, a $2.4 billion family foundation that has been plagued with leadership challenges over the last several years? And, more importantly, what about the residents of Philadelphia?
In 2014, I conducted a Philamplify assessment of the foundation, asking “Is Philadelphia’s Leading Philanthropy Back on Track?” During that time, William Penn had just gone through a tumultuous period. One CEO, Jeremy Nowak, whose leadership style was blunt and whose edu