Paul Lima

There seems to be something in our DNA that is closely tied with thinking differently; our diversity, our focus on our youth, and our willingness to reinvent ourselves.

The U.S. Army built the first general-purpose, electronic computer right here in Philadelphia, operating it through the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. But the ENIAC also represented an often-forgotten first: all six of ENIAC’s software programmers were women (see the documentary The Computers: The Remarkable Story of the ENIAC Programmers). But Philadelphia’s story of diversity and inclusion doesn’t stop there.

Our power comes from our diversity in thought and culture.

Philadelphia has a “Goldilocks” dynamic as a city; we’re big enough to offer a breadth and depth of professional relationships that is “not too big and not too small.” Our Chamber of Commerce is the third largest in the country, and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has recognized our Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber as Chamber of the Year twice in the past ten years. The Hispanic Chamber also runs a Professional Mentoring Network (PMN), partnering with Comcast to provide mid-level managers access to the same training that Comcast provides its leaders. Similarly, local chapters of Hispanic MBAs (Prospanica) and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) connect emerging professionals with leaders of today.

Because of these networks, and because of Philadelphia’s Sanctuary City policies, over 18,000 Hispanic-owned businesses thrive in the greater Philadelphia area. In fact, our Office of Immigrant Affairs has existed for nearly a decade, and UNESCO recently recognized Philadelphia as the nation’s first World Heritage City.

Philadelphia invents the future

Faith in the Future—a nonprofit that consolidated the management and governance of 21 privately owned high schools affiliated with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia—has changed the model for private education in urban communities. In my role on the Board of Directors with the Boy Scouts and separately as a Board Director for Faith in the Future, I see a good future for the 35,000 youth we serve. We are investing in our children and promoting the idea that diversity can make us better. For example, our Boy Scout Council coordinated closely with the national office for the policy changes that led to the inclusion of LGBT Scouts and leaders, as well as the inclusion of girls.

Similar innovations are happening at the Urban Affairs Coalition (UAC), where they have consolidated shared services in support of over 75 nonprofits using cutting edge cloud-based technologies.

Where do we go from here?

  • Our for-profit and nonprofit boards should continue to recruit for diversity. We’ve made a lot of progress but still have more ground to cover.
  • Because our productivity at the operational level is outpacing our strategies, business models, governance, and even ethics, board-nomination committees should specifically focus on elevating the boards’ collective digital and innovation IQ.
  • The big-rock problems we face are neither born in isolation nor solved there. It’s going to take public-private partnerships to take us into the future, because they can expedite primary research and technology commercialization. We should also explore new business models that account for an exponential acceleration of innovation.

It takes courage to try new business models, to adapt, and to reinvent the future, and our relevance on the global stage depends on recruiting for diversity, investing in our children, and maintaining the courage to reinvent ourselves.

Paul Lima is a globally recognized leader on the topic of digital transformation and an investor in early-stage technology companies.

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