How Tomika McFadden Turned Passion and Purpose into Profit
How many black, successful women CEOs do you know from the streets of West Philadelphia? The answer is probably zero. Like many from her neighborhood, Tomika McFadden encountered many hardships while growing up. As a teenage mother who had to care for three children with disabilities, McFadden understood the critical nature of health and wellness early on. Perhaps this is the reason why she would be responsible for coordinating one of the largest success fairs Philadelphia has ever seen. Or later develop an entire health and human services company dedicated to servicing individuals with disabilities. Regardless of the reason, she’ll tell you in a heartbeat she’s just getting started.
“We focus on a person’s ability, not their disability.” This can often be heard in the halls at Pennsylvania Care Associates (PACA): a federally-funded, service coordination company founded in 2016 by McFadden. It works to support those managing their physical conditions and ailments with the resources they need to thrive in their health and community. After one visit to the office, it’s obvious the staff at PACA is “drinking the juice”. In this instance, the juice refers to McFadden’s vision to engage, empower, and affect change – especially for those who are marginalized and disenfranchised. The office is comprised of employees who are encouraged to tap into their skills and talents to help others, both internally and externally. From dance to the arts, she allows others to incorporate what brings them joy as an opportunity to do the same for others. There aren’t many companies that will open a meeting with the gift from an employee who delivers a spoken word poem to get the creative juices flowing.
Upon getting to know McFadden, you’ll realize she doesn’t operate like everyone else. Most businesses are driven by meeting their bottom line. This is a societal norm that she’s actively working towards shifting. “People don’t focus on the spiritual and humanistic side that drives the logical side. You need to attach purpose and passion to your bottom line,” McFadden claims. She does this by focusing on people first. Her innovative approach to reaching her numbers is to empower others to tap into their purpose. If employees are positive, connected, and creating a culture of accountability, they are inclined to be more productive. In addition, McFadden has learned this environment invites each individual who walks through its doors to arrive as his/her authentic self. At PACA, authenticity equals success.
You may wonder how this CEO, activist, philanthropist, author, and entrepreneur turned a small contract into a successful business in a matter of two years. Aside from her tenacity, passion, and thinking-outside-the-box mentality, McFadden believes in unique ways of engaging people in the changes they desire to make. It’s something she assesses often. “What unique ways can I engage people, so we can empower them? Because once they are empowered, we can create change.” From economic and leadership development to health and wellbeing, she wants people to feel a sense of ownership in how they can navigate from where they are to where they want to be. Getting to a place where she has the ability and capacity to ignite such change did not come easy. She emphatically states that it took relationships and mentorships to help make this a reality. “When people believe in you and your vision, they invest in you.”
Pennsylvania Care Associates is only one extension of McFadden’s vision and reach. While this for-profit continues to prosper and serve her community, she has other initiatives in the wing: including a non-profit called Pennsylvania Care Health and Wellness, and a private school for health and human services opening its doors within the next year. The nonprofit has already produced BeWhole Health Fest, the largest urban health and music festival in the country, and is set to host SisterReach, the biggest women’s and minority-centered empowerment summit to hit Philadelphia.
Her journey hasn’t been easy, and growing as a businesswoman continues to present challenges. Regardless, her focus never waivers and she believes in having heart in her business. “I want to operate where good does win. Having a good spirit and heart, operating above board, being transparent, and not having a fear of accountability. This is what gives you a good spirit and heart.” Following that mantra, and being her authentic self, is what she believes will allow her to continue to thrive.
It’s unfortunate that women of color, and in particular black women, have faced insurmountable obstacles in trying to achieve the “American dream”. McFadden knows these challenges intimately and pours her energy and resources in trying to help others, including her staff and consumers, to overcome them. “We need to operate from an authentic space. People wish they could be their authentic selves and be successful. Imagine if more black women could tap into that and be unapologetic about it.” In reflecting on this, she offers other black women the tools that have helped, and continue to support her, on this journey:
- Tool #1: Know Thyself. McFadden was gifted with a vision at an early age, and she held tight to it. At one point in her career, she shared an idea with a manager who took the lead in getting $1M in funding and developing Philadelphia’s largest retention program. She could have easily been discouraged by this brainchild being taken and implemented by someone else. However, she knew there was more where that came from. Sure enough, as she got older, she began to pour that effort and vision into her own endeavors.
- Tool #2: Have Faith in Yourself and Your Ideas. “It comes from a space of purpose. If you get it, it’s so real. You have to have the faith and strength to follow through.” McFadden was a community activist for 20 years before getting a big break. She encourages women to stick with their goals. Even if they take time to materialize, she encourages others to still pursue them. Doing this connected her to the right people, and that ultimately led her to success.
- Tool #3: Mentorship. This has been a key ingredient for McFadden, and she currently hosts a Sister Circle, where she can pay it forward. “You need to have someone who can feed you: intellectually, spiritually, mentally. Someone not afraid to be honest and invest in you. In doing an internship with my mentor, I found that I was able to tap into my skills. And while you watch your skills produce results, you build more faith in yourself and your giving.” That leads to the last tool…
- Tool #4: Giving. After she hosted the health and music fest, McFadden thought about what she could continue to give to her community. That evolved to the possibilities nationally, and then globally. “In order to get there, you have to put yourself in the position to give. When you’re truly giving, you’re also receiving. You’re receiving new lessons, experiences and knowledge. There’s an expansion of your relationships, and eventually your funds.” She recommends starting small and establishing anchor funds. Even if it’s a small contract, she encourages you to go for it. She accredits her internship with giving her the confidence to ask for what she needed and felt she deserved. When you start small, you have room to prove yourself and let the opportunities grow.
She may be prosperous and have an abundant mindset, but Tomika McFadden is also a humble visionary. She thinks light-years ahead, and is willing to support anyone – particularly black women – who are looking to do the work to improve their lives holistically. This is her innovative approach to doing business differently: She understands and embodies the notion that once you are tapped into and investing in your overall wellbeing, you can operate successfully. Her final gem is this: “Money can’t make you feel satisfied. You can have peace of mind and a good time. But it’s not something to seek for fulfillment or happiness. Which is why most people operate from a position of logic. When you tap into purpose and passion, that’s when you experience the explosion.” Abuse, poverty, and homelessness are just a few of the obstacles that could have deterred her from her dreams. But McFadden is quick to tell you that she doesn’t operate like everyone else… and that is her innovative sweet spot. The icing on the cake: it’s only the beginning.