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Philadelphia Leadership Foundation

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In the early 1980’s a spirit of ecumenism and a commitment to practical engagement in the affairs of the city of Philadelphia had already taken root deep in the hearts of a core of  Christian men and women from all strains of the Philadelphia Christian community. Initially, a small group of like-minded Christians joined together to pray for the needs of their city. It was this commitment to each other and to the increasing needs of their urban area that pressed these leaders together. In time, the participants started seeking some formal venue for their efforts, some more organized means through which to impact their city.


Recognizing that the biggest impediment to effective work is a cramped vision these Christian leaders chose to commit themselves to invest in the leaders who are engaged in effective, Christ-centered solutions and to initiate change in under-served areas such as church division, neighborhood blight and educational short-comings. Therefore, in 1983 the Philadelphia Leadership Foundation (PLF) was born to serve as a vehicle through which the answers to these issue could be addressed.


PLF recognized that opportunities for service abound and were limited only by the boundaries of their own vision. As the years passed there was a new openness in the city to public/private partnerships and particularly for faith-based organizations. In time not only had the federal government been pursuing a new approach to solving old social ills, but local and state agencies were seeking the active collaboration of congregations and exploring ways to work together. PLF’s vision of empowering spiritual leaders for the transformation of the city has never been more timely.


PLF is committed to a set of values, which guide its work and are rooted in Jesus’ Kingdom mandate to serve and renew:


We value our city.  We are committed to both people and place. We seek the physical, social and spiritual renewal of both. Philadelphia is committed to be a place of relationship, opportunity, and grace for all.


We value the poor and vulnerable.  We see God’s unrelenting concern for the poor, widowed, migrant, sick, prison, homeless, and oppressed. We work in partnership to build opportunities and a better life for those who live at the margins.


We value leadership.  Philadelphia’s diverse leadership needs to be engaged. We value a Biblical view of leadership that seeks the welfare of others, uses everyone’s gifts, heals divisions, and accomplished the task.


We value the church.   The whole church in a city has tremendous resources to bring. We seek to unite the church and to connect its resources with those of other sectors to renew our city.


We value empowerment.   Our work should not patronize, but free and empower.


We value reconciliation.   This work requires listening, respect, the tearing down of barriers, and united work for the welfare of the city.


We value risk.   Creativity, innovation, and courage are always required.


PLF has always had as its purpose to “Connect leaders, Change lives. Transform cities”. It is the purpose of PLF to connect leaders, from all walks of life to tackle a city’s most pressing problems affecting the poor and vulnerable. PLF seeks to unite people, resources, and know-how from faith groups, business, government and neighborhoods to change lives and transform cities. The words of Peter Drucker ring clear:


“The only institution capable of re-civilizing our broken cities is the church. Our task is to build the capacity of the church to function as one seamless partner alongside other sectors in the task of civil renewal.”


PLF has followed through on its commitment to impact Philadelphia through its various projects:




Vision:  The Philadelphia Urban Coalition is a spirit-led community:

  • To encounter God …
  • To build & strengthen relationships
  • To bring healing & cross-cultural reconciliation
  • To empower leaders to impact the city & beyond.


The Philadelphia Urban Coalition is a dynamic monthly dialogue and prayer gathering convened by PLF for pastors and organization leaders in the Greater Philadelphia region. It is a diverse group of men and women from a variety of denominational backgrounds and differing communities, but who all share a love for the city and a desire to serve God in a way that transforms, both their own lives and the urban context around them.




Over the years PLF has served as an incubator, a catalyst to develop programs where needed and then to spin them off on their own. Such a program was the Prison Transformation Program in 2002.


Vision: To enable the personal empowerment and transformation of those in prison in order to break the cycle of crime and violence and enable successful reintegration upon release.


Under the leadership of Joanna Flanders Thomas, PLF’s Vice President, the program “Change Begins with Me” was chronicled in the BBC’s award-winning documentary, “Killers Don’t Cry”.




Vision: To gather in the true spirit of Jesus Christ.


  • To discover how we can be more effective as leaders.
  • To know God and apply his principles in business and professional life.
  • To pray for God’s blessings on the people of Philadelphia.
  • To respond to opportunities for service.


This year, 2009, PLF held the 25th anniversary of the Philadelphia Leadership Prayer Breakfast. Over the years as many as 1,500 business, government, and community leaders, have attended this annual event. Speakers have included Joe Gibbs, Astronaut James Irwin, Rosey Grier, Irv Cross, Fred Fetterolf, Jack Eckerd, Billy Graham, Andrew Young, Hon. William Gray, Foster Friess, Sen. Elizabeth Dole, George Gallup, Jr., and many other outstanding Christians. Truly the goal of this Prayer Breakfast has stood by its focus i.e. Transforming the Soul of the City: Leaders Who Make A Difference.




In the late 1980’s two PLF Board members initiated a project to bridge the gap between their two worlds (church and private sector philanthropy) in accomplishing their mutual goal of revitalizing urban communities. The Black church has historically been a social service as well as religious institution out of necessity, offering a myriad of community services with little or no support beyond the resources of the church. Private sector grantmakers, often restricted from funding religious entities, had for years invested dollars in urban programs with little information about the significant role African American churches play in bringing about community change.


The ICIF was initially formed as an intermediary funding vehicle into which private sector philanthropists could place funds for redistribution to church-based programs. However, while the latter were successful at running programs it became clear that they often lacked the organizational capacity to manage grants and all the corresponding requirements. Thus the Inner City Impact Institute was created to train church leaders and pastors as a capacity building training program. This program was recognized by the Chronicle of Philanthropy as one of the most impactful training programs ever created for non-profits.


Again in its role as an incubator this most impactful program was as well spun off as the Center for Urban Resources (CUR) in 1993. An independent research evaluation conducted by Branch Associates in 1995 documented the success of the organization. Churches were able to obtain more funding to expand and improve their programs and serve more people better. Over 700 predominantly African-American church or faith-based leaders trained through this program.




Because of the skills and broad experience of PLF in working with the youth over the many years of its existence PLF was awarded a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice in 2008 to identify and coordinate over 100 mentors to work with these young people.




This group meets regularly to discuss issues regarding the city and to develop strategies for cooperation.




This monthly gathering of Christian women meets to honor female Christian leaders and provide scholarships for needy students and support for families in need.


The Philadelphia Leadership Foundation exists to put people in touch with people by informing those with vision and talents about the many in our city burdened by personal, spiritual and financial concerns. PLF is a link that identifies resources for city-wide ministries now at work and issues an appeal for further service within our community and in the name of God.