Feature Story

Lessons from 10 Years of the Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange

Since 2005, the Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange (GPLEX) event has brought together diverse groups of executives and leaders to make positive economic impacts in our community. Comcast NBCUniversal is a proud sponsor of this year's event that—in past years—has accelerated ideas into action, by studying best practices in innovation and economic development.

Through programming and city visits, this initiative of the Economy League Philadelphia exposes leaders to new and innovative ideas that deepen participants' understanding of Philadelphia's potential, while helping to connect peers in multiple cities.

"This will be the 10th GPLEX in which I've participated," says Comcast's Senior Director of Entrepreneurial Engagement, Danielle Cohn. "Each time, we all come back with new insights that impact ways we collaborate with Philadelphia partners, as well as peers and programs in the cities we visit."

This fall, a group of select leaders from the Philadelphia region will travel to Los Angeles for the event's 11th year. Our Entrepreneurial Engagement team spoke with Josh Sevin, the Economy League's Managing Director, Regional Engagement, as he reflects back on the last decade and discusses how innovation and insight have evolved in cities as a result of the event.

This year's kickoff event was held at Ralph's Cafe in the Comcast Center. Tell us who was there:

Josh: The Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange is an annual fall event. In the spring, we encourage leaders from across the tristate region, across sectors, to apply to be participants. One of the biggest pieces of the leadership exchange is the intensive experience with a really diverse mix of people who make a difference in their own field in our region. Leaders who are going on this kind of exchange are people who are believers in our region's potential and the upside that they can help influence. They are participating in this exchange to help get more ideas, tools, and relationships to affect that change.

I think it doesn’t take a lot for people to recognize the value in getting out of your own space. I think the combination of seeing how that could help people, but also recognizing this is a really high level group and three days to kind of intensively be with them. There are also versions of these kinds of learning visit programs in regions across the country, and a lot of people in leadership circles in Philly were aware of similar programs.

On your 'Exchange to Change' blog, you discuss three ideas that came back to the Philadelphia region from the inaugural Chicago event in 2005. Can you elaborate on some of these ideas?

Josh: Chicago’s Millennium Park opened just one year before our fall 2005 visit, and it was–and remains–dazzling. The visit helped build momentum around Center City District President & CEO Paul Levy's nascent concept of transforming Dilworth Plaza on the western edge of City Hall into the modern Dilworth Park that opened last fall. It showed key regional leaders first-hand the transformative potential and significant economic benefit of such a project.

While Dilworth Park’s redesign was a long time in the making and drew from many examples, the public-private partnership model for development and operations and its signature design elements–such as the interactive fountain and video screens–clearly drew from the Millennium Park story. Other GPLEX events have inspired things like the creation of the Metropolitan Caucus, a gathering of suburban legislative leaders that helped to successfully advocate for increased funding for SEPTA.

What do you hope participants will bring back from this fall’s visit to Los Angeles?

Josh: Part of our group will be over at the Los Angeles and Long Beach Ports learning about the largest port complex in the Western Hemisphere. It’s unbelievable. These are important issues for our region that's trying to expand its ports and get better on logistics and exports.

Another part of our group, including Comcast NBCUniversal, will head into the area that's been branded "Silicon Beach," the innovation and technology corridor along the beach around Santa Monica, Venice, and Playa del Rey. The work there is especially tied into that region’s entertainment sector strengths, but we're going to be highlighting lessons learned for our technology and entrepreneurship efforts in Philly.

What do you think we'll be talking about when we're looking back on it from the future?

Josh: We're trying to help impact leadership. It's so hard in our busy, busy lives to kind of break and get out of our own organizations and collaborate with others or reach out to unlikely partners. People who are in the innovation business know sometimes that's where the best, most creative and new ideas come from. Leadership Exchange provides a forum for that. The hope for the next decade is that you're seeing even more fruitful collaborations sparked from the exchange and ideas and programs stolen and converted to here.

To learn more about how Comcast NBCUniversal supports thought leadership and innovation in our communities, visit comcastpartner.com.

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