My Vision for 1Philadelphia

1Philadelphia is a city-wide initiative focused on creating an equitable tech and innovation ecosystem for underrepresented Philadelphia residents.

Sylvester Mobley
Apr 10 · 8 min read
Image credit: Chris Kendig Photography

As the founder and CEO of Coded by Kids, I have built an organization that focuses on creating long–term transformative change through technology and innovation education. My work and my life center around building true equity for populations underrepresented in tech. My organization addresses the roots of systemic racial inequity by making long–term commitments to our young people and ensuring they have access to the futures they deserve.

When you look at our city, there are two vastly different realities Philadelphians experience connected to the color of their skin. In one Philadelphia, the education, justice, and economic systems work against you to limit your chances of success. In the other Philadelphia, you are limited only by your talent and drive.

This is the Philadelphia that I believe we must work towards. It’s this Philadelphia that should be the reality for all Philadelphians.

The only way we get to the one Philadelphia that I believe in, that we all believe in, is to commit to working together to produce long-term transformative change. 1Philadelphia is a city-wide initiative focused on creating an equitable tech and innovation ecosystem for underrepresented and underserved Philadelphia residents. 1Philadelphia is designed to connect various stakeholders to collaboratively build a connected tech and innovation education system that will prepare Philadelphia residents for futures in the tech and innovation space from kindergarten through career and entrepreneurship.

Attacking the Root Causes of Inequity

The systemic racial inequity that we see in Philadelphia isn’t new or accidental. It is the result of intentionally designed and ruthlessly effective systems. The outrage that we now see results from an unwillingness to commit to dismantling those systems and building new equitable ones. We are where we are today because we have historically focused on taking the path of least resistance and using a patchwork of short-term solutions to address deeply rooted systemic problems. This must change.

Funders of nonprofits, nonprofit executives, politicians, and business leaders often talk about jobs as the key to equity. Their funding priorities, programs, and policies reflect this view. On the surface, the hyper-focus on making sure people have jobs (as a way of addressing issues connected to equity) makes sense. Intuitively, many of us think that if someone is unemployed, living in poverty (or any other similar socio-economic condition), the starting point to a better path is a job. But in this assumption, we commit an oversimplification. We’ve boiled socio-economic outcomes down to a job.

But we never ask the most important question — what kind of jobs are we pushing people into? Not all jobs are created equal, and not all lead to a better future.

The existing approach to job placement is one example of how we’ve attempted to use short-term bandaids to fix long-term systemic problems. While technology and innovation aren’t themselves the solution to racial inequity and injustice, they are two critical parts of the solution. They are two of society’s greatest amplifiers — able to amplify our ability to work more efficiently, create a positive impact in the world, and connect. But just as they can amplify good, they can amplify the negative aspects of our society. They can amplify the impacts of systemic racial inequity, social injustice, and our biases.

Despite that, we have an opportunity to use technology and innovation to create, drive, and amplify the equity that we want to see in our city. Tech and innovation not only can change someone’s life, but also change the economic trajectory of a city.

Student and Parent/Guardian at 2019 CbK Classroom Student Showcase

Solutions For An Equitable Tech Education Ecosystem

By preparing Black Philadelphians to be software engineers, data scientists, product managers, and startup founders, we can create a truly equitable tech and innovation ecosystem. In the past, our approach has been to push as many Black people into jobs as quickly as possible, without thinking about the quality and growth potential of those jobs. This prioritized short-term fixes to deeply rooted problems while neglecting long-term outcomes. While this approach has a place in a city’s economic development strategy, it can’t be the only approach. Focusing only on short term job placement prevents socio-economic growth for underrepresented people and becomes an obstacle to true racial equity. We must commit to being honest about what upward mobility and long-term success look like and ensure that underrepresented people have access to it.

Our solution is to give every person in the City of Philadelphia access to sustainable, high-growth opportunities in the tech and innovation space by implementing a citywide tech education system. This would turn the entire city into a pipeline for high-level tech talent and tech startup founders.

Below are the three strategies that I am proposing to achieve our goals of giving every person in Philadelphia access to high-quality tech and innovation education programs and increasing the number of Black people in the tech and innovation space as both employees and employers.

  1. Build an integrated tech education, skill development, and experiential learning ecosystem that targets high-growth opportunity careers.
  2. Build the infrastructure needed to support an integrated ecosystem.
  3. Change the way Black Philadelphian’s look at tech and innovation and change the culture of our city.

Build an integrated tech education and learning ecosystem

  • Provide every Philadelphian with access to high-quality technology, innovation, and tech startup-focused entrepreneurship education programs. This can be achieved by building an ecosystem of partners (including digital literacy education organizations, colleges, startup accelerators, venture capital firms, k-12 schools, and Coded by Kids) to support people from elementary school through college and on through their careers. Programs would be implemented in schools, recreation centers, and community centers throughout the city connecting traditional school-based education to community-based education programs, thus giving people the ability to move seamlessly from program to program.
  • Create deliberate connections between elementary school, middle school, high school, college, and career. Create connections between programs and ecosystem members so that young people have deliberate pathways that take them from basic digital literacy and tech education in elementary school to majoring in computer science in college to career support.
  • Eliminate common barriers to higher education. Work with area higher education institutions to develop systemic solutions to the barriers that Philadelphia students commonly face to succeed in college in computer science, design, and tech-related majors. Specific attention would be devoted to improving the transition process for high school students into Philadelphia-area colleges and universities as computer science, design, and technology-related college majors.
  • Provide Philadelphia high school and college students with high impact career-relevant internship opportunities. We will work with companies throughout the region to develop structured internships that allow young people to enter internship programs in the 10th grade and continue through their senior year of college. Internships will be structured based on a rotation model that allows students to experience various aspects of tech and innovation careers. Education program providers will work with employers to ensure the students are learning topics and skills directly connected to the real world and preparing them for their internships.
  • Provide Post-College Support. Students looking to start tech or innovation-driven startups will be provided support ranging from incubators and accelerators targeting underrepresented founders to access to venture capital funding. Additionally, students looking to enter the workforce will be provided with support ranging from networking events to interview preparation.
  • Provide Post-High School Support for Students not Attending a 4-Year College or University. Students who are not attending a 4-year college or university would have access to technical training programs and associate degree programs that prepare them for careers in tech that do not require 4-year degrees.

Infrastructure support for an integrated ecosystem

  • Develop an Ecosystem Advisory Council. The initial step will be developing an advisory council made of representatives from the ecosystem ranging from nonprofit organizations to the government. The advisory council will be action-oriented and focused on making the decisions necessary to ensure the ecosystem functions effectively.
  • Track the knowledge and skills people gain as they move from program to program. The development of a system that will be used both by education program providers and internship providers will provide people with a unified tech transcript. The unified tech transcript will track what people learn across organizations. It will be used by both education organizations and employers to see what people have learned and what skills they have.

A Culture Shift: Change the way Black Philadelphian’s look at tech and innovation

  • Turn technology and innovation education into a sport. We want people in Philadelphia to look at technology and innovation in the same way they look at sports. We want them to see it as competitive and exciting. To do this, we are expanding our annual youth competitive coding competition into a league-based competition with youth teams throughout the city. The competition will have a season just like any other sport, with a championship. Teams will be able to win prizes from area companies that include highly sought after internships.
  • Raise awareness with Philadelphia residents. We aren’t just asking organizations and companies to look at things differently. We are also asking Philadelphia residents to look at technology and innovation in ways they haven’t before. We must use deliberate outreach and awareness campaigns to inform people about the need to move into careers in technology and the opportunities available to them. We will look to train both members of the community as well as employees/volunteers of our nonprofit partners to build the pool of Community Innovation Coaches. Community Innovation Coaches will receive training and monthly stipends to host awareness events and educate the community about tech and innovation.

A Call to Action

Putting these action items in motion gets us one step closer to the future, I envision for our students. Here’s what I imagine:

I imagine an amazingly talented Black child in 1st or 2nd grade, taking a series of digital literacy classes offered at both her school and neighborhood recreation center. Throughout elementary and high school, she grows up in Coded by Kids programs — competing in coding and pitch competitions, learning from professional mentors and advisors. She also participates in multiple tech-focused internships and receives support preparing for college from one of the city’s great college access programs.

As a natural next step, she attends a major local university and majors in computer science. She starts working on her startup idea by her sophomore year and participates in an accelerator program for underrepresented founders immediately after graduation. With support from the network of mentors and advisors, she raises a pre-seed round, builds her MVP, and starts gaining traction. Because of the support from the ecosystem that has been there for her since 1st grade, she builds a successful company and makes it to a multi-million dollar exit. Finally, she becomes a mentor and angel investor for the next generation of young Black tech leaders.

While the work to make this a reality has already begun, now is the time to accelerate the pace at which we work to transform our city. Now is the time for every stakeholder, partner, and supporter to step forward and push for long-term transformative change.

Today, we have an opportunity to work towards building true systemic racial equity in the City of Philadelphia. By focusing on long-term transformative outcomes and having the courage to tackle deeply entrenched inequities, we can build the Philadelphia we all believe in.

To join us and learn more, go to onephl.org.

Sylvester Mobley, CEO and Founder of Coded by Kids, works to increase access to tech education opportunities for those who are underrepresented in tech, especially children of color. Sylvester believes that building a tech industry that is diverse, inclusive, and equitable is one of the most pressing issues in our society.

Sylvester Mobley

Advocating for Equity in Tech

Sylvester Mobley

Written by

Founder and CEO of youth tech and innovation education nonprofit Coded by Kids. Frequently talk about education program design, service design, equity in tech.

Sylvester Mobley

Sylvester Mobley is a tech education advocate that works to provide opportunities for underrepresented people in tech.

Sylvester Mobley

Written by

Founder and CEO of youth tech and innovation education nonprofit Coded by Kids. Frequently talk about education program design, service design, equity in tech.

Sylvester Mobley

Sylvester Mobley is a tech education advocate that works to provide opportunities for underrepresented people in tech.

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