Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott Gifts $4 Million to the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative to Accelerate and Sustain Program’s Impact

A group of WPSI graduates pose with Dr. Romaine Thrower
Mar 11, 2024 2 months ago

Today, we at University City District are thrilled to share that our West Philadelphia Skills Initiative (WPSI) has received a $4 million donation from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott through her charitable organization Yield Giving. The unrestricted gift will accelerate WPSI’s goals of providing opportunities for job seekers, program alumni, and incumbent workers to secure meaningful employment that will help break the cycle of poverty. The funding will be allocated toward expanding WPSI’s reach within the region, focusing on high-growth industries and innovative program design, and supporting alumni and incumbent workers through interconnected services to advance their careers. These efforts are part of WPSI's strategic plan, which also includes broader measures such as tracking industry growth and decline and increasing policy influence in economic mobility and inclusion.

“We are deeply honored to receive this transformative gift and affirmation of our work,” says UCD President Matt Bergheiser. “Every neighborhood in Philadelphia exudes talent, and this investment will accelerate the work of the Skills Initiative to connect unstoppable local talent to life-changing opportunity.”

MacKenzie Scott’s Yield Giving funds organizations working to advance the opportunities of people in underserved communities through “quiet research.” They evaluate candidates through careful analysis of criteria specific to their size, geography, and mission for indicators of high potential for sustained positive impact, including stable finances, multi-year track records, measurement and evidence of outcomes, and experienced leadership representative of the community served.

“The extraordinary nature of this gift matches the extraordinary nature of the work we get to do at the Skills Initiative,“ says WPSI Executive Director Cait Garozzo. “Our vision for a more equitable, easier to navigate, and meaningful approach to workforce development that centers experience and relationships resonates strongly with many people. Thanks to Ms. Scott’s gift, we can continue to push our vision even further. We can lean into our bold ideas, connect more talented people to quality jobs, and deepen our support for everyone we work with.”

Originally launched in 2011 to bridge the gap between West Philadelphia residents seeking opportunity and local employers seeking talent, the Skills Initiative has enjoyed sustained growth and expansion as our unique model proved successful. In recent years, we've expanded to serving all of Philadelphia, we've pushed into exciting new industries including the life sciences and union trades, and we are serving as the backbone organization of the recently-launched Keystone LifeSci Collaborative, a new partnership to support Southeastern Pennsylvania’s life science sector.

Craig Carnaroli, chair of UCD's board of directors and Senior Executive Vice President at the University of Pennsylvania, notes, “We made an essential decision 13 years ago to couple University City District’s mission of investing in place with investments in people. To witness the expansion of this work from serving partners at University City institutions to major employers across Philadelphia has been remarkable.”

Since WPSI’s formation in 2011, our career-driven program has served over 1,700 local residents, connecting talented individuals to high-quality opportunities with the city’s premier employers for total combined earnings of over $100 million. Since its inception, 91% of WPSI graduates have connected to employment through the Skills Initiative after being unemployed for an average of 30 weeks. Over the past year, WPSI graduates have secured jobs paying an average wage of $21.71 per hour.