The Power of Partnerships: 25 Years of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City
By Toya Williford, Executive Director, the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City
Ten months ago, I stepped into an exciting new role as the executive director of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City—a nonprofit organization that, for 25 years and across three mayoral administrations, has brought together members of the philanthropic community, City government, businesses, and neighborhoods to serve New Yorkers from all walks of life.
I came to the Mayor’s Fund from the foundation world, where I’d had a bird’s-eye view of both the macro and micro needs of community-based organizations (CBOs) and what it truly means to invest in their long term success. I learned that, as a philanthropic partner, you cannot simply invest in an organization’s wins—you must also support their failures. Giving CBOs the long-term, flexible, strategic support they need to test models, creatively learn from their mistakes, and apply those lessons going forward is paramount to their growth and evolution, as well as that of the communities they serve.
I brought this perspective to the Mayor’s Fund when I joined as the programs and policy director in 2014. I quickly discovered that, in order for government to incubate and bring to scale innovative solutions to some of our city’s most stubborn civic challenges—essentially to test models without fear of failure—there needed to be a symbiotic interdependence between philanthropy, CBOs, and City government. At that intersection is precisely where the Mayor’s Fund sits, acting in equal parts as thought partner, matchmaker and air-traffic controller.
From my new vantage point, and in looking back at 25 years of the Mayor’s Fund’s impact, it is clear to me that no one entity or sector can do this work alone; partnering with the Mayor’s Fund means leveraging dollars in a way that’s not otherwise possible. We serve as the bridge connecting our partners to public dollars and public policies that go beyond any one administration and lead to sustainability and scale. In this way, we are bringing to life the core concept of community by investing in our most valuable resource, the people of New York City.
Indeed, the Mayor’s Fund’s success is determined by the value the people of New York City see and feel in their lives because of our partners’ investments in programs that support, empower, and improve their daily lives. In partnership with New York’s philanthropic community the Mayor’s Fund has helped launch and sustain life changing programs. For example, in 2007 we created pathways to meaningful careers and financial independence for young adults across the City through the Ladders for Leaders program. In 2018 we expanded our economic inclusion efforts by launching EmpoweredNYC, a program that assists people with disabilities in obtaining living-wage jobs.
Our partnerships have also increased the City’s capacity to connect thousands of New Yorkers from various walks of life to the vital public resources they deserve in safe and supportive spaces. In 2005 we opened the first-ever Family Justice Center (FJC) in Brooklyn. By 2016 we expanded the FJC model to all five boroughs, providing an array of services and programs, from case management to financial empowerment programming to counseling, to tens of thousands of women and children each year. Similarly, between 2015 and today we have increased outreach and expanded access to mental health support to individuals experiencing mental health challenges, including rolling out programs for New York City public school students to reduce shame and stigma associated with seeking support.
Partnership has also allowed us to react quickly and decisively to support communities experiencing specific challenges. In 2016, we helped launch NYCitizenship to increase naturalization rates and help immigrant New Yorkers access the benefits of citizenship. In 2017 we increased our support by rolling out the Know Your Rights campaign to inform immigrant New Yorkers about their legal rights and their ability to access City services.
All of these important, life changing services were made possible because we extended hands across sectors, agencies, and communities to develop effective responses to civic challenges, test models, iterate changes, and most importantly, to collaborate on what benefits all of New York City. The power of partnerships has driven the Mayor’s Fund’s work for 25 years, and what will undoubtedly drive our City forward for many more years to come.