A discussion at GPLEX Detroit in October 2023. (Danya Henninger/Billy Penn)

Collaboration is important for progress. That’s pretty much a maxim in modern civic life, but it’s not often that Philadelphia’s nonprofit heads, top municipal staffers, and private sector VPs find themselves in the same room.

It’s even more rare that these leaders have consistent opportunities for facetime and decision making — but Ashley Jordan, Eleanor Sharpe, and Jim Markham frequently find themselves in this situation. 

These three Philadelphians — respectively, the president of the African American Museum in Philadelphia, the acting director of the city’s Department of Planning and Development, and the vice president of transportation engineering firm Pennoni — all got to know each other thanks to the Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange, aka GPLEX

The annual conference brings leaders together to learn from one another while also learning from their host city. It’s a program of the nonprofit Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, a 115-year-old think-and-do-tank dedicated to preserving and building equity in the region.

This year, GPLEX participants will explore New Orleans, home to some of the most resilient, hospitable, and celebratory people in the country. 

Jordan, Sharpe, and Markham are multi-year alumni of GPLEX, and each year they help to strengthen the bonds within the cohort. Jordan joined for the first time in 2022 when the group visited Detroit

“I am excited about the connections that I have made during this program — I have met people outside of my work bubble of arts and culture,” said Jordan, who was recently named to Biden’s National Museum and Library Services Board. “From these interactions I have found new collaborators that will help the museum to grow in ways where our mission can be seen with greater visibility.”

Her experience of meeting folks outside of her industry is not uncommon, and she’s been able to leverage her connections into partnerships in the months after the conference. 

Pennoni VP Markham also comes to GPLEX for the networking. He is a seven-time (!!) alum who is also the Economy League’s Board Chair, so you know he’s committed to the mission at the heart of the organization’s programming. 

He’s put in the time, participating in seven different GPLEX trips over the past 20 years, something only a few dozen out of 1,500 GPLEX alums  can say. Markham is an influential presence in Philly, something he stokes by returning year after year to explore new urban landscapes, meet new faces, and form connections that will benefit his company and its home city on a large scale. 

Sharpe is a standout six-time GPLEX alum who recently stepped into the highest position at the City of Philadelphia’s Planning Department. She goes to the conference for the camaraderie, the connections, and the mini field trips called “regional explorations.” What she learns from other cities shows up quickly in planning department priorities, and her cross-sector connections add potency to city partnerships and collabs. 

All three leaders had many chances to connect during the nonprofit’s most recent Detroit GPLEX conference in Detroit. 

A working group at GPLEX Detroit, in October 2023. (Via Danya Henninger/Billy Penn)

They collaborated in small-group workshops together, sat shoulder to shoulder on bus rides to off-site tours, dined together in some of the city’s best restaurants, and found time to chat between panels and events. Through their efforts and the energy of others, the “civic muscle” between Philly’s stalwart city leaders grows stronger each year. 

Are you a do-er, business owner, creative, leader, rising leader, activist, policy nerd, consultant, executive, or community builder? You too can join the fun, but the window closes soon — Saturday, July 15, is the last day to submit an application for this year’s GPLEX adventure