First Female CEO of Urban Affairs Coalition Sharmain Matlock-Turner Helps Groups Solve Problems

Sharmain Matlock Turner, CEO of the Urban Affairs Coalition (UAC) in Philadelphia (Photo courtesy of UAC)

By Andrea K. Hammer

When Sharmain Matlock-Turner became the first female CEO and president of the Urban Affairs Coalition (UAC) in 1999, she had the opportunity to focus on several passions: communities, organizations and hard work.

With experience sitting on boards, she understood the challenges of organizations—and how they could be successful. While working for elected officials, she also talked with and heard the concerns of different people, groups and organizations.

“I learned early not to be afraid to ask questions and to be a really good listener. That’s what I did when I took on this role,” she said, recognizing the women who recommended her for this leadership position.

The UAC is a coalition of more than 60 partner organizations uniting government, businesses, grassroots communities and social entrepreneurs. Together, the groups work on initiatives to improve Philadelphia’s urban neighborhoods.

“We convene, connect and collaborate,” Sharmain said. “Our fiscal sponsorship is a wonderful business model that helps groups save time and money.”

Focusing on Diversity in Business

As a poor child from West Philadelphia, Sharmain was the first in her family to attend college. Through her personal experience, she has learned that diversity is critical to produce the best results.

“Think of the talent that’s in the world that may not be from my neighborhood, town or school that’s going to do absolutely wonderful and terrific things. You will get different points of view and all kinds of talent. You will be helping to build generations of leaders and breaking down the social barriers that exist among us,” she said.

“To me, it’s about diversity, inclusion and equity. Diversity is about being in the room. With inclusion, you’re now at the table. Equity is about having the power to class the agenda and influence the decisions.”

Turning Experience into Action with Results

Here are some ways that Sharmain’s work as CEO of the UAC is making a significant difference:

Homelessness: The UAC has a program to help the homeless find a safe and warm place to stay and live while identifying the barriers preventing progress and independence. Services are provided for those dealing with HIV/AIDS, drug or alcohol problems and workers in changing industries, which are no longer hiring someone with their skills.

“We have programs called One Day at a Time, Center for H.O.P.E. and Self, Inc. They meet the homeless where they are and serve as a bridge to help them get to self-sufficiency,” Sharmain said.

READ! By 4thThe UAC united 80 groups and organizations for this campaign, led by The Annie E. Casey Foundation and Public Citizens for Children and Youth. The city-wide effort supports the work of public, private, charter and parochial schools.

“If we can get children reading on grade level by the end of 3rd grade, the indications are that they’re going to be able to graduate high school and have a better chance to connect to an after high school experience—whether it’s college, work or trade school,” Sharmain said. “The school district reported this year that there’s a 5% increase in the number of young people who are on grade level by the end of 3rd grade.”

Summer youth employment: The UAC’s vision is that every low-income teen in the City of Philadelphia should have a summer job each year. They will graduate with a high school diploma and work history. In addition, new relationships result in recommendation letters for college and trade school as well as supportive contacts.

“All the research is clear. Not only that—it’s a matter of safety. Young people want to have productive things to do during the summer…. For low-income kids to have opportunities to be CEOS and business leaders, to run their own business, be a great worker, to dream and envision living anywhere they want to or the neighborhood where they are right now because maybe they want to change something. The potential of a person to have a big enough dream, a big enough vision can occur when they have money for the summer and a wealth of experiences,” Sharmain said.

“We have a commitment from the governor’s office, state senate and the mayor that they will make this a priority…. We’re hoping government will continue to help us get to 16,000 jobs [for summer youth employment] in the City of Philadelphia. The mayor has committed to doing that by 2020. We’re a part of an effort to find funding to make sure that happens.”

Other projects: The UAC recently distributed 2,000 food baskets, feeding 12,000, through a grassroots initiative. The coalition also partnered with the city on a pre-K program, working with 30 different providers on the Keystone STARS Program, an initiative of the Office of Child Development and Early Learning; more than half have already gained a star within 1 year. In addition, the UAC works with developers and commercial builders in the City of Philadelphia to find opportunities for minorities, women and the disabled in contracting services and construction jobs.

“There’s been over $2 billion that’s actually gone to minority-owned businesses since we started this work over 32 years ago,” Sharmain said.

Additional Insights

Here are some of Sharmain Matlock-Turner‘s additional insights:

  1. Become a sponsor: “You need to spend enough time when you see someone with great leadership potential to run a company or social enterprise and be willing to say, ‘I want to support you and help you become the CEO.’ … You have to convince people that you are ready and then you have to keep working to find people to sponsor you.”
  2. Support and promote minorities: “I believe, in the end, one of the best things I can do is finding the time to support and promote women and people of color in roles in the organization and community. Friends of the Coalition is a way to better connect with people we think are talented and have leadership abilities.”
  3. Remember that people still care: “Every day, someone calls UAC and says, ‘I see a problem. I want to try to solve it.’ So, for example, we have a program here to help young people dealing with a lot of trauma… Another initiative involved a gentleman who contacted all the sports teams around town and put together family packages of tickets.”

The Urban Affairs Coalition, starting a $5 million capital endowment campaign focusing on its 50th anniversary in 2020, wants to be here for the next generation of social entrepreneurs working to solve problems. Learn more at

Andrea K. Hammer, a freelance writer in Philadelphia, is the founder and director of Artsphoria: Arts, Business and Technology Center and Artsphoria International Magazine.

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Andrea Karen Hammer, a Philadelphia-based freelance writer, is the founder, CEO and owner of Artsphoria Inclusive & Collaborative Publishing, Media Group & Shop ( She leads the operation and innovation at Artsphoria: Arts, Business & Technology Center (, Artsphoria Event Advertising & Reporting (; Artsphoria International Magazine (, Artsphoria Movie Reviews & Film Forum (; Artsphoria: Food for the Soul (; Artsphoria's Animation & Imagination World ( and Artsphoria Shop (

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