In Conversation at Somos with Darren Bloch

During last week’s Somos conference, Gregory J Morris sat down with Darren Bloch, CEO and Executive Director of Greenwich House and NYCETC Board Member to discuss workforce development and the sector’s strong presence at Somos.

Gregory J Morris, NYCETC: Tell our readers more about your background and your focus in the past few years at Greenwich House.

Darren Bloch, Greenwich House: Over 30 years I’ve been in roles spanning public and private sectors, but always in work that was around government, policy and politics. Most recently, prior to joining Greenwich House, I spent four years as the Executive Director at the Mayor’s Fund, and two years in the Mayor’s Office driving public-private social innovation projects that leveraged private funding and resources to address stubborn challenges City agencies were confronting.

When I landed at Greenwich House, I was aware of the organization’s long history in workforce development. One hundred and twenty years ago, we were doing workforce training for new immigrants to this city, mainly focused on trades and artisan skills, but that work faded several decades ago. So it was an area of keen interest to get us back to contributing into the workforce ecosystem. 

We spent several hundred thousand dollars remaking 5,000 square feet of space with the hope and dream that if we built something, we would be able to attract a new mix of workforce-oriented programs and supports. And as it turned out, we found and built a great partnership with DFTA to help us kick things off. We were able to include this workforce focus into our most recent contract – a workforce specialty for aging and older adults in New York City. And now we’re in year-two starting to work with asylum seekers and new immigrants to the city as well as other vulnerable populations and build in trades and skills to support groups. It’s been amazing to see that take off.

Morris: What brought you to Somos this year, and what’s been your experience so far?

Bloch: Somos has been on my radar for years, and while I’m sure everybody comes down with some type of agenda and goal, I’ve definitely found all the organic and unplanned introductions and interactions to be more gratifying and fulfilling than anything I expected.  

There are over 2,000 people here this year, and I’ve run into people from different corners of the sector — principals and operatives, advocates and allies. Private sector and business-minded interests, and public sector and non-profit interests… And probably most gratifying is the number of long-time attendees I’ve talked to who have commented on the noticeable growth of nonprofit partners coming down here. And that’s not accidental. We, as a sector, spent the last year really talking about the value of spending this time building our profile — building those connections, and sharing our stories and the value of our contributions to these systems

Morris: In addition to building connections, what else are you focused on during your time here?

Bloch: At the end of the day, for me it’s all about our workforce, workforce, workforce… How our workforce is paid and supported, the funding we get to provide enrichment, mental health support, professional development support. Did I mention pay for our workers! Our workforce is the engine that drives everything we do for city and state government and we do not remotely get the funding needed to fairly support this workforce. Council Member Stevens made the observation that the work of our organizations create victories that the government celebrates… It is a sentiment that cannot be said often enough, and we need to better leverage that dependence on our people and care.

Morris: What other kinds of changes or improvements do you feel are necessary to prioritize within the workforce sector right now?

Bloch: Within the sector and for sure outside of the sector, there’s an impression that as non-profit providers we are not running businesses. Yes, my work is service and support motivated, it’s not profit-driven, but I still need to support the infrastructure of our people and our places and our programs, and to do it in a way that looks and has the rigor of business is valuable.

To that point, it’s frustrating beyond belief that we aren’t viewed or treated as the contract partners that we are. Even worse, we are tasked with advancing the ideals and the hopes and wants of government, and celebrated for our workers’ achievements, but often without being authentic colleagues and partners with the government in that work. If that paradigm alone changed, it would dramatically benefit the sector – benefit our city and benefit our communities and our neighborhoods.