Shawn Mooring: A Philadelphia Servant Leader!Feb 12, 2024 10:00AM ● By Eric Nzeribe, MS.
Shawn Mooring, the Head of Philadelphia Programs at the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, began his journey in West Philadelphia, where the city’s vibrant culture and complex challenges molded his early world view. "I was born and raised in West Philadelphia," Mooring recounts, laying the foundation of his deep connection with the city. His career path, initially divergent from journalism, was focused on philanthropy and non-profit strategic planning. These experiences equipped him with a unique perspective that he would later bring to the journalistic realm.
After graduate school in Delaware, Mooring embarked on a pivotal two-year internship at the Ford Foundation in New York City. This experience, as he reflects, "launched my career in a way that I couldn't even imagine." Along with his tenure in the philanthropic sector, it paved the way for his current role in which he intertwines journalism with social justice to uplift underrepresented voices in Philadelphia.
A significant aspect of Mooring's story is his deep-seated faith, which profoundly influences his professional life. Serving as a deacon at ENON Tabernacle Baptist Church in Philadelphia for over sixteen years, Mooring's faith is interwoven with his leadership style. He explains, "My faith impacts my approach, how I carry myself, my integrity." This spiritual grounding has guided him in his approach to work, emphasizing fairness, integrity, and a commitment to servant leadership.
In his position at Lenfest, Mooring focuses on empowering local news organizations, highlighting his approach of teaching and enabling rather than merely providing. One of the hallmarks of his tenure is the 'Every Voice Every Vote' initiative, a project that epitomizes his commitment to inclusive and community-focused journalism. This effort oversaw the collaboration of over 70 community organizations and local newsrooms, aiming to amplify voices in areas of the city that were often overlooked by mainstream media.
Another significant contribution under Mooring's leadership is the Local News Sustainability initiative. He stresses the importance of patience and long-term planning in philanthropy, emphasizing that meaningful impact takes time. The initiative focuses on the sustainability of local news, supporting organizations as they grow their audience and diversify revenue streams. "We are giving grantees the space," he notes, acknowledging the importance of innovation and experimentation in the media sector.
Mooring's approach to grantmaking and investment in local news is thoughtful and patient, giving organizations the time and resources to innovate and grow sustainably. He also takes pride in initiatives such as the Philadelphia Media Founders Exchange and the Constellation News Leadership Initiative. These programs support media founders of color and provide executive coaching and leadership training, reflecting Mooring's commitment to nurturing diverse media voices.
A significant aspect of Mooring's work involves direct engagement with grassroots organizations, bypassing intermediaries to ensure that support reaches those who need it the most. This direct approach aligns with his belief in the transformative power of philanthropy, when applied thoughtfully and with a focus on community needs.
Mooring credits his experience at the Ford Foundation as a "game changer," opening his eyes to the role of philanthropy in community development and public policy. When asked about his career choices, Mooring responds with a sense of humility and gratitude: "I've been presented with the opportunities that I had to walk in – and in many cases- with a leap of faith.”
Looking back now, he says, it seems well-planned, but it was a journey walked with faith when I started off. I credit God for guiding me through unforeseen paths and leveraging opportunities in the evolving landscape of philanthropy. Starting at a time predating major foundations, the Ford Foundation set my career on a unique trajectory, allowing me to build relationships and expertise, shaping my position today,” he reflects.
For aspiring leaders and organizations in Philadelphia, Mooring's story offers several key takeaways:
Servant Leadership: Mooring champions the concept of servant leadership, emphasizing the need for leaders to understand and engage in every aspect of their organization's work.
Strategic Patience: He advises patience and long-term vision in project development, recognizing that sustainable change takes time.
Community Engagement: Mooring underscores the importance of direct engagement with grassroots organizations, ensuring that initiatives are community-centric and responsive to local needs.
Learning from Setbacks: He views challenges as opportunities for growth and innovation, encouraging leaders to adapt and evolve as a result of their experiences.
Shawn Mooring stands as a testament to the power of dedicated leadership and community-focused innovation. His story, deeply rooted in the streets of West Philly, unfolds a narrative of a man who, though not initially charting a course in journalism, has become a pivotal figure in shaping Philadelphia's media landscape through his role at the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Eric John Nzeribe is the Publisher of FunTimes Magazine and has a demonstrated history of working in the publishing industry since 1992. His interests include using data to understand and solve social issues, narrative stories, digital marketing, community engagement, and online/print journalism features. Nzeribe is a social media and communication professional with certificates in Digital Media for Social Impact from the University of Pennsylvania, Digital Strategies for Business: Leading the Next-Generation Enterprise from Columbia University, and Master of Science (MS) in Publication Management from Drexel University.
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