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Soneyet Muhammad 

A creative team carries the mission forward

Soneyet Muhammad

Director of Workforce and Economic Inclusion, Office of University and Community Partnerships

Soneyet Muhammad leads community programming around entrepreneurship, financial wellness, adult education, and workforce development at the Beachell Family Learning Center aimed at supporting residents in their journey for family-sustaining income and wealth generation. Located at Drexel’s Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships, she coordinates with Drexel Procurement, Real Estate and Facilities, Human Resources, and Business Services to implement activities in recognition of Drexel’s institutional pillars of buying, hiring, and building locally. She is on a continuous quest to approach institutional civic engagement equitably, both by shepherding the work on the ground and from a broader perspective.


Income stability and wealth development are issues that have followed her since the beginning of her career in the early 2000s. She has worked primarily in two fields: commercial real estate, including institutional investment and government consulting, and community development. Her first experience with community development in Philadelphia was at Clarifi, a regional financial capacity organization. 


For a year before coming to Drexel, she had been looking for a role as comprehensive as her current one. What most excites her about it is Drexel’s civic engagement mission (which speaks to her core beliefs) and the diversity of her team. And the work gives her the opportunity to invest time and resources into community development in West Philadelphia. When she was still at Clarifi, one of the first partners of the Dornsife Center, she attended the Center’s grand opening and was impressed by Drexel, and its institutional and financial commitment. Her current role, and what Drexel is committed to supporting, is a wonderful match for her personal ambitions—what she wants to see for neighbors and other communities of color.


Recently she has focused on Beachell’s new and existing credentialing programs, offered in conjunction with outside partners, which are enabling Drexel to invest differently in access to 21st-century employment for West Philadelphia residents. The offerings relate to early childcare, energy conservation, and community health—high-growth, high-need occupations. In the 21st-century knowledge economy, digital problem-solving is a critical foundation for building wealth and access to benefits-eligible, non-essential employment. Under her leadership, Beachell will newly bring computer software training programs, scaled up and connected to industry-recognized, portable credentials. She comments: “When we think about West Philadelphia and the predominantly black jobseeker and entrepreneur, it is important that we not limit the scope of our imaginations, but bring robust opportunities for diversely skilled people.” Mrs. Muhammad is dedicated to building multifaceted talent pipelines for West Philadelphia—those that include essential industries’ frontline workers and technology, and STEM-adjacent industries’ knowledge workers in remote locations. She adds: “It is an ‘and,’ not an ‘or’ conversation. In June 2019 we brought 115 food service jobseekers to Aramark for employment on Drexel’s campuses. I submit that we can also deepen technology training for incumbent workers through Beachell programs so different workers can qualify for new opportunities mid-career. We could and should do both.” 


Beachell also offers entrepreneurship programs, in partnership with Drexel’s LeBow College of Business, Close School of Entrepreneurship, and external partners. To develop these programs, she worked closely with Drexel’s Procurement team; the director of supplier inclusion was a key partner in building programs to support local small businesses. Other economic inclusion partners include internal management from Human Resources in order to deliver Beachell Career Services, which connects community jobseekers to employers in the University City District and beyond. She is also committed to figuring out how to support and enrich the education credentials of local jobseekers so they have more opportunities for self-navigation as they build their careers.


She cites the key skills needed for this work are collaboration and communication around goal setting, resource building and strategic partnership development, and persuasion—as well as creativity. Those working on economic inclusion at Drexel—particularly as part of President Fry’s economic inclusion advisory committee—have a unique opportunity to dedicate brain space and limited resources to this mission. Leadership buy-in frees them to be as creative as possible with these resources to maximize opportunity and impact.


An actor in her 20s and early 30s, she taps into this creative side in her current role. She also heeds the words of the executive director at a leadership training she completed in 2016 (who had an actor son): “If you have a problem, throw an artist at it.” She considers the ability to think outside the box an important skill, reflecting: “This work provides an opportunity to think collaboratively and creatively, and to innovate. The word innovation can scare people, but for me it’s grounded in the idea that even pivots or tweaks on an existing relationship or project can open up opportunities that had been closed for consideration.”


The necessary skills extend beyond financial analysis and contract management. These are also important, but so is the ability to inspire people—from students to faculty to senior administration—to recognize the importance of the mission, centering them in the importance of the work. She adds: “By ensuring the audience you are trying to galvanize is with you in these important moments, you can make a sizable impact.”


Her advice for a counterpart at another institution is, if you have the opportunity, build your team well. If you are in a position to hire, bring on new people, or put people into a new role under your leadership. She believes: “We know that culture kills strategy. You can have all the big ideas in the world, but if you don’t have a good team that will carry that mission forward, it’s not going to work.” When she built her team, half of whom were already in their position, she spent some time to see where the team was weak. Her leadership style is not top-down, but more collaborative. She believes in giving direct service professionals the ability to craft strategy—and having people on your team that can shoulder this responsibility and perform their jobs with excellence. 


She laments the hardest part of her job is time management; the economic inclusion mission is vast. Finally, it is important to hire community members, to bring voices from the community into your work. She advises: “Hire differently minded, differently skilled professionals to round out the team. Then you will, as a result, round out your impact.”


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