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Champion Profile: David L. Cohen

In the 1990s, David L. Cohen served as chief of staff to then-Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, and in their day-to-day work, the two men rarely participated in meetings together. “It was a divide-and-conquer strategy,” recalls David, “because so many people wanted to meet with the mayor, and there was such a sense of urgency about our work.”But five minutes into his first meeting with local leaders and City Year staff about the possibility of City Year expanding into Philadelphia, David made an exception. He asked the mayor to join the meeting, and both were impressed by what they heard.

“To us, City Year was the absolute case study for accomplishing results and addressing some of the most intractable problems in urban America–through public-private partnerships,” says David. “City Year was asking for the city’s help, but the real driving force was going to be engagement of the private sector and ultimately from national service.”

Another plus was the fact that City Year was working in schools, and education was a top priority in Philadelphia. In 1997, with David’s strong support, City Year Philadelphia was launched. “David listened carefully and asked questions about what we needed to get started, writing everything down–and a few weeks later, he had delivered on every item,” says City Year CEO and Co-Founder Michael Brown. “David loves cities and youth service, and getting good things done. Since that day through today, he has had a transformational impact on City Year and the service movement.”

David’s commitment to strengthening cities was chronicled in a landmark book, A Prayer for the City, about the transformation of Philadelphia that he and Mayor Rendell led. Today, David is co-chair of the national board of trustees of City Year and Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of Comcast NBCUniversal, one of City Year’s largest corporate partners. At Comcast NBCUniversal, David has been passionate about building Comcast Cares Day, the largest corporate service day in America and an opportunity to celebrate Comcast NBCUniversal’s year-round commitment to its communities. Another great passion of David’s is helping to close the digital divide through Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, which since 2011 has provided low-cost high-speed internet service, computer equipment and digital literacy training to more than four million low-income Americans, reaching one million households.

For more than two decades, David has worked to advance national service opportunities for America’s young people. He has been instrumental in urging policymakers and members of Congress to protect and expand AmeriCorps and helped found the Voices for National Service Business Council to engage his colleagues in the private sector in this important work. “Ultimately it is citizen service that empowers us to dream of a better tomorrow,” David says. “David Cohen has been our movement’s biggest and most effective private sector champion for building bipartisan support for national service and AmeriCorps funding,” said AnnMaura Connolly, president of Voices for National Service and executive vice president of City Year. “He has been a game changer.” David knows that national service delivers a double bottom line, benefiting those who serve as much as those who receive help.

“Young adults who serve with City Year are more employable and more attractive to us as an employer,” he says. “We want to create opportunities to nurture talent that can help meet corporate America’s demand for skilled labor.”

With David’s encouragement, Comcast NBCUniversal and City Year have built a tremendous partnership based on shared goals and values. Over the past 17 years, Comcast NBCUniversal has sponsored more than 100 teams of City Year AmeriCorps members. In 2017-2018, through a partnership with Red Nose Day, the company has doubled its support to 24 teams of City Year AmeriCorps members across 19 cities. Since, 2001, Comcast NBCUniversal has contributed about $95 million in financial and in-kind support to City Year.

Comcast NBCUniversal also sponsors City Year’s annual Summer Academy training conference in Boston, invests significant in-kind support in City Year and national service through public service announcements and recruitment efforts, and hosts Comcast Career Days across 12 City Year sites, helping to equip more than 14,000 AmeriCorps members with professional development skills since 2005. Steadfast supporters of City Year’s corps and alumni, Comcast NBCUniversal’s annual Alumni Leadership Awards have recognized the achievements of more than 75 outstanding City Year alumni to date.

As chair of City Year’s governance committee for a decade and more recently as co-chair of the board, David plays a special role in guiding the organization. “David has a remarkable ability to know what is the right thing to do, to ask the right questions and provide sage advice,” says Michael Brown. “His wisdom has been indispensable to the organization and to me personally.”

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