The Importance of Infrastructure


By Niki T. Ingram, President of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about infrastructure and its importance. We all have infrastructures that make our lives work better and that we rely upon. These infrastructures are the personal relationships and systems that support our daily lives. Sometimes, we are aware of the help we get from them, and sometimes, we must be reminded of them.

For the last 35 years, I have gone to the same hairstylist. It was a match made in heaven - she knew what I liked and what worked. Sometimes, our communication was completely non-verbal, and sometimes, we talked so much that we were gurgling. In those years, we went through marriages, birth, divorce, illness, death, and everything in between, and we knew the broad sketches of each other’s lives. We weren’t best friends, but were a caring part of each other’s worlds. Because of her, a portion of my life just worked without me having to think about it. She recently retired, which is a loss for me on many levels. I am better for her being a part of my life, and I hope she can say the same about me. This change has led me to reflect on infrastructures and their importance. We all have people and systems in our lives that make our lives work better and remind us of our interconnectedness.

In our personal lives, the obvious infrastructures are family and friends, but there are so many other ones that are also important. It might be the person who styles your hair, the barista at the coffee shop, the person who knows your name at the restaurant you frequent, or the crossing guard who is there when you pick up your children. You may or may not know the names of these people, but you are connected to them. When they aren’t there, you notice. Sometimes you know what happened, but many times you don’t and realize that the fabric of your life is a bit torn. You realize that these relationships are fluid but so very important.

These infrastructures are also important in the business world and take many forms. Those of you who work in large firms may rely upon information technology departments or marketing departments to help you professionally. If you work for the government, you may rely upon strong investigative teams and departments that can provide you with in-depth information. Those in the public interest area often rely upon networks that let them know what is happening in that community and what the needs are throughout the community.

I am talking about infrastructures because they matter. As the Philadelphia Bar Foundation celebrates its 60th anniversary, some people have asked why they need to give to the Bar Foundation when they can give to the nonprofit of their choice. Others have asked if the Bar Foundation has outlived its usefulness to the legal community. The answer to the latter question is no, and the answer to the first question is that the Philadelphia Bar Foundation is the infrastructure of access to civil access for the people of Philadelphia. We are the single most consistent source of unrestricted funding for 36 civil legal aid organizations working on the front lines of neighborhoods across the city. We are also the essential bridge between Philadelphia's for-profit legal and nonprofit legal communities. We have served Philadelphia for 60 years, and the need for our existence has never been greater. We provide our nonprofit partners the consistency they need to survive and thrive. Our existence supports their existence, and together, we make the city a better place to live.

The mutuality of our relationship with our nonprofit partners was brought home to me during my first year as a trustee. My first board meeting was in January 2020, and we were soon in a locked-down world. During that surreal period, the Bar Foundation visited our grantees virtually. In a time of worldwide uncertainty, our non-profit partners were unsure what would happen to them and their funding sources. I was struck by how uniformly relieved they were to know that the Foundation was there and how much they relied upon our support. Our presence helped them know what was going on with their fellow nonprofits, and with our help, they could navigate the uncertainties and share information and sometimes funding with each other. So many of them thanked us for simply being present.

Sometimes, showing up and being present is what matters. The Bar Foundation continues to show up and be a source of support for our partners and the city in tangible and intangible ways. We ask that you continue to support us as we support those who need us.

P.S. I’m reading and enjoying Resurrection Walk by Michael Connelly. It’s a Bosch plus Haller tale with a little bit of Innocence Project as the cherry on top.