Person of the Year: Zach Wilcha

Zach Wilcha

Zach Wilcha, executive director of Independence Business Alliance (IBA), had a good year. He read 74 books, which he reviewed in a beautiful and vivid thread on Twitter for what should be a much wider following. Wilcha reads a vast array of books, and it would be easy to focus on literary Wilcha and the man who spends the holidays visiting friends and family. But he has another side, which includes working hard to make business more LGBT inclusive.

In the four years since Wilcha took the helm of the fledgling Independence Business Alliance, Greater Philadelphia’s LGBT Chamber of Commerce, he has been responsible for expanding the IBA and broadening its reach in the business community — all while reading omnivorously, among other creative pursuits.

Wilcha centers his work ethic and life ethos in the same place: compassion and inclusion.

One focus for Wilcha has been working to achieve a more balanced membership for IBA and diversification of the organization’s board. Wilcha’s success has meant, “The organization looks and feels more like Philadelphia’s queer community than it ever has before,” Wilcha said.

The IBA provides opportunities, access and resources to LGBT professionals and allies and promotes economic development, growth, diversity and leadership in the Philadelphia area. It is a membership-based business advocacy organization dedicated to making the Philadelphia region an influential and diverse LGBT business community with an impact on economic development, equal rights and policy issues. The IBA is an official affiliate of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC).

“The IBA has already made powerful progress in the economic advancements and opportunities for the LGBT business community of greater Philadelphia,” said Wilcha. IBA works with more than 40-certified LGBTQ business enterprises based in 11 counties across Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.

In 2019, Wilcha created Intersections, a series of programming for Philadelphia’s African American, Asian American and Hispanic American communities done in partnership with PHL Diversity.

Wilcha also partnered with Chris Bartlett at William Way Community Center to form the Leadership Pipeline to train LGBTQ people of color, youth, trans people and seniors about board service and match them with leadership positions at local nonprofits.

In order to remove the financial and social barriers associated with obtaining an LGBTQ leadership position, the pipeline program was free. Participants spent six months receiving training on strategic leadership, finances and development, personal branding, public relations and other skill sets applicable to effectively serving on a board. Amber Hikes, former executive director of the Philadelphia Office of LGBT Affairs, worked with Wilcha and Bartlett on the Leadership Pipeline. “Obviously we know from anecdotal evidence and also research that in this city, LGBTQ people of color are underrepresented in terms of our leadership in LGBTQ organizations,” Hikes said. “We’ve seen this problem progressing for quite a while,” but “never have we taken such an intentional approach” in terms of developing leadership capability. 

Wilcha also formalized TransWork in 2019, a program which had been two years in the planning and organization. TransWork is a job resource program benefitting the city’s trans and nonbinary communities. Throughout the fall, TransWork offered job preparedness workshops focused on sessions on resumes, interviews, entrepreneurship, plus a legal segment outlining the workplace rights of trans employees. “I think [the legal segment] is going to give folks some idea of what their rights are specifically related to their gender expression and what organizations have to provide in terms of protections locally for folks who have either transitioned or are mid-transition,” said Wilcha of the program.

TransWork’s board and advising committee are entirely trans, as were the multiple focus groups that informed the program’s lengthy production process. The idea for the initiative originated with trans man Marcus Iannozzi, TransWork’s founder and co-chair and principal and owner of local web design company The Message Agency.

“It was his idea to bring an economic empowerment program for trans folks to the Philadelphia area that would concentrate on both employment and entrepreneurship,” said Wilcha.

A native Philadelphian, Wilcha brought a diverse resume to IBA, which has served the agency well over the past four years. With a Bachelor of Arts in International relations from St. Joseph’s University and a law degree from Villanova University, Wilcha clerked in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and worked as a project attorney in an area law firm.

But it was at Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia where Wilcha built a new branch of that agency’s fundraising and development department. He was selected by Habitat for Humanity International to be a guest speaker at their national conference, and his model of successful development work at Philadelphia’s affiliate was emulated across the country — ideas that he brought to IBA, which has increased its budget from $200,000 to $300,000 under his aegis.

On the podcast “Hidden Human: The Stories Behind the Business Leader,” host Kelly Meerbott interviewed Wilcha on an episode titled “Supporting and Leading Diverse Business Leaders.” He said, “Whether it’s in movies, literature or books, you know you are valued when you are represented somewhere.”

On Twitter, Wilcha makes that point repeatedly in subtle ways. On Dec. 20, he noted, “Hey Free Library, I stopped in to pick up some books today and was thrilled that the person checking my books out was wearing a pin letting me and others know her pronouns. What a great, inclusive touch.”

The man running the LGBT Chamber of Commerce goes to the library for his books and never stops supporting and striving for inclusion everywhere.

You can read Wilcha’s reading list at @itsonlyzach on Twitter and reach the IBA at 215-557-0190.

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.