Peter Scher

By Peter Scher
Executive Vice President and Head of Corporate Responsibility Executive Vice President and Head of Corporate Responsibility

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The Future of Philanthropy Starts Now

A Conversation with Urban Institute President Sarah Rosen Wartell

When it comes to addressing some of the most serious economic challenges facing the country and, indeed, the world there's only so much government can do. The contributions the private sector can make, with both its resources and expertise, have taken on much greater importance. As a global business, JPMorgan Chase is committed to doing its part. Over the last several years we have developed initiatives to address the global skills gap, support the economic competitiveness of cities around the world, revitalize Detroit, help small businesses grow, and improve the financial strength of American households.

Achieving meaningful impact for our programs also requires a genuine commitment to measurement and accountability. The collaboration we announced today with the Urban Institute, one of the premier independent research organizations in the country, is a significant demonstration of this commitment. Through this five-year, $10 million program Urban will inform and assess JPMorgan Chases's philanthropic investments in key initiatives. Put simply, this effort is unique in the world of corporate philanthropy.

I recently discussed this new initiative with the Urban Institute's president, Sarah Rosen Wartell. Sarah is an outstanding leader, and our conversation will give you a better sense of what we hope to accomplish together over the next five years.

“Achieving meaningful impact for our programs also requires a genuine commitment to measurement and accountability. The collaboration we announced today with the Urban Institute, one of the premier independent research organizations in the country, is a significant demonstration of this commitment.”
- Peter Scher

Peter: JPMorgan Chase has been working with cities around the world to reshape their economies, re-tool their workforces and revitalize their communities. Urban is known for its work as an advisor not just to prominent national foundations but to governments as well. How does our focus intersect with the Urban Institute's expertise?

Sarah: As you know, the Urban Institute was founded nearly five decades ago in response to the crises facing American cities. While the landscape has changed, the need for evidence-based answers remains acute. In an era of constrained resources, local communities need to know what works. They need results, and they can't afford to waste time. What Urban can bring to JPMorgan Chase in this collaboration is an opportunity to do what we do best – mining data and experience to provide new insights. JPMorgan Chase is making significant investments in cities around the country, in areas we have long studied. So we are excited to help you make your programs as effective as they can be.

Peter: One of the programs you are going to look at is our work in Detroit. We believe the problems facing Detroit are extreme, but we also suspect some of the solutions we are helping to put into place may have broad application outside Detroit. What is your view?

Sarah: The combination of challenges facing Detroit is complex and, in many ways, unparalleled. But there are nonetheless many lessons to learn and we can apply in Detroit what we have learned in other places. The problems in Detroit and its suburbs are ones other cities share: unemployment, affordable housing, and a widening wealth gap. Detroit needs to bring a multi-pronged suite of solutions that reflects the complexity of these problems. I see the demand for evidence-based solutions accelerating not just in Detroit, but also in other cities and in Washington. And it's coming from both sides of the aisle.

Peter: When you think about a global problem like the skills gap and addressing workforce issues, we are already sharing the data and research with policymakers and the private sector. But given the scale of the problem, we also want to make sure our philanthropic investments are being deployed in the most effective manner possible and driving forward actionable solutions. How can Urban help us map this strategy for the future?

Sarah: There is so much to be learned by asking the hard questions. Studying these programs as they're happening in real time is an exciting prospect. But what's even more compelling is knowing that what we discover can help the next stage of a program, or the next investment that JPMorgan Chase might make. And when we know something is working, we can influence investment choices by others.

Peter: This relates to my own view on philanthropy and corporate responsibility efforts. If we aren't holding ourselves accountable for results, we aren't fulfilling our responsibility.

Sarah: I think that's true in every sector. Good intentions are not enough. We need outcomes, and we need to design programs in such a way that we can measure whether they are actually working. Private institutions are beginning to recognize that they have a critical role to play in addressing social problems. We welcome that. The scale of the challenges the country faces is enormous, and broadening the philanthropic field will bring innovation and new approaches that can accelerate our likelihood of changing lives for the better.

Peter: More companies are seeing support for the communities and countries where they operate as connected to their business interests. If the communities we serve are thriving, our business is stronger. In other words, the dots between corporate responsibility and good business are starting to be connected.

Sarah: My hope is that the results from this project will encourage other private sector entities to measure what works and ask how they can deploy their resources to make a bigger difference in communities.

Peter: We are thrilled to be working with you and look forward to an incredibly productive five years.

Learn more about this initiative