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Building Capacity on the Ground

Stephen Cutler

Our work in Detroit started with the same central question that drives our efforts in cities around the world: What is the problem we are trying to help solve, and what is the best way to do so?

Answering that starts with understanding the nonprofit organizations and other institutions that are on the ground playing a key role in serving their communities. We analyze these organizations’ strengths, weaknesses and challenges with one objective in mind: identifying where we can help strengthen their capacity and the underlying systems needed to support and drive sustainable change.

An equally important part of our approach is identifying what unique assets and capabilities our firm can bring to the table. In some cases, part of the solution is additional financial resources. In others, however, what’s needed is a different service delivery model, a novel partnership or application of a new technology. So we bring the full weight of our firm’s assets to bear — including our expertise, data, technology and relationships.

Our work in Detroit illustrates this comprehensive approach. For example, JPMorgan Chase’s experts on workforce development closely partnered with Detroit’s leaders to analyze the city’s workforce system and provided valuable data and insight into the local labor market dynamics. Combining this analysis with our similar work in other cities, we offered recommendations for strengthening the system, which helped inform a new direction for the Mayor’s Workforce Development Board.

Since 2014, JPMorgan Chase has deployed teams of top-performing employees, putting their skills and expertise to work on the ground to help our nonprofit partners fulfill their critical missions. Time and again, these teams have helped accelerate our partners’ ability to impact their communities and even fundamentally shift their goals and vision. Through hands-on work in the communities we serve, Service Corps members also have the opportunity to draw new meaning and insight about their roles at the firm — and in the world. The program, which we started in Detroit, is now global.

As of November 2016, 112 employees from 11 countries have participated in nine separate Service Corps cohorts, traveling to Uberlândia, Mumbai, Johannesburg, New Orleans and Detroit to dedicate their time and skills across 34 projects to help nonprofits achieve their missions.

We are lending this kind of expertise in many other ways. Our community development bankers are bringing leading-edge thinking and extensive global experience about how to revitalize neighborhoods, while our mortgage bankers have worked with our partners to develop imaginative solutions to the challenges of Detroit’s real estate market. The JPMorgan Chase Institute is providing unique, deeply localized data that sheds light on the critical role of Detroit’s small business sector.

The Detroit Service Corps is perhaps the most tangible example of this multifaceted approach. Through the Service Corps, some of our most talented employees have spent time working on-site with our nonprofit partners in Detroit, using their expertise to assist with everything from strategic and business planning to market analysis, financial modeling, organizational design and marketing (see box).

Ultimately, greater capacity for Detroit’s nonprofits means greater opportunity for Detroit’s residents — and the chance for economic growth that brings the most people along.

Employment rates in Detroit lag far behind the national average. At the same time, the city’s post-bankruptcy revitalization has created a number of new employment opportunities in the green infrastructure industry.

These new jobs are a welcome addition, but for some Detroit residents who face significant barriers to employment — such as the lack of a high school diploma, limited literacy or a previous incarceration — these opportunities can seem out of reach.

The Greening of Detroit is addressing these barriers head-on. Through its programs for youth and adults, the nonprofit organization provides workforce training for jobs in forestry, urban agriculture and landscaping. By aligning its programs with available jobs, the organization boasts a nearly 100 percent placement rate. Now, with funding from JPMorgan Chase’s New Skills at Work initiative, The Greening is able to significantly expand its proven demand-driven programs.

In partnership with Neighborhood Services Organization and Focus: HOPE, our support helped launch the Detroit Conservation Corps in 2016. Through the program, participants complete an eight-week paid training course that results in certification in several areas of their choice — such as tree removal or landscape maintenance — and then placement in well-paying jobs. Through the program, The Greening also provides training in “soft skills,” such as how to dress for an interview, as well as wraparound services including help with food, child care and housing assistance. The Detroit Conservation Corps is aiming to train at least 2,500 adults.

“We are helping to make these folks work-ready so they can get into the workforce and earn a decent living wage,” said Devon Buskin, workforce development director, The Greening.

Another highly successful program is the Green Corps, an eight-week summer youth employment program that provides low-income Detroit youth with job training and meaningful employment — while also ensuring that the trees The Greening plants are adequately maintained. Each year, the Green Corps provides 250 summer jobs for high school students.

JPMorgan Chase’s support for The Greening extends well beyond its training programs — and illustrates how our firm is investing more than dollars to strengthen the capacity and long-term sustainability of our nonprofit partners.

For example, as plans to expand The Greening’s programs took shape, it became clear that the organization was facing a physical capacity challenge: It had long outgrown its previous office space, which required dividing staff, tools and vehicles between three different locations.

In response, JPMorgan Chase donated one of our former branch buildings to The Greening. The new building allows adequate space for ongoing operations, serves as a training hub and acts as an anchor for the neighborhood.

In addition, the organization was wrestling with how best to ensure its long-term financial sustainability. “Like so many nonprofits in Detroit, we face a problem with getting the administrative dollars that we need to keep our organization running,” said Lionel Bradford, president and executive director, The Greening. One possible solution was to develop a fee-for-service model to offset some of these costs, but leaders were not sure if it was feasible.

Enter the JPMorgan Chase Detroit Service Corps. In 2015 a team of JPMorgan Chase employees with expertise in operations, business plan development and financial modeling spent three weeks on-site with the team at The Greening, helping the organization develop a business plan for a new landscaping social enterprise program.

“This wasn’t our area of expertise, but the Service Corps confirmed for us that we were going down the right path,” said Bradford. “They came in and put together a plan for this, basically showing us how to keep our organization sustainable.”

Top: Devon Buskin, Workforce Development Director
Bottom: Lionel Bradford, President and executive director