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How Corporate America Can Invigorate Local Communities

April 25, 2018, 9:01 PM UTC

I need to look no further than my own city to be powerfully reminded that even in today’s thriving economy, far too many people are still being left behind. The Washington, D.C., region is home to five of the wealthiest counties in the U.S., yet almost one-fifth of the District’s population is living in poverty.

The opportunity gap in Washington is stark, unsustainable, and unconscionable—but it’s not unique. We see it playing out in far too many communities. The reality is that when so many are left behind, shut out of the rewards of a growing economy, we all feel the consequences. It sows division, erodes trust in our institutions, and hurts business.

At JPMorgan Chase, we’re tackling this challenge head-on. Through our model for driving inclusive growth, we are undertaking significant, long-term, and coordinated efforts in Washington and communities around the world. Our initiatives are focused where we believe we can have the greatest impact: building job skills, expanding small businesses, revitalizing neighborhoods, and promoting financial health.

This model is yielding real results in places like Detroit, Chicago, Washington, and East London. And we’re excited to expand this approach to more communities later this year.

Across our work, several insights have emerged as the most crucial for businesses to think about as they assess ways to make an impact in the communities they serve.

First, meaningful collaboration is essential for genuine progress. One of the key indicators of this is the extent to which a community’s civic, business, and nonprofit leaders bring their unique capabilities to the table to solve problems and improve lives. Unfortunately, we don’t see enough of this happening. But when it does occur, it creates the conditions for business to step in and drive change at the scale and pace communities deserve.

Second, companies must invest in areas that are aligned with their business expertise. In addition to providing philanthropic capital, they must leverage their full suite of resources and capabilities—data, analytics, talent, and relationships—and deploy them to maximize returns. Doing so will yield dividends not only for communities but businesses as well.

Third, the business community must approach these efforts with the same long-term investor mindset and management rigor they apply in their own companies, making data-driven investments and evaluating, learning, and adjusting as they go. They also need to invest in top talent with deep knowledge and experience—talent that reflects the communities that they serve—and provide them with the tools to make a meaningful impact.

Finally, when businesses see efforts that are moving the needle on complex issues, they need to rapidly scale them. In 2015, for example, JPMorgan Chase helped launch the Entrepreneurs of Color Fund to provide much-needed capital to Detroit’s minority-owned small businesses. By 2017, we had nearly tripled the fund’s size; this year we seeded similar funds in San Francisco and New York City’s South Bronx and are looking to take it to other cities.

In my work at JPMorgan Chase and throughout my career, I have seen that around the world, we all share aspirations for a better life. I truly believe there is no more important work we can do—or better investment business can make—than helping more people achieve their goals.

Peter L. Scher is the head of corporate responsibility and chairman of the Mid-Atlantic region for JPMorgan Chase. The firm recently released its annual Corporate Responsibility report.