Peter Scher, Chairman of the Washington, D.C., Region and Head of Corporate Responsibility for JPMorgan Chase & Co.

JPMorgan Chase Executive Discusses Corporate Responsibility in an Era of Public-Private Partnerships
By Susan Wampler

How can the private sector partner with civic leaders to solve pressing economic problems? How can urban needs be met while retaining — and even returning —entrepreneurial dynamism to the economy? As part of its Conversations on Philanthropy series, The USC Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy (The Center) hosted Peter Scher — chairman of the Washington, D.C., region and head of Corporate Responsibility for JPMorgan Chase & Co. — on January 27 to discuss how corporations are leveraging their assets to achieve measurable societal benefits in cities around the world.

Noting his preference for the term “corporate responsibility,” Scher explained JPMorgan Chase’s perspective on public-private partnerships. The company’s philanthropic focus “is fundamental to our interests because the issues we’re trying to address — particularly in economic growth, around the skills gap, and around small-business creation — are fundamental for the markets in which we operate,” he said.

“If we can do our part to help solve some of those issues, to get more people working and get more small businesses created, that’s a good thing for everyone,” Scher said.

He added that, for a long time, most corporations — including JPMorgan Chase — went “a mile wide and an inch deep” with their philanthropic contributions. Now, he said, “We look for something deeper and more tangible that we can bring to the effort than just our money.” To achieve greater impact, the company focuses on the economic challenges of the communities in which it operates by augmenting its financial resources with effective use of its data, sector knowledge, employee expertise, and other unique attributes to create meaningful change.

In the area of small-business creation, Scher discussed the regulatory challenges of lending to those who don’t have the right collateral or a great credit history. “We said: Let’s get creative. When you create a culture within the firm that this is part of our responsibility, then you actually can do a lot of really great things.”

Discussing JPMorgan Chase’s Global Cities Initiative — an effort led by Scher that was launched in collaboration with the Brookings Institution in February 2012 — he emphasized that cities are where the biggest challenges live and where they can best be solved, whether the issues are economic development, infrastructure, housing, or blight.

“Half the world’s population lives in cities,” Scher said. “By 2050, it’s going to be 70 percent. Young people want to move to cities. Two-thirds of the U.S. GDP comes from 100 metropolitan regions.” He cited JPMorgan Chase’s shareholder letter from a couple of years ago that described the “future of humanity [as] a story of cities.”

In cities like Detroit, corporations, foundations, local community development organizations, and financial institutions — along with a newly elected Democratic mayor and Republican governor — have agreed to work together to address a variety of crises. Scher emphasized the need to bring leaders from across the different sectors to the table to work on solving problems together. Such partnerships are essential to decisions by JPMorgan to invest in a region. “We operate in London and Beijing and Hong Kong. The challenges are not dissimilar,” he said. “I can go to any city on the planet that JPMorgan operates in, and I’m going to have the same conversation.” Scher said it comes down to knowing which cities are doing things right and then applying those lessons and replicating those models.

Entering its sixth year, the Conversations on Philanthropy series brings together experts with diverse points of view for intimate, in-depth discussions about issues facing both donors and foundations. After opening remarks by Professor James Ferris, director of The Center, and by Wendy Wachtel, a founding Center board member and Joseph Drown Foundation president, Scher was introduced by Fred Ali, chair of The Center’s Board of Advisors and Weingart Foundation president and CEO. Elwood Hopkins, managing director of Emerging Markets, brought his own experiences in connecting businesses to low-income communities to the insightful conversation with Scher that followed.