For those of us focusing on maximizing our impact in both business and philanthropy, growth strategies that benefit both sides are often an impossible dream. One of these activities is a matter of giving, the other of gathering; but there do exist ways for our philanthropic outlays to create wider financial benefit, albeit in a more long-term fashion.
This comes from placing our trust and our money in empowering populations of young people who, sadly, have so frequently been overlooked. Philanthropic work that encourages the best in those it’s helping is outreach at its finest: not only by providing outside help to those in need, but also by giving them the tools to provide for themselves and possibly even others.
Speaking in his capacity as Head of Corporate Responsibility for JP Morgan Chase, Peter Scher details for Forbes the financial giant’s commitment to investing in youth philanthropy. The programs they support not only lend a helping hand to the disadvantaged, they also aim to provide foundational assistance to help recipients achieve their full potential. This key difference, prioritizing helping hands over handouts, comprises the clearest path to a brighter future for those inheriting a disadvantage essentially out of their control.
It’s an unfortunate reality that many potentially great achievers miss out on opportunities to flourish because of an unlucky start. One can only imagine the full human potential that’s been shut out of the halls of power and influence strictly because of circumstances of birth. We end up losing out on what could be vital voices and ideas when we fail to offer opportunities for all young people — fortunate and less fortunate — to show us what they are capable of.
This is why Scher and his contemporaries place such an emphasis on outreach, and the rest of the philanthropic world ought to take notice. It’s about helping young people find the ability within themselves when they might have previously felt hopeless. He mentions Detroit as one area to which JP Morgan has pledged their time and money, and was pleasantly surprised by the community response. When a common goal is in sight, areas that might at first glance seem beyond help can cohere in a remarkable way.
As Matthew Heimer describes in the above article, JP Morgan’s “Invested in Detroit” program aims to bring together communities with a bottom-up investment in their growth. Job training and small-business development form the initiative’s two main weapons in the fight against poverty and listlessness among inner city youth in one of America’s most blight-stricken cities.
By giving a boost to promising students and young people, we give them the opportunity not just to impact the business world, but to also bring their skills back to those communities, encouraging a whole new generation of leaders who can enact real change. Whether in developing nations or struggling cities, local leaders that are credible with their constituencies provide a more holistic form of leadership. When people who truly understand the issues facing these communities are given the tools to lead, problems can be addressed by the people who know them best.
Summer camp experiences, access to quality education, internship and employment opportunities all afford foundational and definitional experiences that can shape a young person and provide a productive path forward. When I was a young boy growing up with a single mother, we didn’t have the excess financial resources for me to attend summer camp or participate in other youth organizations offering leadership training and cultural development.
Fortunately, the Portland community was comprised of philanthropists who embraced the philosophy of investing in youth. I was the recipient of numerous scholarships that enabled me to partake in activities that without question were formative in defining my values, work ethic, leadership skills and personal relationships. Having experienced firsthand the power of investing in youth, we understand the need for philanthropy with the potential to create exponential multi-generational impact.
The transforming American economy demands that such outreach efforts be made. As manufacturing jobs continue to decline, higher education represents a path to meaningful employment for our youngest citizens as they prepare to enter the workforce. When we consider the future of the country in the long view, an investment in our youth is an investment in ourselves.
The teachers, doctors, and mentors of the future may well be forged in these recipient communities, allowing the benefit to multiply as generations progress. Advocates have vividly described the need for those who know these neighborhoods best to take the lead in transforming outcomes for others through leading and mentorship. Those poised to make the most impact are the people who know exactly what they’re up against.
This chain of fellowship is transformative for many, making role models out of those who may have found themselves on a very different path were it not for that initial outreach. The story of Joe, a young man guided towards higher education through mentorship who then chose to guide a young student of his own is an illustrative and emphatic example. The impact of mentorship in Joe’s life created a ripple effect that encouraged the further pursuit of enacting change in the lives of others and as a result, created a stronger sense of community. This story clearly demonstrates the value of investing in a person’s potential.
If we fail to show disadvantaged young people a path to a better, more fulfilling life, we fail to fulfill the central promise of philanthropy. There’s nothing like empowering the leaders of tomorrow to improve the wellbeing of all people. When we put our efforts into raising up those on the lowest rung and enabling them to do the same, we show that philanthropy can create a world of difference not just with firsthand help, but also in forging the next generation of leaders and solid, caring and contributing citizens.