Using Motor City's Model to Drive Economic Opportunity Around the World
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because too many people live in darkness in the City of Lights.
By Poornima Apte
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Tucked away in a neighborhood outside the glare of the City of Lights, 20-year-old Marjolaine George is building her future. George, who grew up in the southern suburbs of Paris with her parents and four siblings, is an apprentice working towards her vocational training certificate in carpentry to prepare herself for a long-term career with a steady income.
Few are aware that in Greater Paris, roughly 1.5 million residents live in neighborhoods that suffer from significant levels of poverty, unemployment and homelessness. For example, just a 20-minute drive from the famed Notre Dame Cathedral sits Seine-Saint-Denis, an area that, according to a recent Reuters article, has the highest poverty and crime rates in the country.
Just a few miles away, posh addresses like Avenue Montaigne are home to some of the country’s richest residents and are listed among the top 10 most expensive streets in the world, according to Paris Property Group. However, many residents in the country’s capital are straining under the weight of high poverty and unemployment rates, casting a dark shadow over the famed City of Lights.
Contrasts this extreme beg the question: How can more people benefit from a growing economy? And even more pressing: Is there anything to be done to give struggling neighborhoods — and their residents — a fighting chance?
The answer is yes.
The situation in Greater Paris reads similar to other global cities who have experienced major economic hardships. Consider Detroit, which went bankrupt back in 2013. However, substantial investments from private companies, in collaboration with local civic and business leaders, have led to impressive community-level change and generated real economic opportunity. For example, in 2014 JPMorgan Chase made a $100 million commitment to stimulate Detroit’s economic recovery. Since then, the pace of progress throughout the city has allowed the company to accelerate its initial investment to $150 million and deploy additional resources to help boost small businesses, revitalize underserved neighborhoods and arm Detroiters with skills to secure well-paying jobs.
Drawing on this proven model of success in Detroit, as well as other cities like Chicago and Greater Washington, D.C., JPMorgan Chase is now applying a similar formula to Greater Paris — devoting $30 million to support struggling communities across Ile-de-France, particularly in the Seine-Saint-Denis neighborhood. This commitment marked the first investment of the company’s larger $500 million, five-year AdvancingCities initiative to drive inclusive growth and create greater economic opportunity in many of the world’s urban centers. Much like Detroit, the focus in Greater Paris will be on job training, skills development and small business expansion.
“Detroit to Paris — this model works because it focuses on key pillars of opportunity, which are consistent across communities,” says Peter Scher, global head of corporate responsibility at JPMorgan Chase. “This is what people want. They want civic, business and community leaders to set aside their parochial interests and work together to solve problems.”
To ensure success on the ground, JPMorgan Chase employees have been working in collaboration with several French nonprofits to help inform the new investment. Such collaborations between private, public and nonprofit sectors help drive a more robust ecosystem and ultimately attract new funding from additional private institutions and stakeholders. Specifically, Les Compagnons du Devoir is one of the nonprofits JPMorgan Chase is working with to expand workforce training opportunities in Greater Paris. It offers students like George on-the-job training with a two-year residential program in the Seine-Saint-Denis neighborhood.
George’s apprenticeship is changing the trajectory of her life. She says that her time working with mentors and peers has boosted her assertiveness, stability and long-term job prospects. George also believes she will have more options in the growing economy after graduating from the program at the end of 2019.
“So far, it’s been a great experience,” says George. “With the certificate from Les Compagnons du Devoir, you can work at different companies and maybe one day start your own.”
As the Greater Paris region continues to battle economic inequality, one thing is for sure: Extending a helping hand to struggling communities is a necessary first step to ensure everyone can reap the rewards of a city’s growing economy.
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- Poornima Apte, OZY Author Contact Poornima Apte