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08 Aug. 2017 | Comments (0)

Summerfest volunteers 2017

In June 2016, Johnson Controls launched its Milwaukee Neighborhood Initiative, a place-based approach to philanthropy and engagement. Its goal is to transform three challenged Milwaukee neighborhoods. The company is dedicating resources to support programs in the areas of job readiness, affordable housing, quality education, health, and the arts, with the goal of making a significant impact on the trajectory of lives in its focus neighborhoods.

In this Q&A, Grady Crosby, president of the Johnson Controls Foundation, and Annemarie Scobey, director, Corporate Programs,  answered my questions about the initiative.

Q: How did you decide to start a place-based approach as part of your philanthropic efforts?

Grady: Milwaukee is a fantastic city and has a lot to offer in terms of great schools, strong housing, arts, entertainment and quality of life, but it also has a bleaker side. In its most recent Race for Results report, the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranked Wisconsin worst in the country for black children based on a host of quality-of-life indicators. Such indicators include:

  • Wisconsin incarcerates a higher proportion of black men than any other state in the nation (University of Wisconsin Milwaukee).
  • Four out of five of Milwaukee’s African American children live in poverty and seven out of ten live in single-parent households (Wisconsin Council on Children and Families).
  • White Wisconsin students have a 92 percent high school graduation rate, while the rate for African American students from Milwaukee is 55 percent (Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction).
  • The unemployment rate for African Americans in Milwaukee hovers around 20 percent (Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.).

As a global corporation with Milwaukee as one of our major headquarters, Johnson Controls has a responsibility to make a positive change for those who need help. The three challenged Milwaukee neighborhoods we’ve chosen as part of this initiative are very close to our corporate campus in Milwaukee and have populations consistent with the assessments on poor quality of life. These are our neighbors and as such they need to be our primary responsibility, even though our philanthropic reach is global.

Q: How did you engage with the neighborhoods to learn what was needed?

Annemarie: Johnson Controls began with neighborhood stakeholders, hosting a meeting with residents, nonprofits, principals, and leaders of faith-based organizations. These 70 stakeholders participated in a strategic planning session, identifying the strengths and needs of the neighborhoods. Johnson Controls’ role at this meeting was one of listening and seeking to understand. Following that meeting, when organizations approached Johnson Controls for financial support, as appropriate, Johnson Controls encouraged them to strategically collaborate with other organizations in the neighborhood. This led to “boots on the ground” strategic processes—with leaders of organizations coming together to collaborate and tailor-make programs for the neighborhood.

Q: What are some examples of the programs you supported?

Grady: There have been so many, and the nonprofits and the people served have been great about dropping us notes, emails and photos to show their gratitude. I’ll give you a few examples. Johnson Controls supported the Milwaukee United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF) arts education program, which brought First Stage, a children’s theater, to an after-school program for one of our neighborhood schools. Also through our support of UPAF, students were able to participate in the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Reading Residency program, which uses theater to teach literacy skills. UPAF Connect brought theater performances to area community centers and also provided tickets to downtown performances for area residents. We funded a program for our local technology museum, Discovery World, to provide more than 500 neighborhood students repeated field trips to their labs. We gave a grant to Marquette University so they could begin robotics programs in our neighborhood schools. The Employer Assisted Homeownership Program has been developed through our support of the Havenwoods Economic Development Corporation, which seeks to provide residents with access to programs that drive homeownership near where they work. Johnson Controls partnered with the Milwaukee Bucks to bring a multi-sport complex to the campus of a local school and community center. This project includes ten years of programming on the court.

Q: What is most challenging about this initiative?

Annemarie: A challenge has been to help organizations see beyond Johnson Controls only as a funder. The traditional way of how a corporation interacts with nonprofits is to send a check, not to be in a relationship and make connections. Our team mitigates this as we manage the initiative. Building relationships and making connections are a part of our job. Both casual conversations and formal meetings help community leaders see us as partners who understand the complexity of the issues. We also encourage organizations to find Johnson Controls employees to serve as board members or as volunteers.

Q: Where are you going from here?

Grady: In our next year, we hope to engage local businesses in the neighborhoods to join with us. We want to build on and expand relationships we have, and further connect stakeholders. We’re looking even further ahead to how we could bring this program to other cities. There’s plenty of work for everyone.

  • About the Author:Alice Korngold

    Alice Korngold

    Alice Korngold advises companies and NGOs on strategy, board governance, sustainability, ESG, and diversity and inclusion. She is the author of  A Better World, Inc.: How Companies Profit by Solv…

    Full Bio | More from Alice Korngold

  • About the Author:Grady Crosby

    Grady Crosby

    Grady L. Crosby is responsible for leading Johnson Controls’ government relations strategies, sustainability efforts and its philanthropic initiatives in order to maintain the company’s co…

    Full Bio | More from Grady Crosby

  • About the Author:Annemarie Scobey

    Annemarie Scobey

    Annemarie Scobey is the director of Corporate Programs at Johnson Controls where she is responsible for programs connected to corporate social responsibility, including the Johnson Controls Milwaukee …

    Full Bio | More from Annemarie Scobey


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