Charles Lowrey is one of several Prudential leaders tapped to help New Jersey build a road to recovery in the wake of COVID-19.
Yesterday, Chairman and CEO Charles Lowrey joined New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and CEOs from eight of New Jersey’s largest companies in pledging to provide jobs and economic opportunity to more than 30,000 residents by 2030 and spend an additional $250 million on procurement with state-based companies by 2025. These efforts will focus on communities of color across the state, which have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic.
The coalition of nine N.J.-based CEOs is an offshoot of the Restart and Recovery Commission, which New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy asked Lowrey to join in April. The commission was formed to advise the administration and help with the safe reopening of the state’s economy.
The coalition is challenging the rest of New Jersey’s corporate community to mirror its pledge and provide more inclusive opportunities to New Jersey residents by training or hiring an additional 40,000 workers from New Jersey by 2030, and by increasing spending with New Jersey-based businesses by another $250 million by 2025. In addition, the coalition will help create the first statewide Career Impact Bond and a Procurement Center of Excellence.
This support is sorely needed. As Prudential’s 2020 Financial Wellness Census revealed, the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on lower-income Americans, especially people of color. For example, between December 2019 and May 2020, the unemployment rate for Black Americans nearly tripled, from 7% to 18%. And among Latino Americans, 21% saw their household income fall by half or more.
Employment figures in New Jersey also show the dramatic impact on the state’s residents. According to a report issued in September by the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, more than 1.5 million claims were filed for unemployment insurance in the 24 weeks ending August 29, representing nearly 40% of the state’s total workforce. And it’s estimated that 1.2 million residents can’t afford regular access to food, a 33% increase from prior to the pandemic, according to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, the state’s largest anti-hunger organization.
For Lowrey, his work with the state and the council’s pledge is an extension of efforts Prudential has been undertaking for years. “I’m proud of Prudential’s long history of supporting underserved communities, especially in our hometown of Newark, one of America’s oldest and most diverse cities, and there are numerous examples of companies on this council doing exactly the same thing in their own communities,” he says. “Now, through the council’s commitments, we have an opportunity to build on, and expand the success of, those specific efforts on a statewide basis.”
Lowrey’s work with the commission and coalition is just one example of how Prudential is helping to steer recovery across the state. And it’s not a matter of simply writing a check.
According to Lata Reddy, senior vice president, Inclusive Solutions, the invitations for Prudential leaders to join these efforts continue a long history of employees sharing their expertise and experience, particularly around steps to drive inclusive economic growth. “Following decades of work with the goal of providing economic opportunity for underserved communities, we’ve developed productive partnerships and identified innovative solutions to chronic social issues,” she notes. “We’re pleased to have more opportunities to contribute the knowledge we’ve gained to help advance societal issues, particularly in this pivotal time where COVID-19 is further exacerbating a deeply entrenched racial divide of opportunity and equity.”
Creating a blueprint for recovery
Reddy is another leader who has brought her expertise to recovery efforts. In the spring, following years of partnership, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka asked Reddy to join the city’s Reopening and Recovery Strikeforce and lead its Economic Recovery Committee. Given the urgency due to the severity of the pandemic’s impact on the city, the committee had only three weeks to pull together its full recommendations. Working with a diverse team of experts in law, economic development, real estate and the service industry, Reddy focused on recommendations that would help the city safely reopen and restart its economy and address both the immediate and short-term needs and lay the groundwork for a long-term economic recovery and growth strategy.
This included providing a roadmap for local businesses to open and identify how to protect employees’ health and comply with health guidance and employment laws. The team also mapped out a plan to support Newark’s small businesses, and identified county, state and federal funding for which the city could apply to help mitigate an expected budget shortfall.
“Our recommendations serve as a blueprint for Newark, designed to help the city’s leaders move forward with tools that will help them execute an inclusive recovery strategy,” says Reddy.
Designing a new framework
In April, New Jersey’s First Lady Tammy Murphy launched the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund, to mitigate the medical, social and economic impact of COVID-19 on New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents. Shané Harris, vice president of Social Responsibility and Partnerships for Inclusive Solutions and president of The Prudential Foundation, was one of the first to be invited to join the fund’s board, bringing her extensive experience in philanthropic strategy.
As vice chair of the board, Harris provided a 360-degree view in determining how the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund could operate. Given the unique nature of the pandemic and its impact on communities of color, her first order of business was to help the group design a template to improve communication and consistency in how the board reviewed and analyzed grants, including using an equity lens to make decisions.
As the pandemic progressed, the group moved from funding immediate relief to supporting long-term recovery. The fund leveraged the expertise of the Inclusive Solutions team to identify partnerships that strengthen the ability of institutions to respond to this ongoing crisis.
One focus for the fund is helping bridge the digital divide statewide with a $3 million commitment to provide free Wi-Fi access and computers to schools. In Newark, the fund is partnering with the Newark Public Schools and Prudential, providing a $500,000 grant to support the company’s technology plan to increase Newark students’ access to computers and the Internet. Prudential will not only match the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund’s support but also provide an IT help desk and cybersecurity.
Additionally, Rene Deida, director, Nonprofit Capacity and Learning, and Daryl Shore, vice president, Inclusive Communities, both from Inclusive Solutions, are spearheading an initiative charged with allocating up to $5 million to support women- and minority-owned small businesses throughout the state.
To date, the fund has raised $38 million from 60,000 donors around the state and distributed about $30 million to nearly 500 organizations statewide.
As the ripple effect of the pandemic continues, so does the work of Prudential’s people. And it’s work that they are honored to do.
“Being good stewards with our investments has always been part of Prudential’s DNA, and directing resources to issues and organizations that matter is part of our inclusive strategy,” Harris says. “To be able to do this outside of our ongoing work, especially to help our home state and city, has been an incredible opportunity.”