USC Price School of Public Policy

Alumni Spotlight: Jeff Schaffer

Jeff Schaffer

Fulfilling Needs Here and Abroad

By Susan L. Wampler
from SPPD Community Connections Fall/Winter 2005

After years of working separately for agencies that provide international humanitarian aid and organizations committed to ending homelessness in the United States, Jeff Schaffer MPA ’87 found a unique position that allows him to work on both interests simultaneously.

As senior program officer for the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation since October 1999, he manages major initiatives in potable water development, primarily in Africa and Mexico, and housing for the mentally ill homeless in the United States. He monitors a $50 million portfolio of grants and investigates new initiatives here and abroad.

Schaffer recently returned from two weeks in Ethiopia, where he was exploring potential foundation support for groups developing potable water.

“I’ve had to add a few pages to my passport to cover all of the travel I’ve done here,” he says of his work for the Hilton Foundation.

His longtime interest in international development was further fostered during his time in the Peace Corps after graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1980. A political science and Spanish literature double major, he initially hoped to be sent to a Spanish-speaking country. When no such opportunity was imminent, he took an assignment in Micronesia on the tiny island of Kosrae. There, he helped facilitate development of a newly chartered municipal government and a chlorinated water system.

Attracted by the inter-governmental management program, Schaffer pursued his MPA at USC in the mid-1980s, taking advantage of the opportunity to study in both Washington, D.C. and Sacramento, as well as in Los Angeles. At CARE’s Policy Liaison Office in D.C., he organized an outreach program promoting foreign-assistance policies in collaboration with the National Governors Association.

“Foreign aid during that era was often seen as political- and military-related,” he says. “This jeopardized the efforts of nonprofits doing humanitarian work.” To help counter the problem, Schaffer represented CARE on the planning committee for an Interaction symposium on the nature of humanitarian assistance. Also while a student, he led a group to Kenya for Operation Crossroads Africa on a summer work project building classrooms and dormitories.

While he remained committed to international work, Schaffer took SPPD Professor Chet Newland’s advice to work for a time in the corporate sector. “He told me, ‘If you’re interested in a career in the public sector, it’s a good idea if you haven’t always eaten at the public trough,’” recalls Schaffer, who took a position in corporate public relations.

“Every day, as I drove down Wilshire Boulevard, I began to see an increasing number of homeless people,” he says. “It seemed wrong in a country as wealthy as the United States to have people who were homeless.” Thus Schaffer returned to the nonprofit sector, working for Shelter Partnership and, later, Beyond Shelter.

On behalf of the Hilton Foundation, where he is also interim head of the program department, Schaffer co-convened a $37 million partnership of grant makers and corporate partners aimed at significantly reducing the number of mentally ill homeless people.

Schaffer also has taught a graduate seminar at SPPD for the past 10 years and was voted by the student body as Outstanding Adjunct Faculty for 2005.

“I enjoy the opportunity to meet new groups of students from a variety of backgrounds and with a variety of interests,” he says. “It’s my window onto the next generation.”