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Young Bankers Seek ‘Good Yield’ With Their Own Nonprofits
By Max Abelson – Feb 4, 2014
Bloomberg News

The founders of the Resolution Project don’t dwell on generosity or charity when they describe why their nonprofit mentors and funds young leaders. They favor the language of finance.

“We get good yield,” said Andrew Harris, the group’s 31-year-old vice chairman, who advises private-equity firms at Forum Capital Partners in New York. “We think it’s very different and, to use a Wall Street term, very differentiated.”

Without deserting careers, a new wave of young bankers is starting nonprofits to help orphans, immigrants, veterans and students. They say they’re moved to mend the world using capitalism’s wisdom, not because of its shortcomings, preaching the power of dividends, due diligence, leverage and efficient allocation of resources. Some see themselves setting a new mold for post-crisis Wall Street philanthropy by not waiting to give away their money or leaving for full-time charity work.

“Among this generation — our generation — is a deep passion and interest in learning, earning and returning simultaneously,” said Andrew Klaber, 32, an analyst at hedge fund Paulson & Co. whose nonprofit Even Ground provides education and care to African children affected by AIDS. “You just see an unmet need in your research, and research is what we do on Wall Street.”

‘Made It’
Even Ground, which has given out more than $800,000 according to Internal Revenue Service filings, received early funding from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Three founders of Ascend Educational Fund, which throws its inaugural gala in New York’s Prince George Ballroom Feb. 8, have worked at that bank.

“Our target audience is a very under-covered market,” said Adrienne Serrato, 27, an Ascend co-founder who now works for Houston-based investment firm WindAcre Partnership. Her group, which grants scholarships regardless of immigration status, awarded $32,000 in 2013, its first full year.

Another Ascend co-founder, Julissa Arce, develops derivatives for Merrill Lynch clients at Bank of America Corp.

“The first time I felt like I made it wasn’t when I made director,” said Arce, 30, a University of Texas graduate. “I felt like I made it when I launched this fund.”

Lessons from capital markets aren’t the only inspirations. Others described being shaken by the 2008 financial crisis, even if they don’t see bankers as villains.

System Meltdowns
“There’s been a cultural humility that’s come out of the financial crisis,” said Tim Kleiman, 30, an analyst for New York-based asset manager Golub Capital. He’s working on a project to fund higher education in Africa that may aim for profit. “When you’re confronted with these really humbling events, where you see the meltdown of these systems and the sad human costs of that — that were not necessarily the result of anyone’s intention — for me it galvanized my thinking.”

Kleiman, a Yale University graduate who worked for McKinsey & Co. and hedge fund D.E. Shaw & Co. before Golub, said he doesn’t want to wait for his career to hit its high point before undertaking meaningful projects.

“That world that I’m imagining, where I’m a partner and I’ve made all my money, who knows what that world’s going to look like?” he said. “So why not try something now?”

Several founders, including some of the young bankers, warned that the work demands more than passion and pluck. Nancy Lublin, who started Dress for Success, which gives unemployed women suits for job interviews, said she cautions aspiring philanthropists even while admiring their intensity.

‘Root Canal’
“I’ve never run a hedge fund, and they’ve never run a not-for-profit,” said Lublin, 42, now chief executive officer of Do Something, an organization that runs national campaigns about bullying, the environment and other causes to engage teenagers. “I brush my teeth every day, twice a day, that doesn’t mean I’m ready to perform a root canal on somebody.”

Some Wall Street nonprofit founders described hitting logistical and financial snags trickier than expected.

Kelly Peeler, a co-founder of Business Across Borders, said she had a hard time planning entrepreneur competitions in Iraq while working as a JPMorgan Chase & Co. analyst in New York.

“It’s a lot to juggle,” said Peeler, 26, who left the biggest U.S. bank last year to be a Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation global scholar.

Ahmad Zubair Sahar Mahjoor, 37, struggled to raise funds for his Afghan Education Peace Foundation, which aimed to bring students from Afghanistan to the U.S. for schooling. The partner at Latin Markets, a New York firm that organizes forums for investors, said he’s winding down the group after six years.

“You can’t lead a cavalry charge if you think you’ll look funny on a horse,” Sahar Mahjoor said.

Marathon Man
Others are undaunted. New York Needs You, which mentors students who are the first in their families to attend college, raised almost $1.4 million at a Jan. 23 gala, according to a press release. Robert Reffkin, a former chief of staff to Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn, started the group in 2009 while working at the New York-based firm. The fundraiser honored Adebayo Ogunlesi, a member of the bank’s board.

“There is a subculture of young Wall Street people starting nonprofits,” said Reffkin, who left the bank to co-found Urban Compass, a real estate startup that says it’s using technology to improve housing searches for New Yorkers.

The firm and the nonprofit aren’t his only creations. The 34-year-old Columbia University graduate helped start a Success Academy charter school in the Bronx, began a Lazard Freres & Co. minority internship program and ran 50 marathons in 50 states over six years, ending in New York in November.

‘Let’s Go’
Reffkin, raised by a single mother, was one of the founders who described being driven by life experience and personality.

“I’m a starter of things,” said Oliver Libby, another co-founder of the Resolution Project, which will hold competitions for student social ventures at the United Nations Youth Assembly this month and the Clinton Global Initiative University in Phoenix in March. “I just have fun with it. So there’s a certain aspect of me that just is like, yeah, sure, let’s get that started, let’s go.”

Libby, 32, a managing director at New York-based advisory firm Hatzimemos Partners LLC, started a Harvard University a cappella group and was included in a Harvard Crimson story about students who wanted to be president of the U.S. Another Resolution co-founder, Howard Levine, is a colleague of Arce’s at Bank of America, where he works on a special-situations team.

“You can have your cake and eat it too — there doesn’t need to be a tension between Wall Street and nonprofit,” said Harris, who went to high school in Westchester with Levine. “And we’re proving that.”

Scalability, Mitigation
The language of banking shapes their group, with Resolution judging pitches on market demand, scalability, risk mitigation and returns. Winners get as much as $3,000 of seed funding and mentoring from volunteers who work at firms including New York-based Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan.

Resolution “is an allocator,” Libby said. “In a sense, we’re angel investors.”

There are limits to what the vocabulary and methodology of banking can do for nonprofits, according to Andrew Hahn, who directs the Sillerman Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy at Brandeis University.

“Often it works out, and I call that a magical outcome, but sometimes it doesn’t,” Hahn said, adding that metrics Wall Street relies on for risk management can be harder to find in philanthropy. “Sometimes the Wall Street people bring their culture into the nonprofit arena and expect too much.”

‘Doing Good’
Most of the young Wall Street philanthropists promote their efforts on the resumes they post online. Some share abundant details. The LinkedIn page for Alliance for Veteran Support co-founder Omar Itum, 29, a Johns Hopkins University graduate, describes the group’s press coverage, partnerships, contacts and goals, detailing a fundraiser that was “one of the largest charity events in the financial-services industry.”

It includes little about his job as head trader for Charter Bridge Capital Management LP, an investment manager.

Joseph Weilgus, 36, who started Project Sunshine in 1998 to entertain hospitalized children, doesn’t question the motives that drive Wall Street’s new philanthropists.

“At the end of the day, if they’re doing good, that’s great,” said Weilgus, the CEO of investment adviser New Legacy Group LLC. “You don’t have to question people’s intentions if they’re doing good.”

The current wave of bankers starting nonprofits isn’t the first to wash over Wall Street. Even young founders who described trying to create a new model of banker philanthropy paused to offer praise for predecessors.

Klaber, whose group Even Ground was previously known as Orphans Against AIDS, applauded the generosity of John Paulson, his New York-based hedge fund’s billionaire owner, and cited former Goldman Sachs heads John Whitehead, Robert Rubin and Hank Paulson as “tri-sector athletes” who’ve thrived in business, charity and politics.

“Perfection is the aspiration,” Klaber said. “I just try to do the best that I can.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Max Abelson in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Eichenbaum at

To read the original article:

Join AEF & DAPF for a November Happy Hour!

AEF/DAPF November Happy Hour



The Ascend Educational Fund and the Dr. Antonia Pantoja Fellowship, Inc. invite you to join us for a November Happy Hour to learn how we are working to promote educational achievement in the New York City community. We look forward to sharing more about our plans for both organizations in 2014.

Event Details 
Date: Thursday, November 14
Location: EVR- 54 W 39th St (between 5th & 6th Ave)
Time: 6 PM- 9 PM
Donation: $30 (includes one drink**)
At the door: $35 (includes one drink**)
Please RSVP and print your event ticket here

Your donation will help further AEF’s and DAPF’s missions.

About AEF and DAPF:
Ascend Educational Fund’s mission is to enable and encourage higher education and professional achievement for the immigrant community. Regardless of ethnicity, national origin or immigration status, we envision every exceptional student in New York City as having the same educational and professional opportunities. Visit www.ascendfundny.orgfor more information.

The Dr. Antonia Pantoja Fellowship, Inc. (DAPF) advocates for a quality and accessible education for all students and promotes the development of Puerto Rican and Latino/a leaders of integrity. Our role is to help bridge the educational attainment gap so prevalent within this community in New York City. Visit for more information.

**The complimentary drink is sponsored by GetPoured: a members program that provides FREE drinks at various NYC venues.

Join Us at the AEF September Happy Hour!

Dear Friends of AEF,

We’d like to invite you to our September Happy Hour on Wednesday, September 18th at 6:00 pm at Ainsworth Park (111 E 18th St). Come join us to send the summer off with cocktails and mingle with AEF supporters and friends.

We are also excited to announce that we will be hosting our First Annual Gala in February of 2014 and are looking for Gala planning committee members. If you are interested in joining our gala-planning committee, please email or come to the happy hour to learn more!

You can also stay up to date on future events here.

Best Regards,

AEF Board of Directors

Meet Our 2013 AEF Scholars

The Ascend Educational Fund’s Selection Committee reviewed over 320 applications, interviewed 20 finalists, and this weekend selected our inaugural class of eight AEF Scholars! Thanks to the generous support of our Advisory Council and other contributors, our eight AEF Scholars will receive a total of $36,000 in scholarship awards, which includes over $9,000 raised through our matching gift drive.

Thank you to everyone who participated—and special thanks to Anne Brennan, Danaus Chang, Arthur Li, Liam O’Neil, Raphael Zagury , and the Alchemy Club, LLC for their generous contributions. All of the time and financial contributions of our donors and supporters are allowing us to significantly improve these young people’s lives.

We are thrilled to share our Scholar’s stories with you:

• A civil rights activist whose parents emigrated from Bangladesh and who will be attending Princeton University in the fall. This Danaus Awesome Achievement Award recipient has spent her teenage years supporting the struggle for human rights and social activism throughout the world by organizing hate-crime rallies, promoting voter rights, and starting a tutorial center in her house for free. Not only has she maintained a 4.0 GPA and is a true leader in her community, she also contributes her earnings from the summer employment program to her parents to assist her family with their basic needs.

• An immigrant from Mexico who is a founding member of a diversity group that promotes tolerance and anti-bullying at her school, and will attend Binghamton University this fall with plans to study Psychology and Education. This El Aguila Perseverance Award recipient dedicates herself to her schoolwork as an International Baccalaureate diploma candidate with a 100 average, while continuing to help her guardians pay the bills by selling ices and cupcakes.

• A young research scientist whose parents emigrated from China and who will be attending the University of California, Davis in the fall. This A+ student has already maxed out the CollegeNow program and has accumulated 13 college credits. His accomplishments include performing at Carnegie Hall, a national ranking in Chess the last three years, and being a member of his high school’s varsity fencing team since his freshman year. Despite his demanding academic and extracurricular schedule, he also plays the role of homemaker in his household: purchasing groceries, making dinners and taking care of his siblings.

• A Mexican immigrant who arrived just four years ago and transitioned from ESL to now taking all her classes in English with an overall grade point average of 89%. She is a varsity soccer player who actively volunteers in her community, from HealthCorps to El Museo del Barrio, and helped to form the Haiti Relief Project with the National Honor Society on her campus. A Skadden mentee, she will attend La Guardia Community College this fall and eventually plans to go to law school and become a lawyer.

• A student devoted to women’s rights and gender equality whose parents emigrated from Guyana, and who will be attending Wellesley College in the fall. Despite her economic and personal struggles, she has maintained an A average at one of the country’s most rigorous high schools. She is a head counselor at Project HAPPY, a sports and recreational program for individuals with disabilities, as well as an advocate for the Asian American youth community with the Coalition for Asian American Children & Families.

• A young woman who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico five years ago, is currently in the top 10% of her class, and earned a 4 on the Advanced Placement English Language & Composition exam, despite being enrolled in ESL classes her freshman year. This Arthur Li Distinguished Rising Star Award is a member of a rigorous college-preparatory program, she is also an alto sax player and volunteers regularly at her church.  She will attend CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice this fall and is passionately seeking a career as a criminal detective.

• A women rights advocate whose parents emigrated from St. Kitts and Nevis and who will be attending Bryn Mawr College in the fall. She founded a women’s empowerment group in her school to discuss race, body image, and women’s’ rights. An active member of the Sadie Nash Leadership Project, she maintains an A average and ranks in the top 12% of her graduating class. She is described by her teachers as “A more honest, generous, and determined individual than you will never meet.”

• A young man who immigrated to the U.S from Mexico, maintains a 3.7 GPA at one of New York City’s most competitive high schools, and scored in the 83rd percentile on the SAT mathematics section, all while working as a cook’s assistant, assistant super, and at McDonald’s to help support his family. He is described by his teachers as ”one of the most ambitious, giving, and thirsty for knowledge” students they have ever encountered. He will be attending City College of New York this fall.

Thank you again for supporting us, and assisting us in ‘Elevating our Community through Higher Education’. We have big plans for AEF, and we hope that you will be a part of our growth in the coming years.

AEF Board of Directors
Adrienne, Celeste, Diana, Erika and Julissa

Launch Press Release

Ascend Educational Fund to Award a Minimum of $20,000 in Scholarships to the NYC Immigrant Community in 2013

New York, NY- January 14, 2013- Ascend Educational Fund, Inc. a new community-funded scholarship program for immigrant students in the New York City area, has launched and will open its application period for Fall 2013 scholarships beginning this February. “We are extremely excited to begin the inaugural application process for Ascend Educational Fund in New York City.  As the epicenter of the immigrant community in the U.S., we look forward to awarding annual scholarships to support higher education within the immigrant community,” stated Julissa Arce, Chairman of the Board of Directors and Co-Chair of the Development Committee.  Arce added, “We are tremendously inspired by what the Esperanza Education Fund is doing for the immigrant community in D.C.”

Beginning this May, Ascend will award scholarships ranging from $2,500-$20,000, based on need, to immigrant high school students, regardless of ethnicity, national origin, or immigration status, living in the five boroughs of New York City- Brooklyn, Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island.  Students are eligible for the 2013 scholarship if they: (1) were born outside the United States or have two parents born outside the United States, (2) are graduating seniors at a high school in New York City, and (3) intend to enroll full-time at an accredited public or private college or university for the 2013-2014 academic year.  Applicants must demonstrate a history of academic success and perseverance.  With these criteria, Ascend Educational Fund intends to help bridge the gap for students who are high achieving and perseverant, but may not have the resources necessary to pursue higher education.

“With 60% of New York City students being immigrants or children of immigrants, we want to create a platform for these individuals to pursue higher education and achieve their dreams.  And with one out of every five New York City residents living in poverty, and 30% of children 18 and younger living in poverty, we can’t think of a better way to support our community than to help provide access to higher education opportunities,” stated Adrienne Serrato, Chair of the Mentorship Committee.

New York City is one of the most diverse immigrant communities in the nation, with individuals hailing from China, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Guyana, Mexico, Ecuador, Russia, Korea, India, Colombia, and the Ukraine, to name a few, according to the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

The Ascend Educational Fund, Inc. was founded by a diverse group of young professionals from New York City, with roots stemming from Mexico to the Philippines.  Arce added, “We are united for one cause- to ensure that more students from the immigrant community are not hindered from pursuing the American dream due to lack of financial aid.”

For further information contact  For application materials, visit  Applications must be submitted by April 1st, 2013.

About Ascend Educational Fund, Inc.

Ascend Education Fund, Inc. was established in 2012 to help high school students of exceptional promise reach their full potential through education. Ascend Educational Fund focuses in particular on students that were born outside the United States or have two parents born outside the United States and have a history of academic success and perseverance.  Scholarship recipients are selected based on qualities traditionally valued and demonstrated by the immigrant community including hard work, resourcefulness, perseverance, academic achievement, leadership, and commitment to one’s community. 

Our mission is straightforward- to enable and encourage higher education and professional achievement for immigrant children and children of immigrant families.

For more information, visit