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Young Wall Street Bankers Flex Their Philanthropic Muscles

Andrew Klaber

Photograph courtesy Andrew Klaber via Bloomberg

Andrew Klaber

The founders of the Resolution Project don’t dwell on generosity or charity when they describe their nonprofit’s mission to provide funds and guidance to young social entrepreneurs. They use the language of finance. “We get good yield,” says Andrew Harris, 31, who works as an adviser to private equity firms at Forum Capital Partners in New York. Resolution “is an allocator,” says another co-founder, Oliver Libby, 32, a managing director at Hatzimemos Partners, a strategic advisory firm. “In a sense, we’re angel investors.”

Harris and Libby are part of a wave of young bankers helping orphans, immigrants, veterans, and students while continuing to work on Wall Street. They say they’re moved to mend the world using capitalism’s wisdom, preaching the power of dividends, due diligence, leverage, and efficient allocation of resources. “Among this generation—our generation—is a deep passion and interest in learning, earning, and returning simultaneously,” says 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.” Even Ground, which got early funding from Goldman Sachs (GS), has given out more than $800,000, according to Internal Revenue Service filings.

“Among this generation—our generation—is a deep passion and interest in learning, earning, and returning simultaneously”—Andrew Klaber, analyst at Paulson & Co. and founder of the nonprofit Even Ground

“There’s been a cultural humility that’s come out of the financial crisis,” says Tim Kleiman, 30, an analyst at asset manager Golub Capital. He’s working on a project to fund higher education in Africa, which may take the form of a for-profit company. “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,” he says. Kleiman 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? So why not try something now?”

Some young bankers have found it difficult to balance work and charity. Kelly Peeler, a co-founder of Business Across Borders, which aims to spur economic growth in the Middle East, says she had a hard time planning entrepreneur competitions in Iraq while working as an analyst at JPMorgan Chase (JPM) in New York. “It’s a lot to juggle,” says Peeler, 26, who left her job last year to be a Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation global scholar.

The Resolution Project judges proposals from young applicants on market demand, leverage, scalability, risk mitigation, and returns, according to its website. Winners get as much as $3,000 of seed funding and mentoring from volunteers who work at banks including Morgan Stanley (MS) and JPMorgan. The group has given grants to more than 100 fellows who have together started more than 50 ventures in 32 countries, according to Libby.

There are limits to what the vocabulary and methodology of banking can do for nonprofits, says 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 says the metrics Wall Street relies on for risk management can be hard to adapt to philanthropy. “Sometimes the Wall Street people bring their culture into the nonprofit arena and expect too much.”

Nancy Lublin, who started Dress for Success, which gives unemployed women suits for job interviews, says she cautions aspiring philanthropists that it takes more than passion and fundraising contacts to build a thriving charity. A successful venture needs to have an approach that’s different from what’s out there, and it has to be managed well. “I’ve never run a hedge fund, and they’ve never run a not-for-profit,” says 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.”

Harris, of the Resolution Project, isn’t deterred by such concerns. “You can have your cake and eat it, too—there doesn’t need to be a tension between Wall Street and nonprofit,” he says. “And we’re proving that.”

The bottom line: A growing number of young bankers are trying to pursue good works while making money on Wall Street.

Abelson is a reporter for Bloomberg News in New York.

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