Is Wall Street a Good Training Ground for Social Entrepreneurs?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Luanne Zurlo is the founder of Worldfund, an organization dedicated to improving education in Latin American countries. We recently featured one of her collaborations with the Rassias Center for language. Here we return to Luanne to learn more about her, and about her involvement in this organization that facilitates the education of so many Latin Americans. Luanne has degrees from Dartmouth College, Johns Hopkins (MA, Int’l. Economics/European Studies) and Columbia (MBA, Accounting/Finance). She held vice president and director positions Smith Barney, Saloman Smith Barney, Credit Suisse First Boston and Goldman Sachs, before leaving the world of finance to start Worldfund in 2002 to support high-quality and results-driven education in Latin America, which she sees as the key to transforming lives and reducing poverty.

Luanne, what would you say was the best training for starting Worldfund?

We rarely talk about the corporate world as good training for nonprofit work, but I wouldn’t have been able to start Worldfund without my experience as a Wall Street professional. In that work I spent several years researching Latin American markets. My college studies in Latin American history and developmental economics, as well as my MBA were also valuable. I didn’t start out in finance after school; shortly after graduating I heard about the work Grameen Bank was doing to help the world’s poorest women and decided to go to business school to get a job in micro-finance. Later I moved to equity research in Latin America and after nine years took my skills and passions elsewhere.

How did you decide to leave your job on Wall Street to start a nonprofit?

I had just gotten the biggest bonus of my career; it was everything I had worked towards, but I still felt really empty. The events of September 11th catalyzed me to reassess my values and I began searching. In 2002 I met with a Mexican Catholic priest, who told me, “Luanne, worry more about who you are, and less about what you do in life.” It wasn’t new information, but I was finally ready to hear this; it gave me the courage to resign from my position at Goldman Sachs and to be calmer and more open about where Providence would lead me. I gravitated toward the education arena, as both my personal and professional experience had opened my eyes to the extraordinarily poor level of education in Latin America.

Source: Forbes (link opens in a new window)

microfinance, poverty alleviation