The leftovers from our family feast are gone, but I will reflect on Thanksgiving 2016 for the rest of my days thanks to a recent life-altering volunteer experience.
Through OppenheimerFunds’ philanthropic initiative of reaching 10,000 children with math literacy programs and our partnership with Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS), I was given an opportunity to travel with a group of colleagues to Costa Rica’s Orosi Valley, where we supported teachers at a local elementary school. During our week there, we also introduced engaging English, math and science lessons to their students.
In the past I’ve given money and thought leadership to the causes I care about most, with education being chief among them. But this was the first time I actually rolled up my shirtsleeves and put some sweat equity into the change I’m trying to create.
I was among 20 OppenheimerFunds employees that volunteered in Costa Rica from our offices in New York, Rochester and Denver. Although we were in a gorgeous tropical setting, the trip was no vacation. In addition to providing 50 grade-school students with academic lessons, we performed some playground rehab – including the installation of new soccer goals, swings and a tire dragon. We planted a new garden, cleaned up the schoolyard and rebuilt desks and benches.
The IT experts on our team even made sure we left behind a functioning computer lab. They repaired the school’s 10 notebooks and desktops, and installed educational games in both English and Spanish.
In addition to partnering with the National Museum of Mathematics, the Boys & Girls Club and Common Impact, OppenheimerFunds has worked with Cross-Cultural Solutions since 2012 to provide community service throughout Latin America. Over the last four years, more than 170 employees have volunteered at schools, orphanages and homes for the elderly in Costa Rica, Brazil, Guatemala and Peru.
As Head of the OppenheimerFunds Private Client Group, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time this year writing about our research on high-net-worth Millennials, who are looking to help society through impact investing. This generation is looking to use their resources to improve basic human rights all over the world, with a keen focus on education. And they don’t want to merely throw money at the causes they care about. They want to be involved and track the progress of their investments every step of the way.
Now I truly see why this concept is catching on among younger investors. My experience with CCS opened my eyes to a new dimension of giving – the gift of your time and talents to help the people who need it most.
Opening Children’s Eyes to New Possibilities for the Future
Our volunteer assignment took place in a town built by the Costa Rican government as a community for farmworkers. We worked with the children of those farmworkers, who are given a state-sponsored education through the sixth grade. But for most of the students, that’s where their education ends. After finishing elementary school, the vast majority of these children will move on to become farmhands for the rest of their lives.
Continuing onto the U.S. equivalent of junior high and high school requires families to cover the cost of transportation on the local bus, which is too tall of an order for most parents in this very poor community. By adolescence, these young people are expected to become contributors to the family finances. For many American children, high school is merely a pit stop on the way to college, but for the children I spent a week with, high school means becoming a burden on their family.
Although there was a significant language barrier between the OppenheimerFunds volunteers and the students, it was profoundly moving to see that we were able to ignite their curiosity and help open their minds to new possibilities for their lives.
By our fourth day of working with them, the children were so engaged that they didn’t want to go home at the end of the school day.
How My Approach to Impact Investing Will Change
Although our time in Costa Rica was brief, I now feel a genuine connection to the Orosi Valley community and I’m personally invested in seeing these children succeed. I’ve always tried to use whatever resources I have to give back, whether it’s through donations or by creating opportunities for exceptional young people within our industry.
But after engaging with students in Costa Rica one-on-one, I plan on taking more of a hands-on approach towards the causes near and dear to my heart. The experience also got me thinking: If I can have a big impact on a child’s life 4,000 miles away, what more can I do in my own neck of the woods?
My family and I are fortunate to live in southwestern Connecticut, in an affluent town with a high tax base and great schools. But just 10 minutes up the road is another town, which happens to be one of the poorest cities in the country. It’s also plagued by a very high dropout rate. In the past, my family and I have given to charitable causes in this town. We’ve made donations, and my children have given back through tutoring and other community service.
But I can no longer just drive by this town anymore. Following my experience in Costa Rica, I’m now focused on getting directly involved in this community, and doing whatever I can to help inspire children there to stay in school. I’m going to use my time and influence to open students’ minds to the possibilities for the future as long as they can stay on the right path.
As the 2016 holiday season kicks into gear, I’m thankful to work at a company that provides such wonderful and unique opportunities for employees to give back. In any industry, I believe the most successful companies are those that are thinking beyond the products they produce and the bottom line.
They’re thinking about what they can do to give back.
This is the latest installment in our monthly series about issues facing high-net-worth families and their advisors. To learn more about what HNW Millennials want from their advisor, read an executive summary of the Proving Worth study, or gain access to the full report.
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These views represent the opinions of the Portfolio Managers at OppenheimerFunds, Inc. and are not intended as investment advice or to predict or depict the performance of any investment. These views are as of the publication date, and are subject to change based on subsequent developments.