Community Engagement

William Blair Invests in Nonprofits to Strengthen Financial Services Industry and Communities

June 2021 / 3 min read
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“Honored to work with the Greenwood Project named after the prosperous Black neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and home of Black Wall Street, destroyed 100 years ago during the Tulsa Race Massacre.”

WILLIAM BLAIR

Engaging in the communities where William Blair employees live and work has been a long mission of the firm since it was founded more than 85 years ago. Today, a hallmark of William Blair’s community engagement and philanthropy is its global Community Partners program, a worldwide initiative led by employees to support local nonprofits.

The Community Partners program expands and supports—both financially and in employees' volunteer time—organizations that work to strengthen their communities.

Through the partnership, William Blair employees have helped start a middle school leadership program, initiated a college career program, helped distribute thousands of books to underserved youth, and mapped community assets on Chicago’s South and West sides. Community grants amount to nearly $1 million over a two-year period and employees volunteer thousands of hours of time.

Greenwood founders, Bevon and Elois Joseph
Greenwood Project Founders Bevon and Elois Joseph

Among William Blair’s current 11 Community Partners located in cities across the U.S. and Europe is the Greenwood Project. Its mission is to introduce Black and Latinx high school and college students from underserved communities to careers in the financial services industry. Founded in 2016 by Bevon and Elois Joseph, a husband-and-wife team who have worked for financial services firms, recognized the need for industry-specific skill building and networking for young students to address the lack of employee diversity in the financial sector.

“The Community Partners program was created to unlock catalytic capital, looking at philanthropy beyond just a grant and more as an investment,” says Laura Coy, William Blair’s head of philanthropy strategy. “We believe all capital has impact whether its financial, human, or social. Greenwood Project was primed to be a tremendous Community Partner. It was ready to scale and offered a diverse talent pipeline for the financial services industry.”

Greenwood Project scholars gain real-world experiences and exposure to the financial industry through a speaker’s series, summer financial institutes, a tour of Wall Street, and more. Last year, with the onset of COVID-19, Greenwood partnered with William Blair to move its programs online, finding creative new ways that kept students engaged and learning. This summer, William Blair will host 10 interns from the Greenwood Project.

The organization was named after the prosperous Black Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma, known as “Black Wall Street,” which was destroyed on May 31-June 1, 1921, during the Tulsa Race Massacre.

“I wanted our scholars to see that they perpetuate the legacy of prosperity and resilience embodied in the Greenwood community,” said Bevon Joseph, founder of the Greenwood Project. “Inspired by the strength of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma, our goal is to provide students with the means to build generational wealth for themselves and their communities.”

This year is especially important as it marks the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre. Greenwood Project is launching a centennial scholars fund this year to mark the anniversary.

Kwesi Smith in Times Square
Kwesi Smith, William Blair research analyst and board chair of Greenwood Project

William Blair Investment Management research analyst Kwesi Smith, who nominated Greenwood Project as a Community Partner and serves as the organization’s board chair, was with the Greenwood team in New York City this spring when they rang the closing bell virtually at NASDAQ.

“It's deeply fulfilling to interact with the Greenwood scholars as they build the necessary skills and social capital to thrive in the financial services industry,” says Smith. “Their tenacity and drive serve as an inspiration to all of us.”