The whole motto of Greenwood is you can’t be what you can’t see. These kids come to us with almost no social capital.”
An immigrant from Trinidad, graduate business student Bevon Joseph has forged his own path in tech, finance and nonprofit management since coming to the United States at 18 years old.
Joseph is founder and CEO of Greenwood Project, a nonprofit he launched three years ago to help academically talented youth from underresourced Chicago communities gain access to the finance industry. Thanks to Joseph’s connections with firms in New York and Chicago, the Greenwood Project has collaborated with about 30 financial and tech companies, including Goldman Sachs, NASDAQ, Google and LinkedIn.
Joseph joined the world of finance in 1996 when he began working as an IT services provider on a New York trading floor, and later worked for some of the city’s largest Wall Street exchanges and financial services firms. He moved to Chicago, eventually working his way up to be a chief technology officer for a hedge fund—all with just an associate’s degree in computer electronic technology and a high school diploma from Trinidad.
Fascinated by the passion he witnessed on trading floors, Joseph noticed the lack of diversity among employees. “Most of the time I would be one of (a few) or the only person of color at a firm,” says Joseph, who runs the Greenwood Project with his wife, Elois. “I was always curious why other students who look like me weren’t given that opportunity.”
In 2014, Joseph enrolled in DePaul’s School for New Learning and became the first in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree. Joseph developed the idea for the Greenwood Project through a class assignment that challenged him to create a social media campaign around a social cause. After his professor encouraged him to pursue the idea, Joseph approached top-level financial executives he knew to gauge their interest in funding internships for students from low-income communities. His nonprofit began taking shape as interest from companies grew.
“They (students) are smart, they’re doing well in school, staying out of trouble, getting good grades, but they don’t know anyone who works in finance,” says Joseph, who now is enrolled in the Driehaus College of Business’s combined bachelor’s and master’s in entrepreneurship program. “The whole motto of Greenwood is you can’t be what you can’t see. These kids come to us with almost no social capital.”
The nonprofit works with high school juniors through recent college graduates. High school students attend, free of charge, the Summer Financial Institute, a six-week program that helps them build soft skills and financial literacy. The students also visit a different company each day of the program, in both New York and Chicago. In addition, Greenwood hosts Women in Wall Street student networking events in Chicago that feature panel discussions by female executives at top firms.
To help fund the nonprofit, Joseph manages a for-profit arm of Greenwood that charges companies to have access to recruit students who have been involved with the Greenwood Project.
“Running your own business, whether it’s nonprofit or for-profit, is a 24/7 job,” Joseph says. “But for me it doesn’t feel like work, just because we see the results and the impact that it’s having. And it’s changing the lives not just of the students, but their family and community. So I think that’s my motivation to keep doing this.”
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