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New York Women on Wall Street
Erin Arvedlund, The Panelist, March 01, 2007

Women on Wall Street for the first time are raising serious money in the millions of dollars and emerging as a fundraising force in the same way they blazed a career trail among their male peers in finance.

Three groups in particular-- 100 Women in Hedge Funds, High Water Women and 85 Broads are gathering Wall Street women and their wallets together to carve out a niche at raising money for hands-on philanthropy, as well as mentoring, networking and empowering lower and middle-class women. In dollars, they have yet to rival Wall Street-fundraising giants like Robin Hood Foundation, which became famous for raising $81 million in a single night. However, they were founded, and in large part funded, by men, who dominate hedge funds, alternative investment and other wealthy Wall Street bastions.

This new wave of women hails from Wall Street also, but their fundraising and their causes are more hands-on, that is, the women add their own sweat equity, and want to single out causes that support women and children.

Women have a long tradition of supporting philanthropy, although in the previous centuries it was often their husband's money.

"We, as women, weren't necessarily raised to write our own checks. As we become more responsible in the business world, we are trying to do that," says Leslie Rahl, President of Capital Market Risk Advisors and a founder of High Water Women. "We need to make women more aware that they often aren't as generous as men, in part, because they were never trained. Or, no one ever asked us!"

100 Women in Hedge Funds just rang in its 5th birthday with the closing bell of the stock exchange on February 5th, 2007. But it is among the most active financial industry groups throwing big dollars at Wall Street philanthropy favorites, donating to well-known favorites such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters , and a Breast Cancer Suite at NYU's medical center that pushes for better research into women's cancer treatment and research.

So how different are these fundraising efforts from their older more-established counterparts?

"To wit, members of 100 Women in Hedge Funds are required to do service within the organization. While there is some overlap in the philanthropies to which Wall Street donates (Robin Hood decided to focus exclusively on New York City poverty), Robin Hood and other long-standing organizations like Hedge Funds Care are in a league of their own, and really focus on philanthropy," says Amanda Pullinger, a former hedge fund manager and now the full-time 100 Women in Hedge Funds president.

"We're not competing with them. What's different is that we do more than just that one thing."

There is an undercurrent of feminism at work, with the understanding that greed is good, especially if you're helping another woman get a leg up. "Some of us were early pioneers as women on Wall Street, and other members now are early- and mid-career," says Rahl of High Water Women, founded by senior women in the hedge fund industry to promote philanthropy and volunteerism at the grass roots level. Rahl spent 19 years at Citibank running a derivatives trading desk and then went on to found her own company Capital Market Risk Advisors. "If we as women don't take an interest in economic empowerment of women, who's going to?"

"Robin Hood has been great at mentoring us. They are tackling New York City poverty with a very specific mission," adds LeslieLake, a partner at INVUS, a $1.5B investment advisory firm she helped found focusing on hedge funds. But High Water Women, "are global, not just local. We look at everything from the water supply to health-care for women, and economic empowerment from Harlem to Rwanda." Lake also supports WomensTrust , a micro lending initiative focused on assisting women through micro loans in Ghana. Leslie, in conjunction with WomensTrust, is currently attempting to establish a micro lending bank within Africa.

Another women's group that hails from Wall Street is 85 Broads, referring to the investment bank Goldman Sachs' downtown Manhattan address at 85 Broad Street, around the corner from the New York Stock Exchange. Janet Hanson, a Goldman Sachs partner, started 85 Broads as a women's networking group that invited Goldman women like herself, some retired, some still active, and recently expanded to invite all women attending leading MBA and undergraduate schools. 85 Broads "tend to do things more member-focused, and more serendipitously," says Hanson. "Our mission was simple; if you left Goldman Sachs and had no way of staying connected, and you just hang out with other women who left, that's a bereavement party! With technology, instead we invited everyone to join."

The newly minted HighWaterWomen, founded in 2005 by senior female executives in hedge funds and other finance industries, wants its money-raising charity events to be fun. "We're anti-rubber chicken dinners, bad speeches, and boring events," says Lake, a HighWaterWomen board member.

HWW kicked off 2007 by raising $800,000 in one night in January at its second annual Casino Night, surpassing the previous year's $750,000 raise. High rollers convened for a night of Texas Hold 'Em poker to promote the economic empowerment of underserved women in New York City such as Iris House and Inwood House. Among the international groups that High Water Women supports are ACCION, Grameen and Women for Women International.

ACCION International gives micro-enterprise loans, totaling more than $9.4 billion; 97 percent repaid. Grameen Foundation was established in 1997 by a group of friends inspired by the work in Bangladesh of Professor Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank--work that earned them the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. And Women for Women International helps women in war-torn regions with job skills training, rights awareness and access to business skills, capital and markets.

"Women don't have freedom, whether in NYC or Africa, until they have economic freedom," adds Lake. "Because then you control your own destiny. My mom asked for a loan the other day! She thinks it's great, that the more I make the better off I am."

On March 7th, High Water Women members get to shop at Henri Bendel on Fifth Avenue to support Bottomless Closet, which promotes economic self-sufficiency by providing interview skills, business clothing and ongoing career development and support programs to women on public assistance. Bendel's will offer free makeovers, and a portion of all sales for the evening will go to Bottomless Closet.

And in High Water Women's next leap, at a symposium on Cracking the Capital Markets, March 19-20, 2007, at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in Manhattan, venture capitalists, pension, emerging markets and social investment funds that have already invested in microfinance for women will discuss future structures that meet investment grade criteria, and suggest what it will take to market microfinance paper on a broad scale to both individual and institutional investors.

In terms of sheer dollars raised, High Water Women has raised roughly $2M since its founding in 2005; 85 Broads about $1M, and 100 Women in Hedge Funds still owns the space with $10M raised over 5 years.

The timing couldn't be better, especially given a national trend by big private foundations backsliding on funding women's organizations and rights group.

Statistics show that women's funds and individuals are stepping up with their money, according to a recent study by the Association for Women's Rights in Development. In 2005, nearly half of those recipients surveyed, or 46%, said womenÕs funds were now a source of revenue, up from 28% in 2000, according to the AWID respondents. There are more than 90 women's foundations, up from five 20 years ago. Since 1995, the number of "women's funds" (nonprofit organizations heavily supported by women donors who back programs for women and girls) has grown to more than 100. Despite this growth, less than 5% of all foundations' grants are targeted towards women and girls.

Women business owners are particularly philanthropic: seven in 10 volunteer at least once per month; 31% contribute $5,000 or more to charity annually; and 15% give $10,000 or more, according to the Business and Professional Women's Foundation survey in 2005.

Personally, the Wall Street women who get involved in these groups say the rewards are unlike any they've ever banked before.

"I naturally assumed that if you just give a woman a job, the next step for her was 'okay, change your life!' But it's a pyramid: they have to have the basics, like clean water," says Lake. She also supports microfinance groups like Ecobank in Africa because, not only do they benefit women most, but "they're run by women. Because they won't steal the money!" she laughs. "But seriously, the reason Grameen Bank gives to so many women is because they do a better job at paying back their loans. About 90% of their grants go to women. They've been better customers."

"A lot of nonprofits are really struggling for new sources of funds and need strong board members," says Bonnie Kornberg, a non-profit consultant previously at the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation. "Wall Street women can give some fresh thinking and smart guidance that is a huge boon for these organizations."