The Greenwood Project, a non-profit organization that introduces Black and Latinx students from under-resourced communities in Chicago to financial careers via education, mentoring and internships, is looking for more financial firms to partner with as it expands.
The organization is run by Bevon and Elois Joseph, who between them have more than 40 years of experience working at major financial institutions, exchanges, and at an industry regulator in the Chicago area.
The couple founded the Greenwood Project in 2016 with five students from Chicago’s south and west sides, and it has grown significantly over the past four years. At the end of 2020, the program had worked with 300 students and 35 partner firms.
With opportunities now arising for scholars to work their internships virtually, Greenwood is looking to work with financial organizations in major financial hubs across the US and beyond.
"The events of 2020, particularly the pandemic and the George Floyd situation, really accelerated attention from different firms and these are not just in Chicago and New York. They are based all over the country and further afield. For example, we recently had a student complete an internship at a fintech startup in London," Bevon said.
The couple launched the project after having a candid conversation about the lack of diversity in the financial sector and the opportunities that their daughter could have because of their network of contacts.
"We thought about the fact that there are a lot of Black and Latino students who go to college, get degrees and questioned why they aren't coming to the financial services industry," said Elois. "One of the things we thought about was our own upbringing. I grew up on the west side of Chicago, where there were no stockbrokers, no talk about the trading industry or computer science, and this is where our motto, 'you can't be what you can't see' comes in," she said.
"That essentially is how Greenwood started, and it has snowballed into an organization that is now not only introducing students to the financial services industry, it is providing them with learning skills, they are getting careers and they are starting to create generational wealth."
As a result of its initiatives, around 75% of Greenwood Project students go on to full-time employment within the financial sector.
"The students we take on are smart, they're doing well in school and they are motivated, but they lack exposure and network. There is no lack of talent, only a lack of opportunity," said Bevon.
"At the same time, many companies in financial services have great initiatives targeting or working with diverse students. What Greenwood does is sit in the middle of those two parties, the students and the companies, and we introduce them to each other and educate them about each other as well."
The work the organization does has a multilayered impact, he added. "We are more than just a summer job or something to do. We are really helping to spur change, not only with the students but with their families and within their communities too."
The Greenwood Project works with both high school and college students. For high school students, the company organizes and hosts six-week financial programs during the summer. These programs give the students exposure to the financial services and fintech industries through educational field trips and training on soft skills, leadership and professional development. They also practice simulated trading and learn how to code using Python on the fintech program.
Partner firms can participate in these programs through sponsorship, career talks, teaching the students, or hosting the students for lunch-and-learn and other events.
For college students, the project offers an intensive 10-week internship program that combines four weeks of academic instruction led by Greenwood followed by six weeks of real-world experience at a financial firm. Corporate partners, with Greenwood’s guidance, develop work programs for scholars to maximize the effectiveness of their time at the firm.
Greenwood partners with a wide range of financial firms – from hedge funds and stock exchanges to global banks, small execution firms, and firms in the fintech industry. Several organizations within the derivatives industry are working with the Greenwood Project, including CME Group, Cboe Global Markets, and the National Futures Association, by providing internships and mentoring.
NFA, for instance, offers paid internships in its futures compliance, swaps compliance and market regulation departments. It has been working with the Greenwood Project for the past couple of years and took on Greenwood scholar Brian Miller as an intern last year. After successfully completing his placement, Miller will be working full time as a compliance examiner with NFA after he graduates from university this spring (read more on this).
As Greenwood expands and takes on more students, the husband-and-wife team are looking for more firms to partner with.
"There are multiple ways that firms can get involved, but number one is always internships, opening doors and setting aside roles for Greenwood students. The reason we have been able to grow the program is because firms have committed to taking on interns every year," Bevon said.
The Greenwood Project is now looking to expand to work with firms in cities across the US and internationally as opportunities emerge for scholars to take on internships virtually. As with many organizations, it quickly made the decision to shift its programs, classes, and volunteer opportunities online at the onset of the pandemic last year.
"We also came up with a creative way to have firms continue to engage with us through donating projects to our students. This has meant companies stay involved and connected and students get meaningful work to do. Nearly all our partners have decided that their internships will be virtual this summer too," Bevon said.
If you are interested in working with the Greenwood Project and would like more information on how to get involved, please contact Diane Rand at Diane.Rand@greenwoodproject.org
For more information on the Greenwood Project, visit:
Click here for a short video on the Greenwood Project
The Greenwood Project name
The Greenwood Project is named after the Greenwood district of the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma. In the early 20th century, it was popularly known as Black Wall Street and was one of the most prosperous predominately black areas in all of America. At its peak, it was home to more than 300 businesses serving 11,000 residents who reinvested whatever they earned back into their community. In 1921 it saw one of the biggest race massacres in American history.
"I wanted our scholars to learn about the history of the Greenwood community, but more importantly, I wanted them to see that they could carry on the legacy and spirit of Tulsa, and in essence rebuild 'Black Wall Street'," said Bevon Joseph, co-founder of the Greenwood Project.
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