June 09, 2022

Financial empowerment and well-being

Alumnae Grace Chionuma '92 and Katherine Jollon Colsher '96 use tools of the trade to help others
by Christine Yu ’94
Photo credit: Morgan Stanley

Most of us don’t typically associate Andover’s motto of non sibi with Wall Street or investment banking. Yet, for Grace Chionuma ’92 the world of finance is exactly how she has put this ethos into practice.

As managing director in the Public Finance Banking Group at Morgan Stanley, Chionuma spends her days structuring deals for public sector infrastructure projects and creating financing tools to support the mission-driven work of nonprofit organizations.

Chionuma says her interest in the public and nonprofit sectors is deeply rooted in her own educational experience and the transformative power of opportunity.

Arriving at Andover at the tender age of 13, Chionuma was thrust into a completely different world. She describes the school district in her hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas, as “a poor school district in one of the poorest states.” During her last year of junior high, a student was shot and killed on campus in front of her and other students. “To go to a campus that was simply safe felt like a privilege,” she says. “It was a big deal for me.”

But it wasn’t just the sense of security that was foundational for Chionuma. Equally important was the rich educational environment. At Andover, there wasn’t any doubt that you could be successful. Chionuma says the institutional pervasiveness of this idea—and the expectation—was novel.

At Andover, Chionuma says she was regularly encouraged to think about her impact on others. “You have great educational opportunities and first-class facilities. But what are you going to do with it? How are you going to help others?” she says.

Years later, Chionuma found her opportunity. At Morgan Stanley, where she has worked since 2006, Chionuma connects nonprofit organizations, like community developing financial institutions (CDFIs) and affordable housing developers, with long-term flexible capital in the form of bonds. In 2017, Chionuma’s team at Morgan Stanley pioneered the first public capital markets bond initial public offering for a national CDFI, Local Initiatives Support Corp. And in 2020, they did the same for the nonprofit affordable housing developer sector with the debt IPO of BRIDGE Housing.

That sense of empowerment—that with purpose and work you can achieve anything—really crystallized for me at Andover.

Grace Chionuma ’92

This had never been done before; many naysayers thought these nonprofits couldn’t raise money in capital markets. But Chionuma questioned the underlying assumptions about performance and risk and found they weren’t true. She believed it could be done and she put in the work to educate the market to ensure success.

“My work is to take these nonprofits into the capital markets, introduce them to investors, and raise capital to accelerate their impact,” she says. “It’s advancing the market, bringing in more tools, more options—more needed options—that hadn't previously existed. That sense of empowerment—that with purpose and work you can achieve anything—really crystallized for me at Andover.”

Chionuma says her work is both “a passion and a privilege. I get to wake up and immerse myself in really challenging work that is impactful for communities that are in need.”

Katherine Jollon Colsher ’96

Investing in women and the future

Globally, less than 12 percent of investment portfolio managers are women. In the United States, just 10 percent of fund managers are women.* But don’t tell Katherine Jollon Colsher ’96 it’s because women aren’t interested in finance. She’ll emphatically tell you that’s not true.

Jollon Colsher is on a mission to transform the industry by increasing the number of women in frontline investment and asset management roles. In 2020, she joined Girls Who Invest (GWI) as president and CEO. The nonprofit has a big vision: ensuring that 30 percent of the world’s investable capital is managed by women by 2030.

Jollon Colsher did not always envision a career in finance. Growing up in New York, she wanted to make a difference in the world. When she was 16, she visited Brazil (where she was born) with her mom. The trip left an enduring mark. Traveling through the country’s interior, she witnessed stark poverty. It solidified her desire to help under-resourced communities and populations in need.

It was this passion for philanthropic work that led Jollon Colsher to Goldman Sachs where she launched and ran the firm’s 10,000 Small Businesses initiative. The program provides access to education, capital, and support services to entrepreneurs in under-resourced communities across the United States and the United Kingdom so they, in turn, can create jobs and economic opportunity.

Our role at Girls Who Invest is to put more women into the talent pipeline.

Katherine Jollon Colsher ’96

This experience exposed Jollon Colsher to the possibilities of what a career in finance could look like for more women. “If I could have a rewarding career in the non-revenue side at Goldman Sachs, it’s certainly beyond attainable for other women to have incredibly rewarding careers in investment management too,” she says.

Jollon Colsher is now making that happen. “Our role at Girls Who Invest is to put more women into the talent pipeline,” she says, noting that historically, financial institutions have not recruited from diverse and/or nonconventional schools. The result has been a large pool of overlooked talent.

GWI specifically recruits first- and second-year college students from less traditional schools and majors, the majority of whom are women of color. GWI then introduces students to the industry through an intensive education on core financial and investment principles, internships at leading investment firms, mentorship, and an on-going support community—all designed to give the students a leg up as they navigate future financial careers.

As a student who was on financial aid at Andover, Jollon Colsher knows firsthand how access to opportunity can change one’s life. “I can’t undervalue how much Andover gave me in terms of access to education. Because of that transformative experience, I’m committed to making sure other people have access to education,” she says.

In the past six years, 1,400 women have participated in GWI’s program. Jollon Colsher says GWI plans to add another 500 women this summer.

“We’re seeing tremendous stickiness in terms of the impact of the program,” she says, adding that about 75 percent of participants from their flagship Summer Intensive Program have remained in financial careers.

“We believe that diverse investment teams have better outcomes and returns. If that’s the thesis, we need to make it happen.”

*Data from Citywire’s Alpha Female Report 2021

Christine Yu ’94 is an award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in Outside, The Washington Post, Runner’s World, and other publications. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Categories: Alumni, Magazine

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