Financier to Invest a Billion in Jobless…Respectfully

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September 26, 2012; Source: Washington Post

Washington, D.C. financier and Carlyle Group co-founder Bill Conway has reportedly decided to invest $1 billion in helping low income individuals in the D.C. area get the training and education they need to secure steady employment. As NPQ noted at the time, Conway initially sought input from the D.C. public via Washington Post columnist Bill McCartney. Conway’s original goal was to find an innovative way to create jobs with the money. After receiving nearly 2,500 responses, the philanthropist decided that the best way to spend the money would be by providing education and helping the poor qualify for jobs that already exist by working through existing community infrastructure.

“I concluded out of all this that it was extremely difficult to create jobs,” Conway tells the Post. “The objective I get to is similar, but I never thought I’d actually get there this way.” Conway’s wife, Joanne, suggested a focus on nursing and health care, figuring that people with those types of degrees will more easily be able to get jobs. The first round of grants may provide some further insight into Conway’s long-term plans. According to Philanthropy News Digest:

“Conway disclosed the initial rounds of grants, which total $55 million, “including $30 million for scholarships and tuition assistance for nursing students attending the [Latin American Youth Center] LAYC Career Academy or one of five universities in the region: Trinity Washington, Marymount, Catholic, Johns Hopkins and Georgetown. Conway also donated $10 million to both Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of Washington in support of services for at-need populations and for tuition assistance for students attending Catholic schools, and $5 million to the Center for Employment Training at SOME (So Others Might Eat) in support of its job training program.”

Conway’s grants are making news in the nonprofit world, as gifts of this size are not normally made to direct service organizations. Says Nonprofit Roundtable of Great Washington President Chuck Bean, “I’ve got goosebumps…I’ve only seen big, seven-figure grants go to large cultural institutions, not to on-the-ground direct service organizations like these.”

Conway is a familiar presence on the D.C. philanthropy scene, donating to many charities in the D.C. area where Carlyle is headquartered; he recently made a $5 million pledge to the Capital Area Food Bank. The area’s philanthropy community is watching Conway’s thoughtful and hands-on model of disbursing funds closely.

“I want to give away the money. I don’t want to die with it. I want the money to be used well,” said Conway. “I’m going to see how this works out. I wouldn’t be surprised if over the next five or 10 years, the amount that went into these similar kinds of buckets was five to 10 times more.”

If this method—so respectful of existing infrastructure—works out and if other philanthropists follow suit, this new mode of giving may have quite an impact on the lives of the poor. –Kathleen Hughes

  • Julie Rodda, Consultant to Nonprofits

    I commend Mr. Conway, especially in light of options he had at his disposal. As is currently popular, he could have formed a new NPO or Foundation to tackle the social issue of the day. Too often we dismiss’ on the ground’ organizations as being ineffective rather than considering how they might become more effective with assistance. What Mr. Conway has done–resisting the urge to reinvent the wheel– is exemplary. Greasing the wheels that already exist should not be a novel idea–history begs us to apply basic fundamental principles whenever and wherever we can.

    Although outcomes of this particular giving will take years to measure, results could be readily extrapolated from these same organizations who have served this population during the last 10 years. I’m fairly certain that an approach of this nature was carefully researched and considered prior to Mr. Conway’s investment.