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Poverty Studies and Finance: A Contradiction?

By Jaclyn Smith

Ms. Smith works in the investment management industry, previously in institutional business development for a public equities manager, and most recently as a member of an investment consultant team at a multi-family office.  She graduated from Washington and Lee University in 2011 with a B.S. in Business Administration and a minor in Poverty and Human Capability Studies.

"I am excited to be helping a growing number of clients shift some of their capital away from the traditional stock market offerings into social interest investments," writes Smith (W&L 2011)

“I am excited to be helping a growing number of clients shift some of their capital away from the traditional stock market offerings into social interest investments,” writes Smith (W&L 2011)

Upon hearing a speaker to my pre-college orientation group in Greensboro, North Carolina, I knew that the Shepherd Program would become an important part of my education at Washington and Lee. It took some time, but I found my way to Poverty 101 in my junior year and declared a minor in Poverty Studies. In two years, my college experience was transformed, and I engaged with the community surrounding campus through volunteer positions and community-based research projects.

The centerpiece of my Shepherd experience was a summer internship at Refugee Resettlement and Immigration Services of Atlanta (RRISA), where I helped refugees “resettle” into their new lives in the United States. Refugees differ from immigrants in that they are often fleeing persecution – perhaps political or religious – in their native country. RRISA must continually adapt the services they provide to meet the unique needs of each new group of refugees. In this one summer alone, I taught English classes to Haitian medical evacuees, assisted North African clients in accessing the Grady Health Care System, and helped clients learn basic skills needed to participate in society, like using public transportation. I left Atlanta with both a global perspective and an appreciation for the future challenges that my clients would face in this country, despite their motivation to begin their new life here. While they seek security in a country of abundance and may have been skilled workers in their homeland, refugees cannot fully participate in our country without adequate resources and support.

I have numerous anecdotes from this time in Atlanta that impressed upon me some important truths about poverty in the United States, since most refugees arrive with no assets and little education. One particularly poignant day in my internship, I waited in a clinic for eight hours to see a physician with a chronically ill client who could not speak English. If I had not been there, my client would not have been able to obtain the necessary Grady Health Care card or effectively communicate his health needs. Following my internship, I reinforced what I learned on the ground through my Shepherd Program Capstone paper, in which I explored the evolving U.S. health care system and the policies impacting undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

Today, I work for an investment consultant whose clients are predominately ultra-high-net-worth families. At my interview for this position, a future colleague challenged me by asking, “you are one of the most well-rounded candidates; but isn’t your experience contradictory? From poverty to capitalism?” The Shepherd Program is not designed to push students exclusively into social work; rather, the program’s interdisciplinary approach provides a springboard from which students can succeed in any industry. As Shepherd alumni become leaders in their respective industries, they are uniquely positioned to leverage the social consciousness they have cultivated through this program to improve outcomes for the people who are impacted by their companies’ business practices. Not surprisingly, there are times I feel that my position does not satisfy my appetite for civic engagement; however, that is not always the case. I am excited to be helping a growing number of clients shift some of their capital away from the traditional stock market offerings into social interest investments. Such investment opportunities might take the form of equity in a private company whose products impact the quality of life in a developing region, or, a sustainable investment strategy might eschew ownership of public companies whose business practices raise environmental, governance, or social concerns. My team’s goal is to expand our knowledge of the available investment vehicles in the space.

Although I initially pursued a traditional finance career, I view my acquired skills and network as assets that will enhance my current and future civic engagement. Most recently, I used these skills to volunteer with a local organization that provides financial education to low-income women. Still, as a result of my Shepherd experience, I ultimately aim to align my profession with my public service aspirations. Whichever path I choose, I will take with me the changed worldview that originated in Poverty 101, expanded in Atlanta, and today challenges me to find ways to impact my community for the better.


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