Ivy League To New York Hedge Fund To Education of Underpriviledged Children in India – A Young American’s Journey

Editor’s Note;  It has been our practice to avoid writing about people or causes dear to us. But sometimes, we come across a story which needs to be told. This is one such.

Pratham is a world-renowned Non-Governmental Organization (“NGO“).  This is one case where adjectives actually understate the reality. Pratham began in 1994 as a small experiment in Mumbai. Today, it is the largest NGO in India and perhaps the world. 

To quote from
 , “Today we reach out to millions of children living both in rural and urban areas through a range of interventions. The Pratham team comprises of educationists, development professionals, media persons, corporates, workers, activists, PhDs, MBAs, CAs, civil servants, bankers, corporate professionals, consultants, who all bring their experiences and perspectives to the organization and are unified by the common vision of improving the future of our children.”

An expert from one of America’s greatest universities told me a few years ago that he has been studying NGOs for the past 15 years and that he had never seen a more successful or more creative NGO than Pratham. In his view, the vast majority of NGOs end up as bounded by their own models. He told me that the success of Pratham comes from the creativity of its founder and the open framework to constantly try different ideas. Ideas that succeed are nurtured and allowed to grow. 

Put another way, Pratham is as successful a venture as the best venture-backed companies in Silicon Valley. Look at the map below to see Pratham’s reach – all from a small venture that began in Mumbai in 1994 with funds from a donor.

May be that is why Pratham has been studied by economists at Harvard, MIT, Columbia (just to name a few schools) and funded by the best of Endowments in America and the World.

We could go on for a long time about Pratham. But that is not the purpose of this article. It is to relate our meeting with an enterprising young man who has made a unique journey. Every year, thousands of students from India come to America to study and experience America. This story is of a young American who went the other way.

This is a young man born and brought up in a affluent suburb in Northeastern America. He studied at one of the best Universities in America, one of the top Ivy League schools. Then, he interned at one of the largest Hedge Funds in America. After his degree, he became an analyst at a large Hedge Fund in Manhattan.

After working at this hedge fund for a couple of years and getting excited, in his words, when “spreads fell from 20 bps to 15 bps”, he decided to move to Mumbai to work with Pratham.

I met this interesting young man during my recent visit to Mumbai. Pratham keeps him very busy and getting 30-40 minutes with him was difficult. He explained to me that he was helping Pratham in one of its novel spinoffs, a venture that focuses on vocational training for Pratham’s youth. This spinoff is establishing joint ventures with major employers to train young men & women for jobs in industries like hospitality and marketing. He could not spend more than 30 minutes with me because he had to rush to make a presentation about this spinoff.

I recall meeting this young man during his Manhattan hedge fund career and speaking to him before he left for Mumbai. He was the prototypical young hedgie, bright, energetic, driven and intense. When I met him in Mumbai, I saw a sense of deep happiness & serenity in this young man that I had not seen before. He was, in his own words, adding real value to people rather than focusing on arbitrage spreads. 

This is a young man brought up in affluence in America’s northeastern suburbs, a guy who enjoyed steaks and burgers to the hilt. Today, he eats primarily vegetarian food and travels in Mumbai’s terribly crowded local trains to get to Pratham’s offices. He is at ease with himself and finding a real reward in what he is doing. He has already added value to the Pratham spinoff with his drive and with the financial skills he learned in New York. 

I have no doubt that he will return to the financial investing space in the future. When he does, he will be a much better investor in emerging markets. He will be able to find real companies that do real work and not just ADRs based on price momentum.  

Perhaps, this young man’s example will prompt other American students or recent graduates to seek internships at Pratham. If it does, this article will have served its purpose. 

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