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Thought Leaders: Joan Steinberg, Morgan Stanley’s Global Head of Philanthropy on Giving Back Strategically

By Melissa J. Anderson

“We just had our 75th anniversary, and this company has an amazing history of giving back, and being strategic about what it is we can offer,” said Joan Steinberg, Managing Director and Global Head of Philanthropy at Morgan Stanley.

According to Steinberg, the next big trend in corporate philanthropy will be skills-based volunteering.

For example, she said Morgan Stanley’s employees have the opportunity to provide pro bono strategic advisory services to non-profits as part of the Firm’s annual Social Enterprise Strategy Challenge. “We’ve seen major results,” she said. “Last year we provided over 5,400 hours of services to twelve non-profits, worth about $820,000.”

She continued, “It’s an emerging trend and it’s also a great tool for people in the firm who are up-and-coming to hone their own abilities.”

Ending Childhood Hunger

Steinberg said that one of the most interesting things she’s currently working on is Morgan Stanley’s partnership with the hunger-relief charity Feeding America. “Hunger and malnutrition are one of the root causes of preventable death and disease in children.”

She continued, “Last year we announced our Fill the Plate program, which seeks to expand and strengthen Feeding America’s Backpack Program. One in four kids in this country does not have enough to eat. As an American, I find this unconscionable. And Morgan Stanley’s reasoning is that this is a solvable problem.”

Each Friday the Backpack Program provides children who receive free school lunches with a backpack filled with enough food for the weekend.

“We see hunger as a critical issue to development,” she explained. “Kids who are not healthy have lower levels of academic achievement. You need to get the right start in this country. This is a problem we can actually solve, that every one of our employees can actually take part in.”

A Firm that Cares for Its People

Steinberg said her most meaningful professional experience was heading Morgan Stanley’s relief fund after 9/11. “Morgan Stanley was the largest tenant of the World Trade Center – and out of 2,700 colleagues in the building, we lost 13.” Steinberg was in charge of allocating money to those 13 individuals’ families and other victims, as well as to first responders and colleagues needing psychological care.

“It was difficult to do, and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done emotionally. All of those lives are priceless – but we had to work with dollars, and dollars can’t make someone whole again after a loss like that,” she explained. “But I’m unbelievably proud of what we were able to do, ultimately ending up with a $16 million dollar fund.”

Today part of Steinberg’s responsibilities involve getting help to employees experiencing disasters or personal issues. “This firm really takes care of people,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it, and I come from the non-profit world.”

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