Jennifer Kawar, Haas BS 82, admits that working for the social sector wasn’t her focus while obtaining her undergraduate degree from Haas and her MBA from Columbia University Graduate School of Business.
It was after 14 years of experience in the “mainstream” of financial services, working in business development, underwriting, portfolio management and credit administration for financial institutions like TIAA-CREF, GE Capital and Bank of America, while devoting her energies to family and community, that Jennifer reflected on how she could better use her business education and experience to effect change in the social sector.
Her move into the social sector.
“People with training in accounting and finance have largely been deployed to Wall Street or corporate America, toward managing assets for individuals or corporations that have accumulated wealth,” she said. “I wondered what might be possible if we re-deployed some of that talent to help those who don’t have ready access to capital and financial advice.”
Her involvement in local projects, which included serving on the Development and Audit Committee of her children’s school and the Housing Advisory Committee for the City of Berkeley, “galvanized [her] desire” to start contributing her skills to the social sector.
Impact through her current work.
In 2009, Jennifer joined the Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF), a community development finance institution that helps organizations connect money to mission effectively, and supports innovations such as growth capital campaigns, cross-sector economic recovery initiatives and impact investing. NFF has provided more than $300 million in direct loans and leveraged more than $1 billion in additional capital to help social sector organizations build capacity and expand their programs. It also spearheaded the creation of the first State of the Nonprofit Sector report [summary included below], based on a national survey focused on nonprofit programs, financial health, and management strategies.
As a Director and Investment Officer at NFF, Jennifer works to transform the landscape of the social sector by creating pathways to more and more flexible forms of capital to support nonprofit organizations that comprise the “safety net” in our communities.
One group she has enjoyed working with is charter schools that operate in Los Angeles neighborhoods historically challenged by low graduation rates and a high incidence of gang activity. By equipping them with the financial resources they needed, NFF has helped several charter school networks to open more schools which offer a nurturing environment and set high expectations for students that often failed to thrive in the public school system.
“Listening to individual student accounts of how these schools have completely changed their path in life – those have been some of the most moving and rewarding moments for me,” she said.
Although she still considers herself new to the social sector, Jennifer believes she has learned a great deal in the 5 years she has been with the NFF, and looks forward to finding more opportunities to reach out to undercapitalized nonprofit organizations in the nation.
Advice for Haas students?
“There are many opportunities for students with a passion to serve the social sector, not just in terms of employment but lifelong learning and deeper engagement. A recent study by the California Association of Nonprofits talks about the nonprofit sector as a major engine of employment and economic activity in the 21st century economy. The future is in the social sector; we need all the talent, energy, and business acumen we can get to tackle income, health and resource inequalities. Please come, and bring your friends.”