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Morgan Stanley’s Finest Young Minds Tested in Charity Work

Morgan Stanley’s Strategy Challenge is a volunteer program aimed at helping nonprofits expand their reach and overcome cost concerns. It’s also a novel way for the bank to test its future leaders in critical client-facing scenarios.

The premise is rather simple. Twelve nonprofits with philanthropic end goals – ranging from improving children’s health and education to providing vocational training and community building – are given a cross-divisional team of Morgan Stanley’s finest young minds for eight weeks, free of charge. They’re top-ranked associates and early-level vice presidents, but they’ve never been the senior person dealing directly with clients. The program, which just wrapped up its fifth year, puts employees right in the heart of the fire.

“Internally, we were thinking: ‘how can we create better engagement that is both good for our nonprofit partners and our employees?’” said Joan Steinberg, global head of philanthropy at Morgan Stanley. “Part of the strategy is giving employees critical client skills.”

It’s real work with a specific end-goal in mind, but it’s also a competition. Morgan Stanley employees who took part in the program presented their strategies publicly at the firm’s New York headquarters in another test of skill.

This year’s winning team partnered with nonprofit Bring Me a Book, which works to develop programs that improve the language and literacy skills of California’s underserved children. The team helped take the project into the digital world, giving the nonprofit a blueprint to expand their reach. Bring Me a Book received a $25,000 cash grant for their trouble.

Employees, meanwhile, got to tap into their core competencies – financial modeling, market analysis and strategy – all while learning something that can only be gained from experience: dealing with people.

“The Strategy Challenge gives our future leaders an opportunity to expand their client service skills by owning a client relationship and dedicating a tremendous amount of time to thinking about client needs,” Steinberg said.

Morgan Stanley has found the program to be a differentiator from a recruiting perspective, Steinberg said, giving right-minded candidates the opportunity to tie their skills to a meaningful impact. “Alums of the program talk about the experience in interviews,” she said.

Morgan Stanley isn’t the only Wall Street bank to combine philanthropy with on-the-job training. Last fall, Goldman Sachs took part in an overnight team-building scavenger hunt that raised $1.4 million for charity. Others have followed suit. Wall Street’s relationship with the non-banking world was, let’s say, strained in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Hopefully these programs help mend some fences.

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