Margaret Anadu talks to FGI about the power of perseverance and listening to underserved communities
"I’m pretty sure I have the best job in the world," gushed Goldman Sachs Partner Margaret Anadu during her FGI Speaker Series live stream on Tuesday, September 15. Anadu was referring to her position as Managing Director of Goldman Sachs’ Urban Investment Group (UIG), which annually invests over $1 billion in underserved communities. During her 30-minute talk, the successful businesswoman and dedicated social justice advocate opened up about her 17 years at Goldman Sachs, spurred on by host Bobby Harraka (an FGI volunteer from Harvard) and insightful questions from FGI students themselves. An energetic and compassionate Anadu, who is also Lead Investor for Launch With GS (an investment strategy empowering traditionally underrepresented investors), offered students words of wisdom on topics ranging from pursuing value-aligned careers to finding committed mentors. Below are 7 key takeaways from Margaret Anadu’s talk.
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1. On her "incredibly formative” early childhood experiences: "I lived in a fairly low-income neighborhood that didn’t have a lot of the things [that] many of us in more resourced neighborhoods take for granted [such as] quality schools, fresh food, open space, [and] retail amenities." Anadu compared her Houston hometown to "the neighborhood across town," which enjoyed significantly more resources than her own. It was, in large part, her lived experience in that under-resourced Houston neighborhood that drove Anadu to devote her career to ameliorating socioeconomic inequality. Anadu, whose family moved to the U.S. when she was a small child, also reflected on her similarly impactful early childhood life in Nigeria, where she "witnessed poverty on a scale that you never forget."
2. On seeking out value-aligned work: "I wanted to use my efforts, both personally and professionally, to do something...aligned with my values." The committed businesswoman set out to "change the world" by practicing law. Anadu entered Wall Street and planned to stay only until she’d saved enough money for law school. She never left. Instead, Anadu found herself "hooked" on Wall Street’s "drive for excellence, people, [and] pace." The only problem? Anadu’s derivatives work didn’t align with her values. So, thanks to her mentor, Anadu started working with the Urban Investment Group. Anadu explained, "Many cities in the country suffered from race riots in the 60s, suburban exodus, white flight, and broader industrialization, which has caused population loss. The charge of our team is [to] work with various stakeholders...to invest capital back in these communities."
3. On opportunity: "Whether it’s the neighborhood you grow up [in], gender bias, [or] immigration status...there’s so many reasons that people don’t have the same opportunities. [I work to] change that opportunity dynamic." From funding high-quality and affordable housing units to creating job opportunities into underserved neighborhoods, the Urban Investment Group strives to "change the opportunity dynamic for folks in a way that we know is effective." Ten years ago, for example, the UIG poured resources into a handful of underfunded Newark schools with graduation rates just above 50%. Today, these schools––one of which achieved the highest math scores in the state––have seen a major spike in graduation rates. "The kids are no different. Nothing has changed about those individuals and families," Anadu explained. “They just have a better education.”
4. On tangible results: "What makes me so passionate is to have a conception of something we want to do...and ultimately create something that wasn’t there before." Anadu thrives on tangible results, whether building housing developments in Harlem or revitalizing two thousand units of public housing in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. "To be able to create an ecosystem of developments that can really change the trajectory of a neighborhood, to physically walk and see it and feel it, it gets me pretty pumped," Anadu enthused.
5. On patience and "keeping at it": "Getting things done in a truly community-centric, engaged way where all the stakeholders have an opinion and a desire and needs that [must] be met...takes a lot of patience. But it’s totally worth it." The Goldman Sachs Partner gave the example of how, when she started at UIG, the business was investing $5-10 million each year. Today, their annual investment totals over $1 billion. But getting there took a full decade. She also got candid about moments of disappointment: "The flip side of being so passionate and...and doing values-aligned work is that when things don’t go the way you want, it’s crushing. You feel like you’ve let the world down." A characteristically resilient Anadu went on to offer words of wisdom about dealing with discouragement. "You’ve gotta stick it out," she advised. "Nothing that is worth it is easy and happens immediately... Chill out, be a little bit more patient. Life is long."
6. On mentorship: "It’s not about the most powerful senior person. It’s about people of all stripes who can teach you something...and be honest with you. Be expansive in how you think about mentorship." Anadu, whose own mentor is junior to her, told students that "mentors come in all shapes and sizes." She went on to explain, "It’s a little bit like dating. Every relationship doesn’t always work." The businesswoman also counseled students to always follow up with and thank their mentors.
7. On the importance of listening to communities: "It is very difficult to do truly community-engaged work when you don’t listen and hear what people want and what people have to say. This idea that Goldman Sachs and the other big banks and private equity funds––even [those] in the city––know what people need is ridiculous." Although she grew up in a low-income neighborhood, Anadu no longer lives in one. Therefore, she and her team "can’t be the arbiters of what is needed and what is good." Anadu advised members of low-income communities to "be clear about their needs and...be loud about it and proud about it," before concluding, "Keep the voices up and keep the communication level up. And then the rest of the ecosystem needs to do its part in terms of listening and making sure those needs are met."