Moody's Mega Math Challenge: Wall Street's Strategic Philanthropy

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"Want to know if the stimulus act will work or whether ethanol is the right choice for U.S. energy independence? Need advice on how to beat Wall Street?" So asked the Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) at the annual Moody's Mega Math Challenge. For the past three years, Moody's has awarded college scholarships and summer internships to the high school students with the best answers to these questions. In 2010, Moody's is increasing to $100,000 of scholarships.

What drives a Wall Street firm to such generosity, especially now when every dollar they spend is accounted for to shareholders and the board? I have been working with corporate leaders for the past several years to help them shift their philanthropy and their service programs in order to advance the companies' own purposes while also benefiting the community. This is the only way that corporate social responsibility will actually be effective and sustainable.

And as I reported from the Clinton Global Initiative in 2008 and 2009 here in my posts, the tide has turned. "There is a business reason for every decision we make," explains Frances G. Laserson, President, The Moody's Foundation.

"Moody's wants to encourage students to study economics and finance and see the relevance of proficiency. To think about financial services as a career," elaborates Laserson. "This is a way to reach talented national students in junior and senior years. We bring the top teams to NYC to Moody's and they do presentations and Q & A in front of math Ph.D.s. Moody's sees these students directly." As with Moody's Kiva partnership, this SIAM relationship also provides service opportunities for Moody's people when the M3 student finalists come to Wall Street for the final round and later for internships.

Starting in the early 90's, I have encouraged and assisted companies in assessing the impact of their social investments. In today's environment, companies are much more inclined to do that. "We measure everything," says Laserson.

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