For six decades, the Morgan Stanley Foundation has committed to serving those in need, with a focus on children’s health.
During the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people facing food insecurity, including millions of children, spiked to historic levels, a crisis exacerbated by a drop in donations to charities due to millions more facing economic uncertainty and loss of income. Lines of cars at local food banks snaked for miles, from Pittsburgh to San Antonio. It was a time of “unprecedented demand being seen across America,” said Eric Cooper, who runs the San Antonio Food Bank, part of the Feeding America Network.
For Morgan Stanley, it was a crucial moment to step up and respond by donating nearly $30 million to support COVID-relief efforts, including hunger relief. Additionally, its employees took part in the firm’s Move for Meals campaign, a walkathon in support of its partners helping to fight food insecurity. Over 15,000 employees globally logged over 690 million steps, and the firm in turn donated 50 million meals to 22 of those partners around the world.
Giving back has always been a core value at Morgan Stanley, ever since Harold Stanley made a commitment to rescue children from the Holocaust in 1940. But 60 years ago, the firm’s leaders took charitable giving to a new level and established the Morgan Stanley Foundation, seeded with a $25,000 initial contribution.
Decades later, the Foundation has grown and changed to reflect the increasingly diverse communities in which Morgan Stanley employees live and work globally. Underlying these shifts, however, the core mission of the Foundation remains the same: children’s health and wellbeing, with diversity initiatives and volunteer grants supporting and rounding out the portfolio.
Children’s health is by far the Foundation’s largest focus, accounting for around half of its annual grant allocations in recent years. Over the decades, that mission has broadened to encompass three fundamentals for both physical and cognitive development: access to healthy and nutritious food, safe places to play, and access to quality healthcare.
The interest in children’s health dates back to the earliest days of the Foundation, when it funded what was then called Babies & Children’s Hospital and is now known as NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital, one of the best children’s hospital in the world.
Joan Steinberg, Morgan Stanley’s Global Head of Philanthropy and the Foundation’s President, cites the Children’s Hospital, which opened in 2003, as a particularly gratifying endeavor for Morgan Stanley’s employees. “We at the firm are privileged to thrive in the city we call home, and this was a way of giving back to our community,” Steinberg says, noting that more than 1,000 employees also contributed to the campaign, resulting in a total donation of $60 million to fund the construction of the hospital.
But supporting children’s needs extends beyond the hospital doors. The firm recently launched the Morgan Stanley Alliance for Children’s Mental Health, formed in partnership with leaders in the field to fight stress, anxiety and depression in children and young adults. It’s an area of focus that has traditionally been highly underfunded, and with this initiative, Morgan Stanley hopes to drive both awareness and investment.
“Suicide is the second largest cause of death in kids ages 10 to 24,” Steinberg says. “That statistic motivated us to expand our definition of children’s health. We knew this meant doing more than grantmaking, it meant extending our reach to ensure our efforts reduced stigma, and let others consider joining us in supporting the issue.”
To identify innovative approaches to the problem of mental illness in children and young adults, the Foundation kicked off its inaugural Alliance for Children’s Mental Health Innovation Awards this year. 850 nonprofits from across the country applied, from which five finalists were awarded $500,000 total in grants to help scale their solutions. Also included in the award: access to firm resources and coaching, as well as to potential donors as part of a culminating showcase event.
Supporting diverse communities and young people of color through scholarships, professional development, internships and early career opportunities has also been a priority for the Morgan Stanley Foundation for over 30 years. Key initiatives include the Richard B. Fisher Scholars Program, which awards college scholarships and summer internships to promising underserved students, and partnerships with the Hispanic Federation, Sponsors for Educational Opportunity, and Prep for Prep, which help to advance educational outcomes for young students of color.
These and other such initiatives allow Morgan Stanley employees to help advance the cause of equity and inclusion in tangible ways, such as through hands-on career guidance and training. “Beyond supporting young people of color in their efforts to obtain a college degree, there needs to be a focus on access to well-paying careers, without taking on debt to get there,” Steinberg says.
In all these areas, the Foundation provides multiple avenues for employees to get involved—whether it’s by making a monetary contribution, or volunteering in the community. In 2006, the Foundation launched Global Volunteer Month, which each June allows employees around the world to support their communities alongside their colleagues, and in 2009, the Strategy Challenge was born—a 10-week pro bono program that matches nonprofits with rising talent within Morgan Stanley to help nonprofits tackle critical strategic challenges facing them.
“Back when I started here in the 1990s, volunteering at Morgan Stanley involved something like painting a playground or packing food donations—it was some sort of physical activity. But over time, it’s also become about bringing your skill set and the work you do on the job at the firm to serve others,” says Steinberg. “We’re increasingly seeing our employees bring their whole selves to their volunteering work.”
Steinberg doesn’t see that enthusiasm diminishing—and she’s just as excited herself when she talks about the Foundation’s latest efforts, including the first Innovation Awards, “We will always look to resolve inequities wherever we find them, through collaboration with long-term trusted partners and through employee initiatives,” she says. “Our work is constantly evolving in order to meet the ever-changing needs of the communities in which we live and work.”