A Philanthropic Hero’s Journey: Luanne Zurlo

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Last night I attended a benefit for the World Education and Development Fund (Worldfund) in New York. It was an elegant affair, honoring Jeff Immelt, the CEO of GE, and Roger Agnelli, the CEO of CVRD. It was also a happy reunion, as I was able to visit with many of my former Wall Street colleagues.

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The event, held at the Mandarin Oriental, was all the more impressive when I consider what Luanne Zurlo, the Executive Director and founder of WorldFund, has accomplished in less than five years.

You see, Luanne and I started on Wall Street at about the same time; she went on to become an Insitutional Investor-ranked analyst at Goldman, Sachs covering the telecommunications sector.

But, in 2001, our paths diverged.

During a business trip to Mexico City, as Luanne visited schools there, she became aware of the generally poor quality of education in Latin America. Because she knew what education had done for the quality of her life, notwithstanding her parents' sacrifices to make this education happen, she felt something needed to be done – but what?

Her definitive call to adventure coincided with 9/11, a time when so many of us reevaluated our priorities. And in mid-2002, she left Wall Street, determined to make a difference for education in Latin America.

In undertaking this hero's journey, Luanne left a comfortable and secure, albeit stressful, lifestyle, to do something she didn't know how to do — the starting and running of a non-profit — including the herculean task of raising, dare I say, pleading, for money.

In her quieter moments, she will tell you this has been tremendously difficult, from the personal sacrifice, especially financial, to the responsibility she feels for her employees, to the generally tough task of building something. But she will also tell you that she is neither desperate nor depressed, that “4 1/2 years, c. $5 million raised, and 30,000 children educated” later, she is content, fulfilled even.

Yes, last night was about raising money for WorldFund, but it was also a tribute to Luanne, and a visible, tangible reminder to each of us, of what can happen when we dare to dream.

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