Jim McKeown ’04 teaches in the improverished townships of South Africa

Pictured above: Jim McKeown and volunteer Luvuyo Ngxiki with some children in Rhamoposa Village, a township on the periphery of Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

by John Torsiello

Things were rosy for Jim McKeown ’04 shortly after graduating Fairfield University with a degree in engineering. After adding a BSc degree from the Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, he was soon a fast-riser working at Morgan Stanley’s headquarters in New York City as an analyst supporting the firm’s Structured Products Group and Proprietary Trading Group. He moved to the research desk as a strategist for a year, and was the lead analyst on over $36 billion of securitizations before moving to the research desk as a strategist for a year. The pay was good, living in New York was cool, he had made good friends, and his future in the business was secure. Yet something was missing.

“I never intended to join Wall Street,” McKeown said from his present post at the Masinyusane Development Organization in Port Elizabeth, an east coast city in South Africa. “I had planned to volunteer in Nicaragua and join the war on global poverty immediately out of college. However, those plans fell through around the time of my graduation. Without money or plans, I sent my resume around and stumbled into a fantastic opportunity at Morgan Stanley.”

While he loved his time at Morgan Stanley, he had always intended to leave after a couple years to follow his dream of contributing in whatever way possible to the “cause” — working to make a difference in the lives of those who need assistance.

“The stock market’s downturn had absolutely nothing to do with me quitting,” he reflected. “In fact, I was somewhat reluctant to leave given how historic the events unfolding were.”

McKeown helped found Masinyusane three years ago as an education-focused non-profit organization working in the slums surrounding Port Elizabeth, and now serves as the organization’s executive director. The group employs approximately 20 staff members and has over 100 active volunteers.

Left: In 2011, Piwe Pitsha was the top female learner in the township and won a full scholarship to study education at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. Top right: Masinyusane installs running water to schools. Bottom right: South Africa is home to the world’s largest population of children, orphaned as a result of HIV/AIDS.

The word “Masinyusane” is isiXhosa — one of the official languages of South Africa, spoken by about 18 percent of the population — for “let us raise each other up.” It is a grass-roots non-profit inspired by the social teachings of the Catholic Church that provides people with counseling, training, and financial assistance. Its primary focus, however, is on education, and particularly on improving the standard of education for the young people living in the townships, providing them with what they need — tutoring, even calculators — so that they can go on to further education.

“The general strategy is to provide opportunities for the youth here to grow, develop, get a good education, and lead meaningful lives in which they’re empowered to not only break out of the cycle of poverty that traps them, but to uplift their families, friends, and communities,” McKeown said.

Masinyusane’s biggest effort involves uplifting one of the city’s poorest and worst-performing schools, honing a model of interventions that have impact and are effective. The group intends to roll out the program at other public schools across the slums of the city.

The task is daunting. The city has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS, estimated to be over 25 percent of population aged 15 to 49. Many children are orphans, with 68 percent having lost one or both parents, almost all due to AIDS.

Said McKeown, “It’s impossible to appreciate the pain and suffering caused by the pandemic. One-fifth of our kids live in tin or wooden shacks. All are extremely impoverished. Only 10 percent of parents have graduated high school, none have attended university, and schools are completely dysfunctional.”

“I love every day out here and have never once regretted leaving Wall Street. It’s ironic, because I went from earning a ridiculous

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