Realism Prevails

February 24, 2009   Danielle Beurteaux

Street Kids International turns to a hedge fund manager to help shape its mission.

Street kids: Typically orphaned or abandoned, and sometimes abused, they are forced to the street to work or live. There are 100 million globally, 18 million of them in India — 250,000 in Mumbai alone. It’s numbers like these that motivated Emma Warson, a London-based portfolio manager and partner at $10 billion New York–based hedge fund firm Perry Partners, to help launch Street Kids U.K., the British branch of Street Kids International, and the parent organization’s two pilot programs, in India and Ethiopia.

Street Kids, founded in Canada and based in Toronto and London, partners with nongovernmental organizations to deliver business guidance and health education as well as to act as an advocate for young people ages ten to 20. The business portion of the program is basic, says Warson, 32, but it teaches valuable skills tailored to a child’s environment, for instance, how to run a bread kiosk in Mumbai.

"For a little chapati store, maybe we get them a loan to equip the store in the first place," she explains. "We teach them that you have to go buy your ingredients, and, at the end of the day, you have to save some of your profit because you have to buy more ingredients."

Most of the young people in the program are illiterate, but immediate formal education isn’t a practical option — street kids have to make a living first, and school remains a foreign idea to most of them. "This is a practical and proven method of actually helping them," Warson notes. "It’s a realistic solution instead of an idealistic solution."

Street Kids traces its roots to the mid-1980s, when Peter Dalglish, a Canadian relief worker, founded the organization after he caught a gang of boys breaking into his car in Sudan. Dalglish decided that trying to put the boys on the right track would be more constructive than reporting them to the authorities, so he helped them start a bicycle-courier business in Khartoum. In 1988 he formally launched Street Kids International. The program has since reached 2 million children in 60 countries.

The U.K. branch was started in 2007 to help fulfill the overwhelming demand for the group’s programs. U.K. chairman Richard Street recruited Warson for her investment smarts and networking abilities. "She’s highly intelligent and has a strong wish to put something back into society," he says.

Warson, who worked in equity research at J.P. Morgan Securities before she began her stint at Perry and is on the finance committee of Street Kids U.K., says she was drawn to the organization because it is results-driven: "Being an investor, I am very attracted to charities where you can quantify and show the returns that you get on the money that is invested."

The pilot program in Mumbai aims to train 15 youth directors and launch 60 businesses. In Ethiopia, the goal is even bigger — to establish 650 start-ups and to involve more than 1,000 young people.

Helping these largely unsupervised children, teenagers and young adults improve their lives by fostering their business and social skills appeals to Warson, who is eager to grow Street Kids U.K. and reach thousands more children trying to make their way on big-city streets. She says a good part of the allure is the fact that the program is innovative and that it affects lives so directly.

"It’s entrepreneurial," Warson says. "And it’s helping people help themselves."

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