By Danielle Beurteaux
Think of orphans and Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist may come to mind, and a life of privation and suffering. If that stereotype is somewhat outdated, it still holds true for too many of the world’s parentless children.
|| Cantor Fitzgerald chairman and CEO Howard Lutnick|
Photo by Mike McGregor
In 2011, Howard Lutnick, 51, chairman and chief executive officer of Cantor Fitzgerald, and chairman and chief executive officer of BGC Partners, got a call from a client, Nicholas Brophy, head of North American rates trading at Citigroup. They ended up talking about family, and Lutnick learned that Brophy had just adopted two Ethiopian children with the help of Worldwide Orphans Foundation, an organization of which Brophy is a board member. Lutnick was keen to find out more. “It was really such an extraordinary story,” he says. Over lunch with Worldwide Orphans founder Jane Aronson, Lutnick learned about the organization.
Aronson, a pediatrician and infectious diseases and adoption medicine specialist, founded Worldwide Orphans in 1997. Through its work in Bulgaria, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Serbia and Haiti, it offers health care, education, training, camps and even toy libraries to children who’ve lost their families or been relinquished into care by families that cannot take care of them.
No one wants to talk about orphans, says Aronson: “Orphans are thousands of miles away, the numbers are too big, they’re foreign and they’re in these places people don’t want to go.”
For Lutnick, the cause is personal. By the time he was 18, he had lost both his parents in close succession. Suddenly he found his world — and that of his older sister and younger brother — severely altered. Without any relations willing to help, the trio were on their own, figuring out the necessities of life, he says. “You rely on your parents for everything below a certain threshold,” says Lutnick. “Above that threshold is what most kids think about — their friends, schoolwork, their lives — but they never think about how are they going to eat, where are they going to sleep, where are they going to live, how are they going to take care of themselves.”
For the past two Septembers, Worldwide Orphans has been included in the BGC Charity Day — $12 million for participating charities was raised both years. Cantor Fitzgerald and BGC Partners started the charity the day after the September 11, 2001, World Trade Center attacks. (The firm, located at the top of 1 World Trade Center, lost 658 employees that day.) “BGC Charity Day is really an extraordinary day because we take the worst day of our lives and try to turn it into something uplifting,” says Lutnick. He, along with fashion designer Elie Tahari, will be honored at the foundation’s annual gala on November 13, and they and Lutnick’s sister, Edie; pop star Seal; and writer Rula Jebreal will be featured in a film made for the evening that shows how these orphans overcame their circumstances.
Beyond the basics of food, clothing and shelter, what orphans need, says Lutnick, is hope for a happy future that might seem impossible in the harsh circumstances many orphans face, especially in developing countries. “If all that is around you is negative or depressing, it’s kind of hard to have an uplifting, passionate life,” says Lutnick. “[But] if people like Jane are fighting for you, there’s an opportunity to break out of that mold and have an extraordinary life.”