Ward Medal Recipient Sees Micro Lending as Cure to Poverty

Photo by Joanna Chattman
Photo by Joanna Chattman

For a student who was kicked out of school two months before graduation, there’s a lot of love between Ed Michael Reggie ’71 and Williston Northampton. So much so, that this spring, Williston bestowed upon Reggie its highest honor: the Robert A. Ward Medal. (Read the full text of Reggie’s acceptance speech here. See photos here.)

The Ward Medal, which was given during a special assembly in the Phillips Stevens Chapel on May 13, 2016, recognizes individuals who exemplify the values of humanitarian service and volunteerism, and who have made outstanding contributions to their communities.

To graduate from Williston, Reggie completed an independent study project at home in Louisiana, and his focus—the history of banking—changed the trajectory of his life. Ironically, the same characteristics that put Reggie in hot water at Williston in the 70s as a political anti-war agitator have led him to fight hunger and poverty worldwide in his philanthropy and work as a venture capitalist.

But not just any philanthropy—in typical Reggie style, he’s shaking up the donor world, asking people to rethink how they give money. He’s a trustee for Freedom from Hunger, a micro-lending initiative in developing nations like Haiti and Ghana, and he’s asking for better accountability from charities and stronger outcomes from donations. In essence, where is the money going and how is it really working?

Ed Michael Reggie '71 and Head of School Robert W. Hill III
Ed Michael Reggie ’71 and Head of School Robert W. Hill III

“We want to transform the world for the better, and not just feel good for giving to a local charity who doesn’t give us the proof that they deserve it,” Reggie says.

He views micro lending to small businesses as a long-term solution to poverty. “Placing capital in the hands of those with initiatives and character is the way to pull people up from poverty,” he says. “Investing in communities is much more effective than simply delivering a soup bowl.”

Reggie began his professional life in banking, founded and sold a healthcare company, and then became a venture capitalist. He’s the managing director for FutureFactory, an early-stage investor in new companies. Reggie has one word for investing in startups: “Fun,” he says. “I love the entire process. I have a blank canvas, and I’m going to start something new with the best thinking I’ve ever had.”

At Williston, Reggie’s experiences protesting everything from the Vietnam War to the food on campus shaped his worldview.

“So much of my awareness and respect for other people, for civil rights, all of that emanated from my Williston experience,” he says, “and philanthropy was just another extension of that.

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