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AN OPPORTUNITY MAKER: Kesha Cash, SEO Career Alumna

In my new book, The Opportunity Makers, I chronicle not just the history of Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO), but the stories of many young people who, with the help of SEO, have not only achieved success in their college and careers but have helped to create more opportunity for others. One of these people is Kesha Cash.

As first-generation college student, Kesha participated in SEO Career while pursuing a BA in applied mathematics at University of California at Berkeley. She did her SEO training and internship at Merrill Lynch. After graduation she earned a position as analyst in Merrill’s mergers and acquisitions department. But for Kesha, success has never only been about her personal success. As she recently told a writer for B The Change Media: “I’ve always been the person in the room who, once I get in a door, I work like hell to get more people through that door.”

Like many other SEO alumni profiled in The Opportunity Makers, Kesha found ways to combine her passion for creating opportunities for economically-marginalized communities with her day job. After leaving Merrill Lynch, she started her own consulting practice that focused on helping small inner city businesses in Los Angeles raise seed capital and develop and execute their plans for growth. After Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana, Kesha helped manage a $350 million federal claim to help residents displaced by the storm. In 2008, she entered the graduate program at Columbia University Business School and served on a committee that advised the university’s Board of Trustees about ethical and social considerations to be followed in the management of Columbia’s endowment. After receiving her MBA in 2010, Kesha became the founding director of investments at Jalia Ventures, a venture capital firm funded by impact investor Josh Mailman, the founder of Serious Change L.P. that invests in minority-owned for-profit firms that are seeking to make a positive social impact in communities of color.

In 2014, Kesha created the Impact America Fund (IAF) to catalyze on market opportunities that were not on the radar of the mainstream of the investor community. With funding from Serious Change, New Island Capital, Prudential Financial and the Surdna Foundation, Oakland-based IAF is pushing the frontier of impact investing, focusing on companies that use technology to provide services and create opportunities for people living in low-income communities., companies that are usually excluded by the traditional screens and filters that mainstream investors use to conduct due diligence. Her efforts have earned her many honors—being named a “Top Five Gamechanger” by Forbes magazine and a “Power Investor” by Essence magazine, to name only two—as well as a recent case study of IAF by the Stanford Graduate School of Business. The game Kesha seeks to change is not limited to changing the world of business as usual but, as she noted in her own recent Living Cities blog post, it is nothing less than "fixing the economic divide that plagues America."

All proceeds from the sale of The Opportunity Makers go to support SEO Scholars.

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