Two years ago, a school serving 1,300 kids in a Managua, Nicaragua, barrio had one barely working computer, no library and no playground. Today, it has a lab with 30 new computers, a library filled with 1,500 books and a just-seeded soccer field on the site of what had been a dump next door — all thanks, remarkably enough, to the efforts of a Connecticut financial advisor.
This year, Commonwealth Financial Network advisor Carl Bailey, 53, has more in the works for what he describes as a “center of hope and safety:” additional computers, scholarships for the children who cannot afford the $3-per-month tuition and the cost of a uniform, funding for new teachers and improved housing for the nuns who operate the school.
Bailey’s active brand of philanthropy is inspired by his close dealings with the immigrant community in Danbury, his hometown. His father emigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon, as did his mother’s parents. He calls Danbury a “mini United Nations,” with immigrants making up at least half the population. And with immigration such a huge national policy concern, Bailey says: “I wanted to understand first-hand why immigrants would leave their country, risk their lives to come here and live in an environment with very difficult working conditions to just barely survive in this country. ‘How bad could it be there’ was my question.”
Seeking answers, Bailey in 2005 spent three weeks in Managua — educating himself about the country, working with volunteers and trying to figure out a way to make the lives of the poor there better.
“My first conclusion was that through no fault of their own, these people had virtually no opportunity to help themselves. That was the most painful part,” says Bailey, an advisor since the late 1970s. “It’s not that they were lazy or bad people, it’s just that they’ve had the bad luck to be born in an environment that was impoverished and, in some cases violent, and with absolutely no government safety nets. Many or most cannot improve their own lives. The disparity of luck I felt I had over these people was acute. It’s driven me for the rest of my life to do anything I can to give these people some of the benefits I’ve had.”
Over the last two years, Bailey has contributed over $50,000 to three projects in Managua’s poorest neighborhoods. Friends and clients have donated as well. First, there’s the school. “I’ve made a commitment to make this school as close to an American school as possible,” he says.
He’s also financed the purchase of sewing machines, office equipment and software programs for a cultural center that serves 3,500 people a year. At the moment, he’s working on a plan to build a kitchen to prepare folks for jobs cooking, waitressing and bartending in resorts. Also on the boards: a micro-lending program and basic finance classes. Bailey himself has taught classes there on budgeting. Lastly, he’s helped fund a medical center.
Bailey’s firm, Bailey & Beatty, serves over 500 clients with assets ranging from $10,000 to $23 million. It’s a mix — laborers, college professors, executives, small business owners. He recruited his first client, Dan Miller, over talks at his kitchen table almost 30 years ago. Miller, who owns a cinema equipment supply company, remains one of Bailey’s top clients.
About Bailey’s philanthropy, Miller notes: “Carl Bailey never toots his horn; he just wants to help out. He doesn’t do it for the notoriety or to advance his business. He has a genuine interest in helping people. He’s a giver. I think it’s ingrained in him.”
Volunteerism has been a part of Bailey’s life since becoming, at age 19, a Big Brother to an inner-city boy. “I grew up in a very loving working-class blue-collar family. That’s a lot different than growing up in the inner city. It’s a lesson that taught me I was much more blessed than many and that I also had the ability to make a difference,” says Bailey. “I recognized that I not only had more than I needed but I had the ability to achieve more than I would ever need. In other words, I knew at a young age that I was going to be able to have extra, and that I could help people with that.” Over the years, Bailey has served on the boards of many non-profits, helping raise $3 million for his local United Way campaign three years ago.