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Finance and Philanthropy

Cynthia Oakes 74Venture Philanthropist, Alfanar

After graduating from Princeton, Cynthia Oakes ‘74 moved back to New York City. Cynthia was drawn to the private sector and ultimately joined Salomon Brothers, where she went to work on the trading floor in New York and London. She later joined Morgan Guaranty Ltd in London, which was spearheading the bank’s involvement in the innovative and fast-paced Eurobond market. At the time, there were few women on the trading floor. She credits her Brearley education with giving her the confidence to cope—and thrive—in this male work environment. “I didn’t want to pretend to be a man just to fit in,” Cynthia said. 

Later in her career, Cynthia began applying her background in finance to impact investing—investments that promote social good. She spent most of her time on venture philanthropy in the Middle East, primarily as a board member of Alfanar, an NGO focused on Lebanon and Egypt, which was founded by her late husband, Tarek Ben Halim. Established in 2004, Alfanar ( is the first venture philanthropy organization working exclusively in the Arab world. Its mission is to help social enterprises improve the lives of more people while increasing their financial sustainability. 

When asked about the greatest impact Brearley had on her, Cynthia said, “Brearley validates you. It is hard to acquire that inherent sense of self-confidence.” She further reflected, “Change is positive and necessary—it is great to be part of it. Working on a trading floor I learned a lot about resilience, keeping focused on the issues that matter and negotiation. I became quite a good negotiator.”

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