Doing the right thing

Aug. 06, 2018 — Less than a decade ago, Jeff Raderstrong ’09 was honored with Grinnell’s Horn-Theophilus Award, which recognizes two senior economics majors who’ve made service to others a part of their college career and who plan to maintain that commitment in the future. So far, Raderstrong has proven to be a more than worthy choice for the award.

Jeff Raderstrong '09
    Jeff Raderstrong ’09

A senior associate with New York City-based Living Cities, a collaborative of 19 of the world’s largest financial institutions and foundations, Raderstrong spends his days working to end poverty by addressing and eliminating racial disparities and institutional racism across the country.

“The work we do at Living Cities to end institutional racism is hard and requires a long-term commitment,” says the Minneapolis native. “But our collaborative approach, connecting large foundations and other powerful institutions is some of the most innovative and powerful work that’s being done.”

Raderstrong has always been socially active.

“I went to a pretty liberal high school and did lots of service through our church,” he says, participating in projects from Habitat for Humanity to feeding the hungry at local soup kitchens. “When I got to Grinnell, I learned even more about global issues, income inequality, econometrics, and how things change based on other interventions. Through Professors Monty Roper and Mark Montgomery, I got to really know what it means to do good and how to do good in the world.”

Among other things at Grinnell, Raderstrong volunteered at a weekly soup kitchen and went on fall and spring break service trips. He traveled to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to gut homes and went to Chicago to tutor.

Raderstrong, Mark Root-Wiley ’09, Emily Kugisaki ’09 and several others founded the student-run Social Entrepreneurs of Grinnell (SEG) during their sophomore years. SEG is a microfinance institution that offers short-term, interest-free emergency loans to Grinnell-area residents who need a boost in order to obtain or keep a job, for example, or to repair an automobile or buy a refrigerator. It now boasts a $50,000 portfolio.

“I had learned about microfinance through a global studies course, and I said to some friends, ‘hey, let’s collect money for an online microfinance group that had just launched,’” explains Raderstrong. “Through that group, Kiva, we were able to make direct loans to entrepreneurs around the world, such as to a woman in Guatemala who needed materials for her store.”

They raised $800 in half a day. A few years later, SEG switched the focus from international to local.

“There was a 10 percent poverty rate in Poweshiek County at the time, and we were spending all this time and energy trying to give abroad, which was a bit complicated.”

After graduation, Raderstrong moved to Washington, D.C., serving in the Lutheran Volunteer Corps, working with a variety of nonprofit social enterprises, then earning a Master in Public Administration from George Washington University.

During his time in the nation’s capital, he also mentored several Grinnell-in-Washington, D.C. students through Grinnell’s Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS), introducing them to the world of nonprofits, helping them acclimate to the city, meet people, and find internships.

Raderstrong and his wife moved to Sleepy Hollow, New York, in 2016, where they enjoy life with their newborn son. Raderstrong works at Living Cities’ headquarters in mid-town Manhattan.

“There are injustices in the world and there shouldn’t be, and we should do what we can to stop those injustices,” says Raderstrong, when asked what motivates his activism. “Poverty, discrimination, racism – those clearly shouldn’t be in the world, and we should do what we can to stop them. I don’t think of the service I’ve done and the work I’ve committed to as anything other than the right thing to do.”

—by Anne Stein ’84

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Additional information about Living Cities can be found at To learn more about Social Entrepreneurs of Grinnell, visit