NEARLY 17 YEARS AGO, Mead Welles started an organization that has changed the lives of thousands of disabled children worldwide.
At the time, he was on a business trip to Indonesia related to his work at Octagon Asset Management, a hedge fund that he was in the process of starting. One day, while sitting at a restaurant, he saw three boys begging for money. One of the boys had legs so deformed that he could not walk; instead he propelled himself forward on his hands, sliding the rest of his body forward on a trashcan lid.
Welles had travelled to many countries in the developing world and he had seen poverty and suffering before, but that sight for him “was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said.
He decided on the spot to find a way to help the children so badly in need that he had seen on his travels. That vision grew into A Leg To Stand On, a charitable organization that he founded with Dr. Dinesh G. Patel, chief of arthroscopic surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital and assistant clinical professor of orthopedic surgery at Harvard Medical School.
ALTSO works in areas where there is a desperate need for orthopedic treatment due to landmines, violence or poverty. In its decade and a half of operations, the organization has helped more than 13,000 children with limb disabilities in more than 20 countries, providing braces, prosthetic limbs, corrective surgery, physical therapy and rehabilitation.
It’s not just about giving these children mobility, Welles explained. More than 90% of disabled children in the developing world are uneducated, mainly because they cannot walk to school. The services that ALTSO provides help give these children access to education and a pathway to a better life.
“One of the best investments you will ever make is for someone else,” Welles explained. “There are very few opportunities in life where you can change the world in a better way.”
Rocking Out for a Good Cause
Much of the organization’s success is due to strong support from individuals and companies in the financial sector. One of the keys to that success has been ALTSO’s creation of Hedge Fund Rocktoberfest, an annual concert featuring musicians from hedge funds, banks, exchanges and other companies in finance.
Welles explained that he came up with the idea after seeing how much people he knew in finance enjoyed playing music. When he played his drums after work, others wanted to join in and he realized this could be a great way to raise funds.
“I wanted to have a way for us to have these jam sessions, where we perform before an audience of our peers,” said Welles.
He launched an industry-wide “call to instruments” and the response was so positive and immediate that the inaugural Rocktoberfest was held in October 2004 in New York City. ALTSO recently began hosting a second event in Chicago, drawing on the considerable musical talents in the Chicago financial community as well as the support from firms such as ABN Amro Clearing, Chicago Board Options Exchange, CME Group, Intercontinental Exchange and Newedge.
This fall’s Rocktoberfest will be the twelfth in New York and the fourth in Chicago. Since 2004 the two events have raised about $6 million for ALTSO. But it’s not just about the money. It’s also been a great way for musicians in the financial sector to plug in their guitars, get out their drumsticks and “put their hair down,” Welles said.