What makes someone generous with his or her time, treasure and heart? Is it the utility he or she gets out of good works – the satisfaction and good name – or is it simply a primal need to do something for others without reference to what comes back? We may never know the answer to that question, but we do know that Community Impact’s 2007 Making a Difference Award winner, Gregg Gonsalves, learned from the time he was a small boy that whatever it is that motivates people to do good deeds motivated and satisfied his parents deeply. From that he took pride and got mission.
Gregg’s parents, both the children of immigrants from the formerly Portuguese colony of the West African archipelago, Cape Verde, invested themselves deeply in the needs of the tight-knit community of Cape Verde immigrants living in Norwich, Connecticut.
The Gonsalves surname (pronounced, in the Portuguese fashion, “Gon-sals”) showed up around Norwich, because Gregg’s father ran a masonry company and put the name on the road-side cones used to warn cars and pedestrians to stay away from construction sites where the firm was at work. More than a few people asked Gregg when he was a boy whether he was related to the Gonsalves whom they had come to know as a good man, a man who dedicated his time, resources and energy to helping people in need.
“My dad always told me that the most important thing I had was my name and reputation,” says Gregg.
Now a soft-spoken, almost gentle man of commerce, Gregg Gonsalves fell in love with Columbia when he first visited it in 1985 as a high-school scholar-athlete from a small Catholic high school in Norwich. Delighted to carry the double requirements and earn the rare educational combination of the classic core and the engineering curricula, Gregg served when an undergraduate at the School of Engineering and Applied Science as a big brother in what is now Community Impact’s Big Sibs mentoring program. He was a Jackie Robinson scholar at Columbia, an organization on whose Board of Directors he now serves.
When in college, he met regularly with Jackie Robinson Scholars from other universities trading stories of their mutual commitment to assisting others not as fortunate as themselves. The Jackie Robinson Foundation, founded by Jackie Robinson in 1973, provides minority students with four-year college scholarships in the hope that they will honor the life and principles of the late heroic ball player and public citizen. The Jackie Robinson Foundation’s motto, taken from the words of its founder – “A life is not important except for the impact it has on others’ lives” – represents to Gregg the same principle as that on which Gregg’s parents lived.
Gregg also serves on the Board of Directors of A Better Chance, of which Community Impact’s own executive director, Sonia Reese, is one of many distinguished alumni. A Better Chance provides to academically talented children of color advisory services, school placement and other assistance to get them the best educational opportunities at many of the nation’s finest primary and secondary schools. Gregg also serves as a member of the SEAS Engineering Council.
A graduate of Harvard Business School, Gregg worked at Mobil Oil for two years before business school. Since 1993 he has worked at Goldman Sachs, where he serves today as a managing director and sector head of the Aerospace & Defense Group of the Investment Banking Division. Twice he has been selected among Black Enterprise magazine’s “Best and Brightest under 40,” and last year he was named one of the “Top 75 Blacks on Wall Street” by Black Enterprise, as well as one of the “Top 40 under 40″ by Investment Dealer’s Digest.