Michaela Walsh Full Biography
Michaela Walsh is an activist, scholar, mentor, educator, and author. She is aptly described as a pioneer in many of her endeavors. Michaela challenged the gender barrier in financial services in the 60s as the first female to work for Merrill Lynch International in its Beirut and London offices. In the 70s, she became the first female partner of Boettcher & Company, a large regional brokerage house headquartered in Denver, Colorado. In 1980, after five years spent actively developing support for the establishment of an international network of financial institutions serving women, she was elected President of Women’s World Banking (WWB), and has remained on the Board since that time.
Michaela was born in Kansas City, Missouri. She attended Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York, for one year before family financial pressure called her home. She went to work as a sales assistant in the local branch office of Merrill Lynch while she continued her education evenings at secretarial school and the Kansas City University (now UMKC). In 1957 she moved back to New York to accept a position in the Foreign Department of Merrill Lynch, later joining the team that would found Merrill’s first Middle East office, located in Beirut, Lebanon, where she served from 1960 to 1964.
In 1965, Michaela returned to Wall Street and entered the emerging venture capital world, eventually becoming a Partner at Boettcher & Company, one of the first institutional firms to handle trading, sales and service in the bourgeoning investment field of mutual funds. During this period she attended Hunter College (CUNY) evening courses to earn a degree in English Literature in 1971.
Her shift to the philanthropic side of investing came in 1972, when she joined the Rockefeller Brothers Fund as a Program Associate. After an initial period of service in portfolio management, she moved to the Fund’s program side, which focused on strategies to support innovative and appropriate technology projects contributing to sustainable development.
In 1975, Michaela attended the First United Nations Conference on the Status of Women in Mexico City, and there joined a handful of women from around the world who committed to create a new banking network that would provide credit services to entrepreneurial woman at the local level. The goal was to build a sustainable organization, drawing strength from women linked together within their local community. From 1975 to 1980, as Chairperson of the Committee to Organize Women’s World Banking, she led the effort and at launch was elected the first President.
By the time she stepped down from her responsibilities in 1990, the global network had grown to 45 affiliates with $10 million in capital. Not only had members come to own and control a global banking agency, they brought their local perspective with them. The result was a huge wave of projects around the world run for and by women. After ten years of service, Michaela successfully led the transition to new leadership, and she remains an emeritus member of the Board.
Concurrent with Michaela’s nearly five decades of leadership in the financial world has been her continuing commitment to service and education. From 1998 and 2008, she was adjunct professor at Manhattanville College, where she created a Global Student Leadership Program for undergraduate women from emerging economies. She has served on multiple boards and advisory committees including USAID, Synergos Institute, IPPF-WHR, and the Union Theological Seminary. In 2006 she was appointed Chairperson of the 59th U.N. Conference of the DPI/NGOs, and successfully delivered on her mandate that thirty percent of speakers and participants be less than thirty years old.
Beginning in 2000, the Mudd Manuscript Library at Princeton University accepted WWB’s records and Michaela’s personal papers tracing the birth of Women’s World Banking. She then began work on assembling the narrative of its founding so that new generations could witness the self-empowerment process, firsthand. Her book, Founding a Movement: Women’s World Banking 1975-1990, is a social history capturing the real voices of the innovators who were there at the beginning of this enduring movement toward women’s financial independence.