Unexpected lessons from a world away helped a New York native find his calling
Edison Reyes, Community Development Associate, New York Fed
Edison, a research and analysis associate for the New York Fed’s Community Development team, grew up in Queens, New York. “It gave me the opportunity to live and learn elbow-to-elbow with people from all over the world. Growing up here helped me appreciate not just my own culture, but those of my neighbors and friends too,” he shared.
The son of immigrants from Ecuador, Edison took his first career inspiration from his parents. They both worked in a local Queens hospital. After graduating with a degree in biology from Stony Brook University in New York, Edison worked for a city-sponsored healthcare agency.
But something was missing.
“I really wanted to get more experience on the ground, working directly with people and understanding and supporting the goals they are looking to achieve,” Edison said.
His next career step landed him a bit farther from home. Halfway across the world, in fact.
“I really wanted to get more experience on the ground, working directly with people and understanding and supporting the goals they’re looking to achieve.”
Edison Reyes volunteers for the Peace Corps in Rwanda.
A life-changing assignment
His inspiration for that next step was a conversation he’d had years earlier with his high school calculus teacher. “She was my favorite teacher. I was the only sophomore in a junior-level class, and she told me she admired my curious nature. She talked to me about the Peace Corps, and how it might be a great opportunity for me to build on my communication and collaboration skills in a totally new environment.”
Edison applied to the Peace Corps and was assigned a two-year stint in Rwanda. During his time in the country, he worked with a cooperative of women with HIV/AIDS. Edison expected to expand on his interest in health care. What he found was that the group’s interests were much more business-oriented.
“The women in the village were focused on developing opportunities to improve their families’ lives,” Edison said. “They wanted to create small ventures that would allow them to earn their own money. At that level, even the smallest amount of extra income made a great impact.” The women’s dedication to providing for their families, even in the face of significant health challenges, drove Edison to a new pursuit of his own: a career in community development.
After returning to the United States, Edison enrolled in an MBA/MA program in community development and planning at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. The courses deepened his knowledge and interest in the field. After graduating, Edison took a role at the Boston Foundation, an organization dedicated to building and sustaining a vital, prosperous city and region that extends justice and opportunity to everyone.
Coming full circle to apply valuable lessons more broadly
A unique opportunity at the New York Fed in 2015 brought Edison back home. The role draws on all of his interests, skills, and experiences, from lessons learned working one-on-one with women in Rwanda and engaging with philanthropic institutions in the Boston area to conducting research on community development topics.
Edison’s first major initiative? Helping to lead Investing in America’s Workforce. The multi-year project involved working with colleagues across the system and partners outside the Fed to explore opportunities for investing in strategies that supported workers.
Edison and his colleagues organized business roundtables, edited reports, and surveyed community colleges to understand how these institutions of learning were engaging with businesses. The project resulted in the publication of three books: Investing in Workers, Investing in Work, and Investing in Systems for Employment Opportunity.
Edison’s role and interests have continued to expand while at the New York Fed. His focus areas now include household balance sheet and liquidity and the challenges of climate change, in particular for lower-income communities. He is also exploring the role of the arts in community development.
“Arts and artists are essential to both rebuilding and preserving cultures and communities impacted by external factors,” Edison said. “They are a lifeline for economic and social change.”
Edison Reyes celebrates NYC Pride in 2019 with his husband.
Edison in action
From 2016 to 2019, Edison led workshops and spoke at conferences—from New York to Texas—to support the Investing in America’s Workforce project.
Working toward a more equitable economy takes skill, empathy, time, and a lot of heart. Here, members of the Fed’s Community Development team share what inspires and motivates them.