Nate Yohannes, his three siblings and their parents were exiled from Eritrea shortly after the country’s war for independence in 1991. They ended up in Rochester, New York. Every winter when he goes home to visit, Yohannes says, he jokingly asks his parents: Why such a seemingly random, bitterly cold city? But he knows the real answer.
“A lawyer sponsored us,” Yohannes says, through a refugee resettlement program of the Third Presbyterian Church in Rochester. Yohannes’ father, whose vision is mostly impaired due to stepping on a land mine in 1978, is now a board member of the church. “Being able to come to America and start over on humble beginnings even after stepping on a land mine is one of the reasons why our founders fought bloody battles,” Johannes adds.
His father now works in a probation office, managing cases involving domestic violence. His mother recently retired from a career in nursing. Yohannes went to law school in Buffalo, and clerked for a judge in Western New York. But thanks to another fortunate connection to a mentor in Washington, D.C., he got into the world of finance. “Finance was never in my language. My DNA is fighting for those who are in need and I got that from my father,” Yohannes says. Now, he can’t imagine himself in another industry.
President Barack Obama announced a new federal $1 billion fund for impact investing in 2011, and he eventually called upon Yohannes to finalize its design and make the program permanent. “This program makes sense to me because it fits my theme in life — make a dollar as well as create positive results for our country,” says Yohannes, whom the president officially appointed to serve as senior adviser to the chief investment and innovation officer at the Small Business Administration (SBA).