In mentoring and coaching underprivileged students, Danny Zamora sees reflections of his own high school days.
Ordering a meal in a restaurant may not seem like a big deal to most of us. But, as KPMG in the US’s Danny Zamora explains, it’s actually quite an important skill if you want to get on in business.
“Everyday things that we take for granted can become major obstacles to those less fortunate. That’s why the high school students attending our courses receive support on a wide range of issues like writing resumés, interviewing skills, public speaking and business etiquette, as part of a program designed to get them college-ready.”
As an Audit senior manager currently on rotation in New York, Danny is piloting a semester-long, work-based-learning curriculum for minority students from underprivileged backgrounds.
The initiative is sponsored by NAF (National Academy Foundation), a non-profit organization bringing together education, business, and community leaders to enhance students’ life and career prospects.
“When I look at these young people, I see a mirror image of myself at the same age” says Danny. “My parents were immigrants from Cuba. They worked tirelessly to give me the best – in fact more than the best – but there are times in life when you crave the kind of guidance that only a professional can provide.”
Having been a NAF volunteer for 6 years in his home city of Miami, Danny is now bringing his infectious energy and experience to bear in New York.
“As my own career develops, I find that my professional skills are becoming more and more useful outside of the office. Take project management. It’s pretty complex organizing a dozen or so weekly sessions across a semester, sorting out locations and resources, managing budgets and so on. I’ve also learned a lot about ‘soft’ skills like presenting, mentoring and coaching from my time at KPMG.”
Of course, Danny is not doing all of this alone and has managed to persuade other KPMG volunteers to get involved, including partners, peers and even one retired alumni partner.
“KPMG’s Corporate Citizenship team has been amazing. They’ve helped out with events, provided contacts and sent out mass emails requesting help.” They also sponsored Danny to attend the 2015 Summit of charity One Young World, held in Bangkok, Thailand which brought together 1,400 young leaders to debate, formulate and share innovative solutions for pressing issues facing the world. Since then, Danny has become a One Young World ambassador, which he feels has redoubled his energy and commitment to volunteering.
Even with this kind of back-up, Danny finds himself clocking up the volunteering hours.
“Some months I’m spending as much as 30 hours, much of it in the evenings putting together presentations and managing logistics. In one month alone, I held 45 mock interviews with high school students. Fortunately, KPMG has been incredibly flexible. They already give allotted volunteer hours each month, and my bosses are happy for me to step out to attend daytime events when necessary.”
As if this wasn’t enough, Danny is also supporting a KPMG partner who is serving on a city-wide advisory board for NAF.
“I don't really think of volunteering in terms of time out of my life. I see it as an integral part of who I am. Like most people in KPMG, I'm pretty goal driven and this gives me a huge sense of accomplishment, energizing me across everything I do.”
Danny believes his efforts don't just benefit the students; they also help him hone important skills that should prove useful in a business setting.
“The students I work with are a very diverse bunch, both in terms of cultures and personalities. I've had to learn to adapt my communication style accordingly to suit each individual, which has a lot of parallels with my day job, where you need to get teams to function effectively. I've also become pretty good at networking and persuading colleagues to give their time - which is invaluable in a big global firm like KPMG where you have to access capabilities from all corners of the organization.”
As a passionate and committed volunteer with a hugely impressive track record, what words of advice would Danny have for others considering a step in this direction?
“Much of society has a `what can you do for me?' attitude. Volunteering, on the other hand, allows you to ground yourself and give something back to the community. I still keep in touch with some of the students from my very first mentoring program back in 2013. One of them recently interviewed for a Master's degree at a premier school and I helped him with his application letter and interview preparation. His dad was so inspired by this that he has now become a NAF volunteer.
“When my mom was just 12 and living in Cuba, she had to take care of her seven siblings while her parents worked the sugar plantations. I'm all too aware that not everyone gets the opportunity to make the most of their education, and this, above all, is what drives me to help others reach their potential.”