By Mary Whitfill, News Staff
In an effort to bolster the school’s philanthropic education and community giving, Northeastern launched the new Social Impact Lab on Jan. 22 to bring students, donors and educators together to make an impact in the Boston area.
The lab stems from the success of Northeastern’s existing philanthropic education endeavors, including the massive open online course (MOOC) “Giving with Purpose” and classes offered within the university’s Human Services Program. These classes give students the opportunity to learn about issues facing the Boston community and invest money in charities of their choice.
“Giving students the trust and responsibility to invest money in the communities opens them up to a lot of issues our communities are facing that they might not have had to examine regularly,” Rebecca Riccio, the lab’s director, said. “It puts them in the position of reconciling the needs of the organizations that are doing the work and the challenges facing donors who are trying to invest in that work wisely.”
The lab encompasses multiple community engagement projects, and is housed within the College of Social Sciences and Humanities. In addition to the classes offered, the lab is also partnered with Northeastern Students4Giving, a student-led philanthropy program that focuses on how change happens and is funded.
The launch of the new lab comes with the of “Giving with Purpose” to the credit-bearing course selection. The MOOC, which has been offered not-for-credit at Northeastern in the past, will relaunch for free in March and will become a paid, credit-bearing course in the fall.
“As a volunteer in the Roxbury area, I can think of a lot of organizations who would greatly benefit from this program, and I know this new course will be beneficial for students in many ways as well,” Stacey Anderson, a sophomore political science and philosophy double major, said. “It will definitely help students learn how to invest their money properly versus jumping on the band wagon [sic] like Kony 2012.”
“Giving with Purpose,” created by the Learning by Giving Foundation, was created to raise awareness about effective, charitable giving practices, according to the foundation’s website. The foundation was first created in 2003 by Doris Buffett, sister of billionaire Warren Buffett, and has since partnered with over 30 colleges.
“When I inherited my money I needed to learn how to be a philanthropist,” Doris Buffett said. “People in college are eager to learn how to give and they are well motivated. I went to many schools and gave what I called the ‘grandma talk’ about how you have to be honest and smart.”
Buffett gives each class grants to distribute to local nonprofits, and participants in the 2013 MOOC gave away a total of $130,000. The goal of the class is to teach students how to use discretion when engaging in philanthropy and to “follow the money” to see how their donation is reflected in the community.
“[Students] are only allowed to deal with money in their geographical area because I want them to see where the money is going and where it is needed,” Buffett said. “They go out and see all of these different options and the leaders of these programs then come to class and they decide who they want to sponsor. And then the money starts.”
Buffett is on a mission not only to educate students, but to pour all of her money into charity. While she can’t say exactly how much that is, she has already given away over $100 million according to Michael Zitz’s 2010 book “The Doris Buffett Story.”
“We do things that help people; we do not build pretty buildings or put paintings on the wall. That is nice, but it isn’t what I want to do with my money,” Buffett said. “I’m going to give it all away before I die. [The amount of money] changes every day because it is in stocks, but it’s a good number. It keeps me busy.”
While the lab is new to Northeastern, the concept of philanthropy education is in its sixth year within the Human Services Program. Currently, Northeastern offers two classes to teach students how to wisely invest in their communities: “Human Service Professions” and “Strategic Philanthropy and Nonprofit Management.”
Students in “Human Service Professions” do a community scan to identify issues affecting the areas around Northeastern. They then present findings to Strategic Philanthropy students who run through the cycle a real world foundation would conduct – choosing funding proprieties, request proposals, etc.
Buffett gives these students a $10,000 grant to work with each semester.
“Nonprofit organizations submit proposals to my students, they rigorously vet the applications, conduct site visits to the highest ranking proposals, and then through a consensus based process, decide which ones will get the grant,” Riccio, who teaches Strategic Philanthropy, said.
The lab will host a variety of events to open up the opportunity for community impact beyond the available classes. The Social Impact Conference, “Know Your Place: Unleashing the Power of Local Philanthropy,” will be held April 7.