The Asia-Pacific Centre for Social Impact and Philanthropy at Swinburne presented the annual Heloise Waislitz Oration with Rebecca Riccio, the founding Director of the Social Impact Lab at Northeastern University in Boston.
Rebecca has developed the world’s first MOOC – massive open online course on effective charitable giving, which has taught philanthropy to 18,000 students in 100 countries, and enabled them to understand grantmaking through making decisions on giving away $250,000 to not for profit organisations.
Giving with Purpose is a course supported by Doris Buffett’s Learning by Giving Foundation, which provides 35 universities in the United States with $10,000 each for students in particular courses to distribute.
“Experiential philanthropy education” is about the integration of real dollar grant making into a curriculum. Not only do students learn about not for profit organisations and areas of need in their communities, but they leave the course with a newfound sense of agency and their own power to affect change. Students participate in the program in courses as diverse as sociology, communications and English literature.
Rebecca teaches two courses at Northeastern University which develop students’ ability to understand what it takes to build and invest in non profit organisations, and their understanding of the mechanisms for funding which often pit charitable organisations in competition with each other. Students are able to examine the levers of social change, and see that philanthropy is not a neutral act, but has consequences both for the organisations which receive funding – and those which don’t.
They also begin to understand the power and influence that wealth holders (who are not elected officials) can wield in society and how this can affect issues of social justice. Students develop their own power in philanthropy through developing their own guidelines for funding and creating filters for their decision making. The students maintain their independence in decision making about where to distribute the funds and understand the competitive nature of the process. They are given a relatively small amount of money $10,000 so that they can see how this can help, but also how much more may be needed. The students are encouraged to take a consensus approach to their grantmaking, rather than voting organisations in or out. While this may be more difficult and time consuming, it helps develop core values such as humility, respect for others’ opinions, a commitment to active listening, perspective and patience.
The students are taken out of the comfort of their classrooms to meet potential grant recipient organisations and come face to face with the unmet needs of their communities. Despite perhaps having an emotional response to some of the organisations they visit, the students are encouraged to separate this from their decision making. Rebecca felt that the more painful the site visit experience – the better for the students as they need to understand the real consequences of their grantmaking.
One of the students completing the course said: “our job is to heal the world and this is how we are learning to do it”.
Rebecca has been able to expand delivery of the course through the MOOC referred to earlier which has grown from putting a few lectures online to developing an accessible online course, including guest speakers and then creating a collaborative grantmaking exercise.
Experiential philanthropy provides students with a toolkit to feel that they can make a difference, and every decision along the way becomes a teachable moment.
This program is very similar to the Youth in Philanthropy which is run by the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Fund and the Schools in Philanthropy program at Geelong Community Foundation which are based on the Canadian Community Foundations’ philanthropy in schools model.
It was great to hear from someone with such a passion for engaging young people in philanthropy, and the benefits and flow on effects of early participation in the community in this way,
What is your experience of grantmaking with young people?