Skip to content

Reflecting On 2020, Part I

Looking Back at a Year of Giving and Remembering the Dear Friend Who Made Much of It Possible

The Social Impact Lab’s commitment to engaging in social change at the intersection of systems thinking and ethical reasoning took on new urgency in 2020. SIL’s experiential philanthropy programs routinely charge students to confront the theoretical, ethical, practical, and emotional challenges of allocating scarce resources in the face of enormous need. The challenges always inherent in “learning to give” and students’ sense of responsibility for doing it well were amplified as Covid-19 unleashed illness and systemic disruption on a global scale while illuminating the pervasiveness of racial injustice in the U.S. SIL responded by engaging students in awarding over $40,000 to Boston nonprofit organizations serving communities disproportionately harmed by the pandemic, as described below. But first let us remember the woman whose tireless dedication to giving and boundless faith in young people were pivotal to the growth of our flagship experiential philanthropy program, Northeastern Students4Giving (NS4G), and SIL’s launch in 2014.

In Memoriam: Doris Buffett

None of this year’s giving would have been possible without Doris Buffett, a dear friend who passed away in August. Feisty, warm, and authentic, Doris was the embodiment of generosity. Like her younger brother Warren, she was deeply committed to giving away all her money. Long before they became wealthy, the Buffett siblings had been raised with the understanding that everyone should give what they can, even if only in modest amounts. Doris also believed that young people should be taught how to give wisely. She put those ideas into practice by launching Learning by Giving (LxG), first as a program in her Sunshine Lady Foundation and later as a separate foundation that now supports a national network of universities where real-dollar grant making is embedded in academic courses. Northeastern became part of the LxG network in 2010 and has received funding for NS4G ever since. Our longstanding collaboration with the foundation led to SIL’s launch in 2014 after we co-created Giving With Purpose, a massive open online course (MOOC) in which 20,000 students around the world collaboratively awarded a quarter million dollars – a contribution from Warren – to nonprofit organizations across the U.S. More recently, we partnered on Philanthropy on the Field, in which dozens of Boston’s emerging social change leaders gathered at Fenway Park to award over $100,000 to Boston nonprofits using SIL’s social change framework. Those innovations, along with the many ways SIL uses grant making to examine philanthropy, the nonprofit sector, and social change through the lenses of social and racial justice, have been possible because Doris was as humble as she was determined. She believed in giving faculty the freedom to teach as they saw fit and invited us to be creative. The Learning by Giving Foundation embraces that philosophy, even when programs like NS4G encourage students to interrogate philanthropy’s role in perpetuating the imbalance of power and privilege in the U.S. More than a donor, Doris was a catalyst who delighted in knowing that her money was flowing through classrooms across the country so aspiring social change leaders could guide it into their communities. She may have given away all her money, but its value will last a long time in the lives of LxG students and the communities they serve.

This Year’s Giving

SIL responded to the pandemic, George Floyd’s murder, and the shift to online teaching by harnessing the power of experiential philanthropy education and collaboration in new ways. Adapting the coursework associated with NS4G and partnering with the Human Services Program, the Office of Undergraduate Research & Fellowships, the Learning by Giving Foundation, and several private donors allowed SIL to create virtual collaborative spaces that enabled 150 students to award over $44,000 to Boston nonprofits addressing Covid-19 and racial injustice between March and December.

Northeastern Students4Giving

2019-2020 NS4G Grantees: South End Community Health Center ($10,000)
The Fall 2019 NS4G cohort chose “Overcoming Barriers to Mental Health Care Among At-Risk Adolescents and Young Adults” as their 2019-2020 funding priority. The pandemic necessitated a move to remote learning just as the Spring 2020 team was moving into its decision-making phase, so they were especially attuned to the challenges community-based service providers would face as they transitioned to online modalities. South End Community Health Center’s plans to shift its school-based programming to virtual meetings struck them as swift and effective.

Fall 2020 NS4G Grantees: Sociedad Latina ($5,000); Boston Area Gleaners ($625); GreenRoots, Inc. ($625)
With classroom-based teaching still disrupted, we are breaking the NS4G funding for 2020-2021 into two awards to give students in both the Fall and Spring semesters a hands-on giving experience. This year’s funding priority is “Supporting Racial Justice and Community Needs During COVID-19.” Students awarded the $5,000 Fall 2020 grant to Sociedad Latina for its holistic and inclusive approach to meeting community needs during the pandemic. Thanks to a private gift, students were also able to make smaller awards totaling $1,250 to Boston Area Gleaners and GreenRoots, Inc.

The Spring 2021 award will be made in April.

Social Impact-athonsVirtual Social Impact-athons for COVID-19 Grantees: Action for Boston Community Development ($10,000), Community Servings ($10,000), Victory Programs ($1,500), Greater Boston Food Bank ($1,500)
After piloting a Social Impact-athon for Environmental Justice in Boston in Spring 2019 and partnering with Northeastern’s Young Global Leaders to run a Social Impact-athon for Women’s Empowerment in Mumbai in February 2020, SIL was ready to move into virtual mode quickly when the pandemic struck. We partnered with the Human Services Program and the Office of Undergraduate Research & Fellowships to offer two Virtual Social Impact-athons for COVID-19. Over 50 students participated in awarding $10,000 each to Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD) and Community Servings. Anonymous donors invited students to direct their personal contributions, so Victory Programs and Greater Boston Food Bank received $1,500 each.

LearnGive for COVID Relief

SIL partnered with the Learning by Giving Foundation to offer LearnGive for COVID-19 Relief, a modular online program in which students used SIL’s RISE Framework to award $5,000 to several Boston nonprofit organizations.

To learn more about SIL’s work over the past year, please see Reflecting On 2020, Part 2: Reckoning with White Supremacy and Racial Injustice.

More Stories

Social Impact-athon

Social Impact-athon a Conversation about COVID-19 Impacts

Campus Feature

Northeastern Recognized for Innovative Commitment to Social Change

Northeastern logo

Reflecting On 2020, Part 2