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Northeastern launches Social Impact Lab to empower social change

North­eastern Uni­ver­sity has launched the Social Impact Lab—a hub of inno­v­a­tive expe­ri­en­tial cur­ricula, pro­gram­ming, and events designed to empower social change and civic engage­ment across dis­ci­plines and around the world.

Rebecca Riccio, the founding pro­gram director of North­eastern Students4Giving, has been appointed director of the lab, which will be housed within the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties. Its sig­na­ture pro­gram is “Giving With Pur­pose,” the first-​​ever mas­sive open online course focusing on phil­an­thropy and informed civic engagement.

“The MOOC epit­o­mizes our vision of the Social Impact Lab as a con­duit between theory and practice—a plat­form for stu­dents to apply what they are learning in the class­room to real-​​world chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties,” Riccio said. “Our goal is to give stu­dents a com­pre­hen­sive toolkit for trans­lating good inten­tions into effec­tive, finan­cially sus­tain­able strate­gies for achieving social change.”

The MOOC was cre­ated in part­ner­ship with the Learning by Giving Foun­da­tion, which was founded by Doris Buf­fett, sister of bil­lion­aire busi­nessman and phil­an­thropist Warren Buf­fett. The foun­da­tion pro­motes phil­an­thropy at the under­grad­uate level with the hope of inspiring stu­dents to become leaders in their communities.

“It is a chal­lenge and respon­si­bility that we work together to create a global cul­ture of phil­an­thropy,” said Joseph E. Aoun, pres­i­dent of North­eastern Uni­ver­sity. “This MOOC is leading the field with its model of expe­ri­en­tial phil­an­thropy and will drive new ways of giving across plat­forms, con­ti­nents, and generations.”

“Giving With Pur­pose” was first offered in Summer 2013 to edu­cate the public about tips and strate­gies for effec­tive char­i­table giving through six com­pact, online classes. The free online course will re-​​launch in March 2014 and will be offered as a credit-​​bearing course in Fall 2014.

“I am invested in sharing my pas­sion for phil­an­thropy with the next gen­er­a­tion of phil­an­thropic leaders,” Buf­fett said. “‘Giving With Pur­pose’ exceeded all of our expec­ta­tions last summer, and we are thrilled to have the oppor­tu­nity to offer it again this spring with North­eastern University.”

Riccio will teach the course, which fea­tures two edu­ca­tional tracks. “Givers” nom­i­nate non­profit orga­ni­za­tions in their com­mu­ni­ties to receive a grant and then assess each other’s nom­i­na­tions using Riccio’s assess­ment tool. “Learners” do not nom­i­nate orga­ni­za­tions, but still par­tic­i­pate in the peer assess­ment process. Both groups receive a cer­tifi­cate upon com­ple­tion. Grants will be awarded to the highest-​​rated non­profit orga­ni­za­tions at the end of the course.

Weekly lessons will intro­duce tools and strate­gies to help donors at any level invest in high-​​performing community-​​based non­profit orga­ni­za­tions. More than 10,000 people par­tic­i­pated in the first Giving With Pur­pose course in 2013 and helped dis­tribute $130,000 to 40 U.S. non­profit organizations.

In addi­tion to the MOOC, the Social Impact Lab sup­ports sev­eral expe­ri­en­tial learning pro­grams that bridge the class­room and the com­mu­nity. Stu­dents par­tic­i­pating in the lab’s phil­an­thropy edu­ca­tion pro­gram, North­eastern Students4Giving, study civic engage­ment and social change while making real-​​dollar grants to Boston-​​area nonprofits.

NS4G is part of the Human Ser­vices Pro­gram at North­eastern. This year’s NS4G grants will be awarded to orga­ni­za­tions working in two areas: trauma treat­ment and diver­sity and inclu­sion. The lab’s annual Social Impact Conference—which will be held April 7 and is titled “Know Your Place: Unleashing the Power of Local Philanthropy”—will con­vene stu­dents and fac­ulty as well as policy makers and leaders of the non­profit and phil­an­thropy sec­tors to dis­cuss how phil­an­thropic invest­ments can best be lever­aged to com­ple­ment gov­ern­ment and pri­vate funding to address con­tem­po­rary urban challenges.

– By Kara Shemin

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