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Policy’s role in philanthropy

Phil­an­thropic orga­ni­za­tions have long fos­tered social change through grants tar­geted at spe­cific causes. But when phil­an­thropy is not enough, public policy can play an impor­tant role in the human­i­tarian effort, according to speakers at a con­fer­ence held Monday at Northeastern.

“We have to remind our­selves the Amer­ican middle class didn’t just happen; it was built,” said Tamara Draut, vice pres­i­dent of policy and research at Demos and the author of Strapped: Why America’s 20– and 30-​​Somethings Can’t Get Ahead. “Laws flowed from the agreed-​​upon stan­dard that Amer­i­cans, through hard work, should have a shot at the middle class.”

Draut deliv­ered the keynote address at the second annual con­fer­ence hosted by North­eastern Students4Giving, which was titled “Moving the Needle: Philanthrophy’s Role in Policy, Advo­cacy, and Sys­tems Change.”

She noted that a middle class that had cre­ated gen­er­a­tions of pros­perity slowly began to dis­solve in the 1970s, pointing to a con­certed effort to pro­mote trickle-​​down eco­nomics, increased lob­bying by big busi­ness, and a major influx of cash from wealthy Amer­i­cans into the polit­ical system. This trio of occur­rences, she explained, has cre­ated a nation where phil­an­thropy alone cannot solve issues like poverty and inequality.

“All of these con­strain our ability to use policy to make mean­ingful social change,” Draut said.

The event—held in the Curry Stu­dent Center Ballroom—was spon­sored by the Arthur K. Watson Char­i­table Trust and pre­sented in part­ner­ship with Asso­ci­ated Grant Makers and the Learning by Giving Foun­da­tion. It con­vened non­profit and com­mu­nity leaders, social entre­pre­neurs, stu­dents, and fac­ulty to examine oppor­tu­ni­ties and strate­gies for phil­an­thropists to sup­port social impact funding and other work directed at policy, advo­cacy, and sys­tems change.

North­eastern Students4Giving, housed within the university’s human ser­vices pro­gram, is an expe­ri­en­tial phil­an­thropy edu­ca­tion pro­gram that enables stu­dents to make a pos­i­tive and lasting impact in Boston’s neigh­bor­hoods through grant making. The pro­gram, which com­bines aca­d­e­mics with real-​​dollar grant making, teaches stu­dents about the socioe­co­nomic role of the non­profit sector and phil­an­thropy in Amer­ican society; fos­ters lead­er­ship and inno­va­tion in these areas; and helps pro­mote a campus-​​wide cul­ture of giving.

“We have to step back to look at the big pic­ture and see if there are bigger levers, such as policy, that we can focus on,” said Rebecca Riccio, the North­eastern Students4Giving pro­gram director, in her opening remarks.

The con­fer­ence drew stu­dents from seven uni­ver­si­ties and fea­tured a variety of speakers throughout the day, including Mass­a­chu­setts Lt. Gov. Tim Murray.

Joan Fitzgerald, interim dean of the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, noted that the idea of stu­dent involve­ment in phil­an­thropy, paired with a focus on public policy inter­ven­tions, fits snugly into Northeastern’s unique approach to education.

“Whether engaging in phil­an­thropy, working all over the globe on co-​​op or through intern­ships, or con­ducting research with fac­ulty, expe­ri­en­tial learning is what we do at North­eastern,” she said.

– by Matt Collette

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