They call themselves Northeastern Students4Giving (NS4G). Their motto is “learning to give, giving to learn.” And their mission is to make a positive and lasting impact in Boston communities through grant making.
Ten years ago, when SPPUA’s Rebecca Riccio launched NS4G, an experiential philanthropy education program that combines rigorous academic content with real-dollar grant making, she couldn’t have predicted the impact her students would have on local communities.
Students came up with the program’s name, and they developed a mission statement, funding priority, application guidelines, applicant assessment standards, site visit protocols, and a grantee selection process. Now, more than 400 NS4Gers have awarded $150,000 in grants to 20 local nonprofit organizations.
On Thursday, April 19, NS4G celebrated its 10th anniversary by awarding this year’s $10,000 grant to Casa Esperanza, one of the only bilingual and bicultural substance abuse and mental health treatment centers in Massachusetts. Casa Esperanza offers residential programs, outpatient services, housing support, recovery coaching, education and employment counseling, and stabilization services.
“Over the years, I have constantly challenged students to aim higher,” said Riccio, Khaled and Olfat Juffali Director of the Social Impact Lab. “Today, I no longer think of my course as an introduction to nonprofit management, but as an opportunity to engage students in complex problem solving through systems thinking and ethical reasoning.”
NS4Gers award grants to community-based nonprofit organizations that address critical economic and social challenges facing the Boston neighborhoods of Mission Hill, Fenway, Roxbury, and the South End. The program has influenced the practice of experiential philanthropy across the U.S. and around the world.
Allegra Mangione, a 2018 graduate of the Human Services Program, kicked off the awards ceremony by explaining her role as the co-educator and peer mentor for Riccio’s course, “The Nonprofit Sector, Philanthropy, and Social Change.” Mangione said she gained insight into the mechanics behind experiential philanthropy education as she coordinated application intake and site visits and helped to facilitate the students’ decision-making process.
“It has been humbling to be in a role where I can guide students in mapping the systems around complex social problems, and in coming into their own as agents of social change,” Mangione told a crowded room. “Watching students from many academic and personal backgrounds grow together into thoughtful, empathetic student grant makers has been transformative for me.”
NS4Gers reflect on empathy, humility, perspective taking, and cultural agility. Students, Riccio said, understand that before trying to change the world, they must first decide what kind of person they want to be.
“When students are faced with this extraordinarily painful process of giving money away, that’s when the learning happens. They’re asking, ‘Who are we to control money? What kind of human being do I want to be?’” said an emotional Riccio. “That more than anything is what inspires me to do this work … You (students) teach me, and you inspire me every day.”
Uta Poiger, dean of the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, said NS4G is a perfect example of the experiential liberal arts by integrating rigorous analysis, ethical reasoning, and responsible engagement in the community.
“I have NS4G implicitly and explicitly in my mind when I talk about the model of evaluation. It’s not an easy task to have the privilege of giving out money,” Poiger said. “It’s great to see the growth that happens for students in that process.”
Amy Kingman, executive director of The Learning By Giving Foundation, thanked students for their commitment and hard work. “Our world needs a lot of people who are just like yourselves, waking up restless and figuring out what work needs to be done,” Kingman said.
Mangione and Hannah Flath, also a 2018 human services graduate, recognized two “inspiring women” who they said have worked tirelessly to make NS4G a reality: Riccio and Natalia Stone, program coordinator for the Human Services Program.
“It has been under Natalia’s guidance and with her support that students have been able to administer Northeastern Students4Giving’s work over the past decade,” Flath said. “Natalia is the quintessential cool office mom – her fun personality, careful coordination, and compassion has made such an impact on a successful 10 years of learning to give.”
Mangione added: “Rebecca has been a mentor to all of us at the Social Impact Lab and an inspiration to countless other students. We are forever NS4Gers. With your guidance, we have begun to understand the complexity of ethical reasoning, systems thinking, and morally just giving.”
To learn more about NS4G, visit the Social Impact Lab website.