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The power of local philanthropy

Lisa Wong, Mayor of Fitchburg, MA, spoke at the 2014 Social Impact Conference.

Rebecca Riccio, director of the Social Impact Lab at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity, was recently asked to jus­tify the prac­tice of local phil­an­thropy in the United States when a dollar can go so much fur­ther in other countries.

In response, Riccio acknowl­edged the math behind that state­ment but empha­sized that local phil­an­thropy is much more than just a trans­ac­tional equa­tion. “I see local phil­an­thropy as a deeply held value, a trust, that is not just about money, but about engaging in and taking respon­si­bil­i­ties for our com­mu­ni­ties,” Riccio said.

Riccio shared this thought with the 230 people in the Curry Stu­dent Center Ball­room who attended Northeastern’s third annual Social Impact Con­fer­ence on Monday. Atten­dees included non­profit leaders, pol­i­cy­makers and gov­ern­ment offi­cials, social entre­pre­neurs, researchers, stu­dents, and fac­ulty. This year’s con­fer­ence, “Know Your Place: Unleashing the Power of Local Phil­an­thropy,” was pre­sented by the Social Impact Lab in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Asso­ci­ated Grant Makers and the Alliance for Non­profit Man­age­ment. It was spon­sored by the Arthur K. Watson Char­i­table Trust.

The con­fer­ence focused on cel­e­brating how local phil­an­thropy helps cities and towns achieve their aspi­ra­tions, and it explored inno­v­a­tive approaches to grant making, problem solving, and collaboration.

This year marked the first time the con­fer­ence was pre­sented under the aus­pices of the Social Impact Lab, which is housed in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities. Launched ear­lier this year, the lab serves as a learning and inno­va­tion hub and empowers aspiring social change agents to think, work, and col­lab­o­rate across disciplines.

“Today as we cel­e­brate local phil­an­thropy, I think we must also accept the respon­si­bility to con­tin­u­ally learn how to do it better,” Riccio said in opening remarks. “We can start by rethinking what we mean by local.”

Lisa Wong, mayor of Fitch­burg, deliv­ered the conference’s keynote address, in which she high­lighted how local phil­an­thropy has ben­e­fited the Mass­a­chu­setts city of about 40,000 residents.

“I think the chal­lenge all of us here have is how do we get people to have that con­cen­trated focus on these issues so we can work together to get some­thing done,” Wong said.

One example Wong gave of local philanthropy’s ben­e­fits in her city was Animal Care and Edu­ca­tion, a volunteer-​​run pro­gram that started in 2011 to edu­cate chil­dren about domestic and sexual vio­lence. The pro­gram brings ani­mals into class­rooms as part of an effort to teach stu­dents about good and bad behavior when taking care of pets.

“We are teaching every kid what is right and what is wrong,” Wong explained, “and almost imme­di­ately, the number of kids who reported domestic and sexual vio­lence increased dra­mat­i­cally. That means we inter­vened, and we were able to save a number of kids.”

In addi­tion, Wong said there have been so many vol­un­teer signups and dona­tions for Animal Care and Edu­ca­tion that the city was able to open an animal shelter that now helps meet the needs of other animal shel­ters in the cen­tral Mass­a­chu­setts area.

– By Joe O’Connell

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