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The seeds of social change

A photo of Rebecca Riccio and former student Becky Darling SSH’15, catching up with café manager Jeremy Thompson at Haley House Bakery and Café in Boston. Haley House, one of the first nonprofits to receive a grant from Riccio’s class in 2009, provides on-the-job training to community members.

One family's gift lifts philanthropy education to a global stage.

As the owners of one of Saudi Arabia’s largest global conglomerates, the Juffali family knows the power wealth has to transform society. Since 1946, when the late Ahmed Juffali built the country’s first electrical plant, E.A. Juffali & Brothers has brought industry and prosperity to millions of people.

Like his father, Khaled Juffali is as strategic a philanthropist as he is a business leader. For 30 years, the family’s foundation—which he now leads—has championed education, aided the impoverished, and revolutionized education for intellectually disabled children. And through the Shefa Fund (in Arabic, shefa means “well-being”), which he founded with his wife, Olfat, Saudi Arabia’s elite pool their resources to fight poverty and infectious diseases in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

And yet, Khaled says, the work can be frustrating.

“There is a saying in Islam: ‘Give with the right, but don’t let the left hand know,’ meaning that in your giving, a practice known as Zakat, you must be discreet, to shield the receiver from stigma and avoid self-promotion,” he explains. “The trouble is that there is no way to know where your money is going, or if your goals are being met.”

A New Alliance
Last spring, the Juffalis struck a new philanthropic alliance—this time, with Northeastern—to teach a new generation to give strategically. In March, the couple made a transformative gift to Northeastern’s Social Impact Lab, which helps students turn their idealism into action.

While visiting their daughter, Haya, an undergraduate at Northeastern, the Juffalis heard about the lab’s director, Rebecca Riccio, and her pioneering, uniquely experiential brand of philanthropy education, in which students make real-dollar grants to local nonprofits, drawing from a pool of donated funds. Since the launch in 2009 of the lab’s flagship initiative, Northeastern Students4Giving, students have awarded more than $100,000.

Captivated by Riccio’s conviction, the Juffalis endowed the Khaled and Olfat Juffali Directorship of the Social Impact Lab and Global Philanthropy Initiative. They also provided funds to launch partnerships with institutions worldwide to teach others, especially young people, about how strategic giving can maximize philanthropy’s impact.

In February, the family invited Riccio to their home city, Jeddah, to speak at Dar Al-Hekma University, a university for women, where Olfat is a trustee. To a packed auditorium, Riccio described how her students are addressing youth violence, mental health issues, and other challenges.

“Impact and sustainability are important to them,” Riccio says. “But values also matter.”

Young people “with hearts on fire” must also have “humility, respect, and empathy for the communities they hope to benefit,” she says. “Otherwise, their grant making can quickly become an exercise of power and privilege.”

Strength in Numbers
The love of humankind runs in the blood of the Juffali clan. Even before Khaled’s father helped found King Abdulaziz University in the 1960s and laid the cornerstone for the Help Center, a school he built for intellectually disabled children in the early 1990s, this family lived the values that Northeastern teaches.

In 2012, Khaled and Olfat launched the Shefa Fund to draw on their country’s untapped philanthropic potential. However, Khaled says, while philanthropy is intrinsic to Islamic culture, it is not always as effective as it could be. Because giving is a private matter, “we lack the power of collective action.”

One solution, he says, is to pool resources for targeted, measurable goals. “When we are delivering vaccines in Yemen and Egypt, we bring donors and friends to show what the money is doing,” Khaled says. “To see results is motivating. Our work is gathering momentum.”

Discerning supporters hold nonprofits accountable, Riccio agrees. “Donors want to know their giving is having an impact.”

But like the Juffalis, Riccio counsels patience, because change can take time. A complex web of actors may aid or impede progress.

“If your mission is to end hunger,” she says, “you must recognize that the problem is not that the world produces too little food. Poverty, war, weak infrastructure, and climate change conspire to leave communities vulnerable.

“Tomorrow’s agents of social change must navigate these realities,” says Riccio.

Worldwide Reach
Word of Northeastern’s initiatives has spread, thanks to Riccio’s visibility as the creator of the world’s first massive open online course, or MOOC, on philanthropy. The MOOC was created in partnership with the Learning by Giving Foundation, established by Doris Buffett, sister of billionaire investor-philanthropist Warren Buffett. Riccio is now the foundation’s academic adviser.

With the Juffalis’ support, Riccio will join forces with educators internationally. At Swinburne University, in Australia, she is already helping educators create their own experiential philanthropy course, and inquiries are coming in from Great Britain, Sweden, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. In June, as the emcee of the Stockholm Philanthropy Symposium, Riccio galvanized attendees with a talk about Northeastern’s work before introducing keynoter Melinda Gates. Riccio closed the symposium by interviewing renowned primatologist Jane Goodall about philanthropy’s role in sustaining her research.

“As Goodall observed, every one of us gets to choose what difference we make,’” Riccio says. “The Juffalis’ gift empowers students to choose wisely.”

– By Karin Kiewra. This story was originally published in Northeastern Magazine. See more at:

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