Georgetown University has the opportunity to do something unprecedented by the end of this semester – to create a fund for the purpose of supporting students who have ideas for social ventures or non-profits, using student money. Some $3.4 million dollars sit unused in a now-defunct student activities endowment at the university, and now it is up to students to decide how to use it.
One proposal, the SIPS Fund (Social Innovation and Public Service), suggests investing $1.25 million in student ideas and initiatives.
The increasing drive of college students to make an impact on the world, especially through social entrepreneurship, is not unique to this Jesuit university where students are urged to be men and women for others. There are similar initiatives across the country. Yet, students have found that their innovative ideas and passions have not been matched by adequate funding through grants or fellowships at their universities. In this economic environment, it is difficult for many schools to fund the growing number of research trips and missions proposed by their students. In Georgetown’s case, students could solve their own problem, by voting to use money that they have already paid into an endowment to help students with a drive to make real changes both domestically and abroad.
The dearth of financial support hasn’t prevented all students from carrying out their ideas, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t faced roadblocks. In 2009, a student named Tyler created The Grassroot Project at Georgetown against all odds. Though today the program is incredibly successful in matching student athletes with middle schoolers for HIV/ AIDS education, Tyler is still dealing with some of the debt he accumulated as a result of his dream. A number of other fantastic initiatives have already come out of Georgetown students; we are convinced that Hoyas have the brainpower and work ethic to come up with the next Tom’s Shoes or Invisible Children. Yet one such student, Nastasia, has done everything in her power to raise just $3,500 to go to the Horn of Africa to film the famine and make a awareness raising documentary and cannot find funding anywhere at Georgetown. Other students are dissuaded from working in public service or social ventures because of these roadblocks. The SIPS Fund would provide the financial support necessary to encourage students to pursue their dreams about serving others without fear of failure.
Why couldn’t a similar initiative exist on every college campus? Schools should dedicate a portion of the students activity fee to support public service, student led non-profits, and social entrepreneurship. Students will use their intelligence and initiative to make an impact on their communities and on the world as long as there are resources available to aid them in the process. Philanthropy need not wait until we have had another successful career – young people can and should invest in their peers’ ventures. To repeat an often used quote, Gandhi said to be the change we want to see in the world; he never said you had to be a “grown up” to do so.
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