Service to others is one of the ideals upon which Georgetown was founded. Students now have an incredible opportunity to put this principle into practice in an unprecedented way.
The Georgetown University Student Association recently established a commission to recommend how to allocate the $3.4 million left over from the now-defunct Student Activity Fee Endowment. While there are limitless ways GUSA could spend the endowment money to meet many needs on campus, we believe a portion of these resources should be used for activities to improve our community beyond the gates.
We believe the best way to do so is not through traditional philanthropic contributions, but instead by investing in our own potential as citizens, leaders, entrepreneurs and volunteers. To this end, we propose the establishment of a Georgetown University Social Innovation and Public Service fund. SIPS would be a new, independent fund that would make strategic investments in Georgetown students and ideas that further the community’s Jesuit ideal of service to others.
The SIPS fund would use an initial $1.5 million contribution from SAFE, less than half of its current value, to raise additional funds from other sources. The goal would be to reach $3 million in the fund’s first five years. A board comprised of students, faculty and alumni would make semiannual allocations consistent with the SIPS fund mission and produce an annual report describing the impact of its investments.
The SIPS fund could support social innovation and public service at Georgetown in numerous ways. For example, it could provide seed money to student-led social enterprises, both businesses and nonprofits, through direct support and by adding to existing programs. The Hoya Challenge, spearheaded by Jimmy Tran (MSB ’11), recently attracted over 30 teams of Georgetown students to its business pitch competition and awarded $10,000 in startup funding to the winner. With additional resources, the Hoya Challenge would be able to support more of these student social entrepreneurs.
The SIPS Fund could potentially match or double the Segal AmeriCorps Education Awards given to students who participate in various national service programs. This will help attract students to Georgetown who embody a strong ethic of community service, as well as support student volunteers already here. Over 90 other colleges and universities already do this.
The fund could also offer need-based loan repayment assistance to students whose student loan debt might otherwise prevent or discourage them from working in lower paying non-profit or public service jobs. Tufts University was the first institution to begin a similar university-wide program two years ago “to encourage a spirit of public service in [their] students.”
Lastly, the SIPS fund would be able to make general allocations to support students and student groups that are making a difference here on the Hilltop.
Overall, the SIPS fund would empower students, as Gandhi once said, “to be the change you want to see in the world,” and not in five or 10 years, but rather right now. In doing so, the SIPS fund would honor the founding spirit of SAFE by being forward looking and ensuring that any student on campus has the ability to benefit from its resources. The SIPS fund would also share in Georgetown’s own “commitment to justice and the common good” and encourage students to be “active participants in civic life.”
There couldn’t be a better time than now for starting the SIPS fund. Our national and global communities face challenges greater than in decades past, and young people have demonstrated a commitment to step up in record numbers to help meet them. We’ve seen this at Georgetown in student entrepreneurs who form their own social businesses through Compass Partners, volunteers who spend their spring breaks serving abroad through the Center for Social Justice and graduates who go on to work for nonprofits or join service programs like Teach for America.
There is something extraordinarily powerful about a student body that uses its collective resources to support the most innovative students and ideas that can make a tangible and lasting impact on our world. It’s a model that, when successful here at Georgetown, can be adopted by other colleges and universities across the country. We should think big and not let this opportunity pass us by.
Clara Gustafson is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service and Nick Troiano is a junior in the College. They are both currently GUSA senators.
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