Written By Ryan Steinbach
In my last post I discussed whether social finance should be included in the classroom. I asked this question to Professor Sue White, undergraduate finance professor at University of Maryland Smith School of Business. She explained that there is already one social finance course offered at the graduate level. But why just one? Student demand. If and when demand increases, so too will the social finance course offerings.
I would argue that there is more to it than that. The way a school markets and positions its courses affects the interests of its students. Perhaps if the university took a more proactive step in developing social impact courses, it would attract more student interest, especially at the graduate level. In fact, a growing number of universities across the country are doing just that by expanding offerings in social impact. For the Universities that haven’t, perhaps the pressures of budget cuts and a tough job market are limiting their ability to take the first step off the beaten path. In this case, I think students will be the ones to drive forward the adoption of social finance in college curriculums.
Building a new college program may seem overwhelming, but a lot is already being done. Students all over the country are taking the initiative to pursue their passion for social finance on campus. Here are just a few examples:
Responsible Endowment Initiatives: while students generally have little net worth to their name, many have realized their unique position to leverage a vast sum of capital – college endowments. Through collaborative committees representing students, faculty, and community members, college endowments are being screened for unethical investments. In some cases, portions of the endowment have been allocated solely to socially responsible or community efforts.
An inspiring example of this is Georgetown University’s SIPS fund. Over the last 2 years the Georgetown University Student’s Association (GUSA) has worked to repurpose Georgetown’s student activities endowment into the Social Innovation and Public Service (SIPS) Fund. GUSA envisioned using the money to support innovative student ideas that would do good in the community and around the world by providing them with grants and/or loans. After a pilot project over the last school year, $1.25 million from the endowment was allocated to the SIPS fund and formal operations began July 25th 2012. For those of you interested in learning more about responsible endowment initiatives and how to start your own, check out the Responsible Endowments Coalition.
Microfinance and SRI Clubs: students at schools all over the country are also taking a more direct approach and starting clubs around microfinance and socially responsible investing. These pioneers see a need and aren’t willing to wait for a full time job to do something about it. Cornell’s Microfinance club is one such example. They raise money through donations and events to provide small loans through partner organizations. They also strive to educate the Cornell community by holding events on campus.
Another example is the socially responsible investment club (SRIC) at University of Pittsburgh. The SRIC was created in 2007 to teach students about investing and prove the SRI model. Students wrote an investment policy and standards, and then selected 30 companies from the S&P 500 for their portfolio. After years of outperforming S&P 500 by 0.5 points to 1.5 points each quarter, they aren’t just be proving the viability of investing in an SRI portfolio anymore; they’re actually doing it. The university has allocated $100,000 for the club to actually invest in their portfolio this fall. Want to learn more about microfinance and SRI clubs across the country and how to start your own? Check out MFI connect.
You can also engage right here at Smith by participating in the Stanford University weekly Simulcast Series, brought to you by the Smith MBA Net Impact chapter and the Emerging Markets Club. Next week’s simulcast is the last of the series for the semester, but don’t worry – this is an annual engagement and will begin again next fall, thanks to the ongoing support of the Center for Social Value Creation.
What I hope you take away from these examples is that college students are having a tangible, positive impact through social finance, and their respective universities are noticing. Through a combination of proof-of-concept and proof-of-demand, students are leading their universities to develop and sponsor more social finance events and initiatives. This is the first step to bringing social finance into our classrooms, but we need students at more universities to get involved. Does a responsible endowment committee screen your schools endowment portfolio? Is there a microfinance or SRI student club? If not, I hope the examples above inspire you to take matters into your own hands.
Ryan is in his last year of undergrad business school at the University of Maryland-College Park, majoring in Marketing and Management. He is also the online manager of UnSectored and a social media intern at the Newberry Group. Formally, Ryan worked as a New Media intern for Calvert Foundation. When not immersed in social media, Ryan explores and writes about social innovation and his millennial generation. If he were to ever pursue a career (wait, what’s that?), it’d be in writing, brand management, and/or digital marketing. Twitter handle: @R_Steinbach