WASHINGTON — Georgetown University has received a $10 million gift for a new center aimed at fostering innovation among students who want to build skills and organizations to solve society’s problems.
Georgetown alumna Olga Maria Beeck and her husband, investor Alberto Beeck of Key Biscayne, Fla., made the gift and helped develop the program over the past three years, university officials told The Associated Press on Monday.
The Beecks are the parents of two current Georgetown students. The donation will create the new Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation as a hub for research and real-world experience in the U.S. and abroad, across a variety of sectors and issues.
While other schools, including Stanford and Duke, have created centers for social entrepreneurship, Georgetown officials said their program will be different because it’s not housed within the business school. It could involve students studying public policy, foreign service, law and other disciplines, as well as business.
Alberto Beeck, director of Virgin Hotels and former president of a Peruvian cement company, said the family’s passion is education and connecting the social sector while also promoting solutions-based government policies.
“I guess it’s in our DNA that we need to do something for society,” he told The AP. “That plus the fast and the exciting changes that are taking place in the social sector. … The exponential growth in technology has empowered and connected individuals in ways that we have never seen before.”
Provost Robert Groves said the school wants to teach research skills by having students actively doing things and also meet the growing demand to support entrepreneurship driven by a passion to solve problems. Social innovation also aligns with the school’s Jesuit values for service, he said.
“We have tons of students, many of whom I’ve talked to, who said ‘I want to learn how to build an organization. Teach me everything I need to know,'” Groves said. “This center is going to quench some of that thirst.”
The idea also taps into larger trends and changes in philanthropy. Social innovation is all about finding new solutions to old problems with a drive to deliver results, said Jean Case, a philanthropist and former technology executive at AOL who is now an executive-in-residence at Georgetown.
The millennial generation has sparked changes, she said, in examining social problems and fostering innovation across sectors, rather than only going into social work, business or government as career paths.
“When the millennials look at the world, they see daunting challenges that have dogged us for a long time,” she said. “This generation says, ‘wow, these are big problems, what’s the best way to find new solutions?’ And they don’t think in the old-style ways.”
The new Center for Social Impact and Innovation will be led by Sonal Shah, a professor and economist who previously served as director of President Barack Obama’s Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation in the White House. Previously, she worked at Goldman Sachs, Google and the U.S. Treasury.
The program already supports students who want to study abroad and work on social issues in Latin America or Africa. One student worked in a rural cooperative in Rwanda that was based on growing chickens for their meat and eggs but designed a way to monetize the chicken waste as a new line of business.
It also aims to convene faculty, students and lawmakers to find ways public policy can have a greater effect.
“It’s really about ideas in the social sector that could merge with what’s happening in the nonprofit, for profit and government sectors to really solve social problems at scale,” Shah said.
The $10 million gift will be fully expendable over five years, and Georgetown will work to make the program sustainable into the future.