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Posts from the President Vol 20
2015-06-17
 
“Social impact investing” is a term that I have encountered in my work as president of Providence. It refers to investments that make a positive difference in society and offer a financial return to the investor. A friend recently introduced me to MEDA, the Mennonite Economic Development Associates and its magazine The Marketplace. MEDA and The Marketplace provide lots of good examples of social impact investing. On the ground, a good example is micro-financing for startup businesses in poverty-stricken areas. I think social impact investing is a great concept and practice.
 
Another term I run across is “social impact philanthropy.” Most philanthropy makes some sort of social impact. But the term is generally used for philanthropy geared toward helping people become more self-sufficient. The old saying goes, “Give a person a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a person to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Social impact philanthropy teaches people to fish, or sew, or weld or fix cars.
 
I wonder if there is another term that describes a tertiary type of philanthropy. If giving a person a fish is primary, and teaching a person to fish is secondary, what do we call the tertiary level when we help a person open a fishing school, so that we feed not just a person for a lifetime, but a whole village for generations? This sort of philanthropy sees the need for cultural change that comes through understanding history, science, psychology, ethics, management, etc.
 
As a university president I see the need for all three types of philanthropic activity. People face disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis and the ravages of war. They need immediate help. Others need to learn the rudiments of self-sufficiency in the modern world. If society is to improve, we also need to invest in the future through higher levels of education and training. All three types of philanthropic investments are important.
 
Let me add one more type of investment. As the president of a Christian university, I also see the need for “spiritual impact philanthropy.” I believe that at the roots of making the world a better place is the radical spiritual change that takes place in a person and a society that comes to know and worship their Creator. It has been shown again and again for 2,000 years that the gospel of Jesus Christ impacts individuals and villages and whole cultures.
 
In sum, it is important that we see the value of all kinds of philanthropic investments: primary, secondary, tertiary and spiritual.
 
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