$10M Launches Center
Beeck family donation encourages social innovation across GU
Published: Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 15:02
The Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation will launch today with a symposium, following a $10 million gift from Alberto and Olga Maria Beeck (SFS ’81).
The center will operate under the purview of the Office of the Provost. Sonal Shah, a former economics professor, will serve as its founding executive director, and social entrepreneur and former White House Fellow Mark Hanis will serve as director .
“The mission of the center is at the core of the mission of the university, which is to educate men and women for others,” Alberto Beeck told The Hoya. “The mission of the center is to expand the knowledge of the exciting changes and opportunities that are taking place in the social sector, to expand the knowledge base of students and faculty … and to connect the global actors in the social sector with the university community.”
The Beeck Center is unique in its university-wide approach, which will bring students, professors and community members together to creatively solve social justice issues. Similar centers at Stanford University and Duke University are housed in business schools, according to The Washington Post.
“This is unlike other initiatives because it is for undergraduate students and graduate students, it’s cross-disciplinary and it touches on the entire university, rather than just the business school or the School of Foreign Service,” said Alberto Beeck, who is director of Virgin Hotels and the former president of a Peru-based cement company, Cementos Pacasmayo.
According to Shah, who previously directed the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, the Beecks are the ideal donors for such a center because of their background in social justice.
“[The Beecks] had been doing a lot of stuff on social enterprise and social impact in the work that they do, and they really thought that it was important for training a generation of students on how to be prepared to be a part of this changing world,” Shah said.
The Beecks’ family connections to the university run deep. Besides Olga Maria Beeck’s status as an alumna, the couple has two children — Leticia (COL ’17) and Matias (COL ’15) — currently enrolled. Alberto Beeck said he and his wife made the donation because of reasons beyond these ties, however.
“[We created the center] because it is Georgetown and what Georgetown stands for in terms of values, in terms of its strength in global reach and in terms of its location in Washington,” Beeck said.
This spring, the center will focus on developing student leadership through issues such as impact investment, which focuses on social responsibility. Shah, who sits on the G8 working group for impact investment, which focuses on how the U.S. government can increase investment in social good, hopes to convene with students about these issues as well as bring policymakers to Georgetown.
“Everybody talks about social impact, but nobody knows how to measure social impact,” Shah said. “There’s a debate taking place, both in Washington and other places, about how governments and others measure social impact.”
While the center’s development team has begun to map out additional initiatives, its leadership wants student input to have a direct effect on the center’s programming.
“We’ll make mistakes. We’ll fail. Our hope is to do it quickly and learn from it, and I think that’s part of what innovation is about,” Mark Hanis, who will serve as director, said. “That seems to be nontraditional … but what we’re really saying is that we have to practice what we preach.”
The Beeck Center team is working on developing university-wide classes that will teach the practical skills needed for social innovation. Additionally, a lab space in Intercultural Center 100 will be available to students who want to develop their ideas.
“If you’re starting a nonprofit or starting an enterprise and you want to come sit and have a place to come do it, you’ll have a place and we’ll bring professors and others to provide mentorship in the process,” Shah said.
Additionally, the team is considering creating a mechanism to provide financial resources for startups. GU Impacts, also funded by the Beecks, allows students to work on entrepreneurship projects in developing countries throughout the summer and will now operate as a part of the Beeck Center. GU Impacts is in its third year and is sending students to six countries in South America and Africa this summer.
The Beeck Center will also sponsor a speaker series focusing on social innovation across public, private and nonprofit sectors. Speakers have yet to be confirmed, but organizers have received suggestions of such leaders as Pete Cashmore, who runs the tech blog Mashable, TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie and Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code.