By Aubrey Abbott
Special to KyFoward
Pakistan is 9,000 miles from Northern Kentucky University and a world apart in other ways. Its literacy rate is 44 percent lower than in the United States, its urban slums abundant, and its terrorism and unrest familiar headlines.
But a spring semester class designed to teach international philanthropy closed the distance between the needs there and NKU students.
The class awarded $1,000 to The Citizens Foundation, USA, a nonprofit started by Pakistani businessmen and operating over 800 schools in to serve underprivileged children in the SouthAsian republic. The grant was gratefully received by TCF.
“It will make a huge difference in the lives of the children…. These funds will be allocated towards the girls’ scholarship program,” said Uneza Akhtar, TCF’s general manager.
Female enrollment in TCF schools is almost 50 percent, which is nearly 10 percent higher than the national literacy averages amongst women in Pakistan. Many female graduates from TCF schools are the first women to be educated in their families.
The grant to TCF was one of two awarded by Organizational Leadership Capstone (LRR 480) taught by Professor Rick Brockmeier. Helen Keller International, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing blindness and eliminating malnutrition worldwide, also received a $1,000 grant.
Philanthropy classes at NKU begin with students identifying a need as their focus. They locate nonprofits addressing that need and invite them to apply for a grant of $1,000 to $2,000. Finally, students evaluate those applicants and award the funds, which are provided by a combination of donations from the community, federal grants and student fund-raising. Dr. Brockmeier’s class was funded by a Learn and Serve higher education grant funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service to the Kentucky Campus Compact. The compact supports service learning and other public engagement at Kentucky colleges and universities.
Dr. Brockmeier’s class was one of 15 student philanthropy classes at NKU during the 2011-2012 academic year. Classes awarded a total of $27,609 to 22 nonprofits, most of them in Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati. LRR 480, however, focused on international nonprofits – thus aligning with the portion of NKU’s mission that calls on the university to educate students to be “informed, contributing members of their communities – regionally, nationally and internationally.”
“As stewards of the Mayerson Student Philanthropy Project, our goal is to find new ways to implement student philanthropy, while exposing as many students as possible… to the needs of their community, both locally and globally,” said Danielle McDonald, faculty coordinator of the Mayerson Student Philanthropy Project.
NKU students learned of TCF in a story by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who wrote that the group “builds terrific schools for needy children. We’re seeing American-Pakistani relations spiral downward, and billions of dollars in American military aid to Pakistan haven’t accomplished much. The best way I can see to moderate Pakistan and defeat extremists is to bolster secular education.”
The column that listed TCF was published in December 2011 and advised readers looking to make a holiday gift to international nonprofits on some possible choices. Mr. Kristof also listed the Helen Keller nonprofit, writing, “One of the best ways to improve children’s health is to focus on micronutrients, like iodine, vitamin A and zinc — and in some cases to fortify foods with nutrients at a negligible cost. Helen Keller International… is a leader in that effort, and gets more bang for the buck than almost any group I can think of.”
Students in LDR 480 selected four organizations from Kristof’s list. Next, groups within the class formed to research and represent the organizations, eventually making presentations in support of each. The top two organizations were determined by a tallying of the students’ votes with group members prohibited from voting for their own groups.
While the Times column was a starting point, personal connections that resonated with classmates emerged during the class. One who spent time in Pakistan illustrated the necessity of TCF with pictures from his time there. The experiences of another classmate’s blind sibling provided weight and relevance to the information presented in support of Helen Keller International.
“The presentations by these two groups allowed students to identify with the needs and gave a face to each of the organizations,” Dr. Brockmeier said.
Technology played a major part in the students’ ability to select organizations from across the globe. Dr. Brockmeier’s students conducted their research online, using the Internet to make calculations and decisions regarding the organizations. Online service learning allowed the PACE, or adult-learner, class to think globally when selecting grant recipients.
The Mayerson Student Philanthropy project, which began in 1999, works to teach students about nonprofits and philanthropy through hands-on learning. While most of the giving has been to nonprofits in the Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati region with only six other internationally operating organizations selected thus far, this is the third year that at least one NKU class has specifically targeted international aid agencies. In addition, another class this semester, International Human Rights and the Law (LRD 394) taught by Dr. Whitney McIntyre-Miller added an international component by traveling to Europe, visiting human rights advocacy institutions there. Back home, they awarded $2,000 to a local nonprofit, Women Helping Women, which provides support services for female victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking.
“We know student philanthropy deepens what’s taught in the course, and we also know it raises student awareness of community needs and how those needs can be met,” said Mark Neikirk, executive director of NKU’s Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement, where the student philanthropy program is housed. “By adding the international component, we can add another element of learning, broadening our students’ understanding of the world.”
Aubrey Abbott of Union, Ky., is a senior at Northern Kentucky University. She is a Scripps Howard Foundation public relations intern, working this summer in NKU’s Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement. She expects to graduate in May 2013 with a bachelor of arts in electronic media and broadcasting.