The common good: social change through philanthropy

Philanthropists can help your university flourish in myriad ways. Here’s how Glasgow Caledonian University is delivering on the common good with the help of names like Sir Alex Ferguson and Martin Compston

Social innovation and delivering on the common good has been at the core of Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) for over a decade.

In those years, we’ve focused on social innovation to promote inclusive societies, healthy lives and sustainable environments, and aligned everything we do to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which, as vice-chancellor, I feel are vital in solving complex problems in society.

Life-changing social innovation projects aligned to our Common Good mission include our Grameen Caledonian College of Nursing in Dhaka which has so far trained 500 highly qualified nurses for Bangladesh, and has taught us how to work with rural communities in delivering critical healthcare. Another example is the amazing community laboratory hub that we have developed in one of the poorest parts of the city of Glasgow. It looks at how nursing and social work can come together to improve quality of life and reduce inequalities in these areas. Widening access to higher education lies at the heart of everything we do in our Common Good campaign, delivering real and vital social benefit and social impact.

Back in March 2020 when the UK went into lockdown due to Covid-19, we knew there would be a long-term impact on students and new graduates, and we wanted to come up with a scheme to bridge the inevitable gaps they would experience. Thinking about activities that we’d fostered, nurtured and nourished for many years, MINT (mentoring, internships, networking and talks) was born. While it was designed with the class of 2020 in mind, we quickly realised the scheme was something we could extend.

Senior-level relationships with major philanthropists do not develop overnight. They take a long time to create, and they have to be authentic.

Bringing together our alumni and honorary graduates, the programme builds on the support that the university already offers new graduates. To date, over 1,250 alumni and friends have volunteered to be part of MINT, successfully supporting more than 1,400 graduates from the class of 2020 and final-year students, to pair them with a relevant captain of industry, paid internships and networking opportunities.

Fundamentally, the scheme couldn’t have been kick-started without the philanthropic support of our donors. Sir Alex Ferguson’s generous gift of £200k ignited MINT and the idea that there would be match-funded opportunities to incentivise businesses to recruit new staff. Over 70 graduates have been placed or completed an internship so far and over a quarter have been kept on full-time. The networking and talks from our captains of industry have supported alumni to grow their connections, and they’ve learnt from business leaders directly about the impact of Covid-19 in their sectors, and what it’s likely to look like in future.

Senior-level relationships with major philanthropists do not develop overnight. They take a long time to create, and they have to be authentic. The MINT scheme has shown that our supporters and donors want to be involved. Whether it’s Martin Compston from Line of Duty, or our incredible chancellor Annie Lennox, or Sir Alex Ferguson, it’s the Sunday lunchtime chat on the phone, taking that extra half hour, it’s the early evening phone call to ask “Are you OK?”, “How are things going?” They want to be emotionally engaged, and they always talk to me about GCU’s strong sense of purpose. Philanthropy and the powerful role it plays in supporting social innovation are topics we’ve discussed with Cairney & Company, a global consultancy working in the field of philanthropy.

Whether it’s Martin Compston from Line of Duty, or our incredible chancellor Annie Lennox, or Sir Alex Ferguson, it’s the Sunday lunchtime chat on the phone, taking that extra half hour, it’s the early evening phone call to ask ‘Are you OK?’, ‘How are things going?’

Looking ahead, civic universities must get more adept at demonstrating the value of our education, research and knowledge transfer to wider society and the population. We want to embrace the digital environment and think about how we package our propositions, whether they are educational or research-based. Moving forward, higher education will use a more blended approach, and in-work learning and upskilling will continue to become more popular. Universities genuinely have a critical role to play but they need to be more explicit about how they measure their own impact, including big initiatives like the UN Sustainable Development Goals, gender equality, anti-racism, and promoting social capital and solid values.

The MINT scheme, led by our foundation and alumni team, was recently awarded a Circle of Excellence Grand Gold Award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), a global non-profit association dedicated to educational advancement. I couldn’t be prouder of our team’s achievements and the support it has provided to our students.

In the future, universities may move away from trying to claw up five places in a very popular league table and realise that they need to transform the way they do business to deliver social benefit and impact in different ways in an ever-changing landscape.

I see philanthropy and alumni teams being at the core of that.

Professor Pamela Gillies, CBE, is principal and vice-chancellor of Glasgow Caledonian University.


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