Campus & Community

Reynolds Foundation creates unique fellowship

6 min read

Program to focus on social entrepreneurship

In a bold move to eliminate financial barriers for graduate students who will go on to confront some of society’s most challenging problems, the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation is giving $10 million to create a major fellowship program in social entrepreneurship at Harvard University.

The gift marks an emerging trend in which talented individuals are embarking on ventures that achieve dual goals: making a positive difference in the world, and establishing a profitable business that will enable the impact of their work to become more effective as time passes. Social entrepreneurs create business plans that improve upon traditional operations in the nonprofit sector by devising new and innovative business plans that are not only extremely effective but also financially viable and profitable.

The fellowship program reflects the entrepreneurial vision of Catherine Reynolds, an innovative thinker and self-made business leader who developed a privately funded alternative to government student loan programs. Over the course of a decade, this creative approach to private educational financing revolutionized student lending and spawned a multibillion-dollar industry.

“Social entrepreneurship has the potential to remedy a host of intractable societal problems confronting our nation and the world in the 21st century,” said Foundation Chairman Catherine B. Reynolds. “This program will merge time-tested financial theories and practices with solid scientific research and methodologies, resulting in creative, effective solutions that cross boundaries between commerce and academia to achieve social goals.”

The Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation Fellowship program is a key part of a broad initiative at Harvard to support students poised to become leaders in confronting some of the most difficult challenges of the public sector – particularly in the areas of education, public health, and government.

“We are very grateful to Catherine Reynolds for conceiving of and establishing this innovative initiative to support our students who stand to make a positive impact in the world,” said Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers.

Whether a student aspires to shape young minds as a teacher, find better ways of providing care and combating disease worldwide, or improve public systems in government, the fellowship will equip students with a solid foundation of knowledge that will make them more effective leaders in their fields. The fellowship provides the students with full tuition and a stipend, and the gift also funds the development of a range of University-wide curricular programs to enhance the study of social entrepreneurship.

The fellowship program will help bring a cadre of highly accomplished students to the Harvard School of Public Health, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the John F. Kennedy School of Government. Convened by the Center for Public Leadership at the Kennedy School of Government, the students will also interact with accomplished faculty and esteemed practitioners in multiple disciplines across the University. The Center for Public Leadership provides a forum for students, scholars, and practitioners committed to the idea that effective public leadership is essential to the common good. It is dedicated to excellence in leadership education and research and equally committed to bridging the gap between leadership theory and practice.

As part of their course work, fellows will engage in practice-oriented research and internships, participate in a business plan competition to hone their skills at producing effective and efficient operating strategies, and devise plans for practical solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.

“We see these funds promoting efforts by our students to create entrepreneurial approaches to the development of more efficient health systems, new drugs and vaccines for diseases primarily afflicting developing countries – where classical market forces have been a barrier – and providing education about health and human rights in poor countries,” said Barry Bloom, Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health. “We look forward to collaborating with faculty and students at the Kennedy School and Graduate School of Education to foster such efforts.”

The study of social entrepreneurship – as a form of public leadership, an emerging field of academic study, and an applicable practice – is one of growing interest within various Faculties at Harvard. The gift will help take a multidisciplinary approach to training future leaders, and will facilitate collaboration among existing programs in all corners of the University, including the Kennedy School’s Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations and the Center for Public Leadership, as well as Harvard Business School’s Social Enterprise Initiative.

“Social entrepreneurship combines the energy, insights, and expertise of multiple sectors to create powerful solutions to social problems. This generous gift will enable students from across the University to learn together about innovative strategies for successfully tackling challenges from poverty to the environment, from education to health,” said Kennedy School Dean David Ellwood. “I am certain that the students fortunate enough to participate in this program will make a very real difference, and serve as inspiration for a new generation of socially oriented entrepreneurs.”

The Reynolds Foundation strives to help educate young people, inspire them to believe in their power to make a difference as individuals, and motivate them to reach their greatest potential as citizens and productive members of society. In keeping with that mission, the foundation established the fellowship as a way of equipping the next generation of society’s leaders with entrepreneurial knowledge that will strengthen their lifelong contributions to society.

By relieving students of the financial burden of graduate education, the fellowships will give students the help they need to pursue their noblest ambitions. “Many of our students want to use their intellectual resources to make a difference in K – 12 education, but the prospect of repaying debt can be a deterrent,” said Patricia White, director of financial aid at the Graduate School of Education. “This gift will provide critical support to students who are passionate about education and are facing critical choices in their careers.”

“The Reynolds Foundation Fellowships represent one of the most exciting breakthrough ideas in my time at Harvard. It will provide a major booster rocket for students and for society, and we are enormously grateful to the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation,” said David Gergen, professor of public service and director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Kennedy School.