National Lutheran News

College presidents challenged to commit to alleviate poverty

Twenty-eight leaders in higher education have formed The Presidents’ Pledge Against Global Poverty, a new initiative to help end extreme poverty and focus attention on the positive impact of personal philanthropy.

The 28 charter members of the Pledge have signed a public commitment to contribute five percent or more of their personal income each year to organizations that fight the causes or effects of extreme poverty. At least half of the presidents’ contributions fund international projects; up to half may be designated for anti-poverty efforts in the U.S. The project aims to enlist presidents, chancellors, past presidents, and presidents emeriti in an effort to help reach the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and further engage the next generation of global citizens in poverty solutions.

“We are at a point in human history when ending extreme poverty is an almost achievable goal,” said Pledge participant George Rupp, president emeritus of Columbia and Rice Universities and CEO and president of The International Rescue Committee, a relief and development organization that implements humanitarian assistance programs in more than 40 countries.

“We are at a point in human history when ending extreme poverty is an almost achievable goal.”

“Higher education is at the forefront of finding solutions that mitigate severe poverty. It also shares responsibility for preparing a new generation of globally engaged citizens,” Rupp added. “Ending poverty is certainly not simple. But personal philanthropy does have impact. The Presidents’ Pledge aims to generate momentum and add a new voice to this crucial cause.”

Minneapolis Area Synod Lutheran Bishop Ann M. Svennungsen, past president of Texas Lutheran University, initiated conversations with Rupp and other higher education leaders about creating The Presidents’ Pledge Against Global Poverty.

“We are just getting started. University presidents hold a distinctive platform as moral leaders. Acting together, their commitment can help galvanize the collective will needed to address complex issues like extreme poverty. We look forward to growing momentum,” said Svennungsen.

She continued, “As ethicist Peter Singer says, ‘if we can alleviate the suffering of another without causing undue suffering for ourselves, we should surely do that.’” Svennungsen added, “If everyone earning over $100,000 would give five percent to fight extreme poverty, we would meet the millenium goals.”

The Presidents’ Pledge Against Global Poverty is aligned with Bolder Giving, a 501(c)(3) organization. It received support from a private donor and a special grant from The Henry Luce Foundation to develop the project. The charitable contributions of participating presidents are made individually and directly to organizations of their choosing that work to alleviate poverty.

“We invite colleagues to join us in this crucial work; together, we can raise the visibility of the effort to ameliorate poverty around the world, and emphasize the urgency of doing so. Together, our gifts make a difference,” said Nannerl O. Keohane, president emerita of Duke University and Wellesley College. Keohane, a Pledge participant, is Distinguished Visiting Professor of Public Affairs at Princeton University.

“College presidents could give a shot in the arm to this movement,” Svennungsen argued. “They have a platform that is unprecedented, with donors, an alumni/alumnae base, and future philanthropists on campus. Since the median income for college presidents is around $440,000, they could demonstrate real leadership in the public square.

“Sometimes Christian college presidents raise troubling concerns about scripture, about not being public with our contributions,” Svennungsen said. “How quickly they forget about the rich young ruler who was instructed to give away his wealth, or Zacchaeus, who promised to give half of his wealth away as a prophetic commitment.”

Svennungsen believes the hardest part may simply be getting started. She encourages her colleagues to find a good recipient and simply give.

For more information about The Presidents’ Pledge Against Global Poverty, visit www.presidentspledge.org.

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