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Couple Funds Program to Support Social Innovation Ventures
Akshata Murty and Rishi Sunak, both MBA '06, met at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and recently made a generous gift to support the Center for Social Innovation, an area of personal passion for both of them. Their investment will help fund the center's Social Innovation Fellowship (SIF) program, which provides financial and advisory support through a competitive application process to graduating students and recent alumni who have a clear, innovative, and well-developed vision for addressing a particular social or environmental challenge and a commitment to building a successful nonprofit organization to deliver their proposed innovation.
"I come from a family of entrepreneurs—my mother on the social side through the foundation world and my father on the corporate side. I was raised with a view that entrepreneurship can change people's lives," says Murty, the founder of her own clothing design company. "Entrepreneurship is important, but now social entrepreneurship is the best of both worlds—it has large-scale impact by funding new ideas, and social impact at that. To me that is very interesting, meaningful, and at the end of day has the biggest bang for the buck."
"Social entrepreneurship is a relatively new and evolving field, so it's exciting to be at the beginning of something," adds Sunak, a founding partner of the private investment firm Thélème Partners and a board member of the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Monica as well as a volunteer with the Los Angeles Fund for Public Education.
The couple is especially interested to follow the work of the latest Social Innovation Fellow, Zachary Levine, MBA/MA '10, whose venture ElevatED is focused on recruiting highly talented undergraduates in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields into the teaching profession. ElevatED is in the startup phase, conducting preliminary research, focusing on a few select schools for a pilot, and recruiting top industry experts to its board of trustees.
"One benefit of staying in touch with Stanford is that we're still eager to meet and learn from people who are doing exciting, new things that have impact," Sunak says, explaining that he and Murty are considering launching a STEM-focused education initiative in London.
Murty and Sunak have not only invested financially in the school, but also volunteered their time and recently opened their home for a reception for newly admitted MBA students. Their show of support for Stanford GSB demonstrates their understanding that programs like SIF fill a gap. There is very little startup funding elsewhere for graduating students and young alumni who have a promising idea for positive social impact but often cannot afford to initially self-sustain their social ventures.
The SIF program allows these budding social entrepreneurs to get started, and provides an entrée to the next level of funding for their organizations. For example, Equal Opportunity Schools, founded by Social Innovation Fellow Reid Saaris, MBA/MA '10, last year was awarded a $500,000 Gates Foundation grant.
In addition to supporting educational ventures, the SIF program has awarded fellowships to fledgling organizations that address social and environmental issues such as energy, health care, sustainable agriculture, and poverty. The program also has helped to raise awareness of social entrepreneurship more broadly across Stanford GSB.
Murty and Sunak hope their contribution enables the Center for Social Innovation to enhance the stature of the SIF program. They would like to see it become a prestigious program on par with the White House Fellows program for future leaders in public administration. In addition, they hope the Social Innovation Fellows will advise and help one another.
"Now that the program is growing in scale, hopefully relationships between the various grantees will build and they can start to learn from each other and share their experiences," says Murty, who serves on the boards of Claremont McKenna College and the Exploratorium in San Francisco.