Booth alum donates $5 million

By Sindhu Gnanasambandan

A $5 million donation to the University of Chicago Booth School of Business by John Edwardson (M.B.A. ’72) will aid in the development of the new Social Enterprise Initiative (SEI), Booth officials announced in late January.

The Social Enterprise Initiative (SEI), instituted 10 months ago, was created as a resource for Booth affiliates to start businesses or find jobs within the social sector, which subsumes both non-governmental and non-profit sectors.

Citing a “dearth of good, systematic data and rigorous research attention” in the social sector, the SEI website says the Institute will also aid in data collection and research projects.

Natika Nautiyal, co-founder of the Booth Social Impact Club, is optimistic about the Institute’s potential to connect interested students to alumni working in the social sector.

“We do have a good network of alumni in the social impact space; however the connection with those alumni is not as strong as in other industries. As a professional from the social sector, I hope that SEI will help us leverage these connections,” she said.

Prior to the creation of SEI, resources and opportunities for those interested in the social sector were primarily found through student groups, career services, related classes, and various faculty research projects, according to SEI director Christina Hachikian.

“There were things happening but there was no home. What SEI really does is create a home in which there can be collaboration between those opportunities,” Hachikian said.

Marianne Bertrand, SEI faculty co-director and economics professor at Booth, also noted the need for a hub.

“The interest of students in the social sector has always been there. Interest of the faculty in the social sector has always been there. SEI helps us formalize those interests and creates crucial form for all those interest to converge,” she said.

Central to SEI’s mission is to increase the efficiency of organizations within the social sector.

“I firmly believe, having worked in this sector, that there are business solutions to social problems and SEI, through this grant, will be able to approach some of these solutions by applying the Booth and University of Chicago’s thinking, principles, and theories,” Nautuyal said.

Edwardson’s donation is considered a “leadership gift,” according to Hachikian. This type of endowment establishes or enhances a new institution, the development of which is overseen by the donors.

Edwardson is a retired chairman and chief executive at technology vendor CDW and now serves as the chairman of the Council on Chicago Booth and a member of the University’s Board of Trustees. The annual Social New Venture Challenge will be renamed the John Edwardson ’72 Social New Venture Challenge in his honor.