President’s Message – Start an Evolution

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer.” (Harriet Tubman)

What makes a university great? In forum after forum, we hear the same answer: the university’s endowment. World Bank economist Jamil Salmi has said it; New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas Friedman has said it; virtually all of my counterparts at universities across North America have said it. After all, in public universities government funding covers basic operating costs, but the university’s endowment picks up where that budget leaves off: funding scholarships and fellowships, research chairs, and groundbreaking community-based programs such as UBC’s Learning Exchange.

So I could end my column right here, I suppose… except that I want to answer the question differently. What makes a university great? Having benefitted from study and work experience at Harvard, Cambridge, McGill, and UBC, I am convinced that it is not the endowment itself but rather what stands on either side of it: donors on the one side, and beneficiaries on the other. It is the donors, individual and corporate, generous of spirit, visionary, willing to give of themselves and their resources, who make our university great. It is the beneficiaries – students, staff, faculty, and members of the wider community – eager to learn, courageous in taking risks, and committed to making a
contribution themselves, who bring the gifts full circle, and who make this university great. UBC’s endowment consists not only of the financial capital but also of the social, intellectual, and experiential capital that both donors and beneficiaries bring to UBC and to the communities we serve.

Although the news has probably reached you by now, I’m excited to announce for the first time in Trek magazine that UBC has just launched the most ambitious fundraising and alumni engagement campaign in Canadian history. Our goals are twofold: to raise $1.5 billion and to double active alumni engagement with the university to 50,000 members annually. We are calling the campaign start an evolution, and our intention is simple and clear: to increase UBC’s capacity to change the world for the better.

A counterpart of mine in the United Kingdom was asked recently what makes a university great, and his answer was very simple: “It is the difference we make that makes us great.”

I invite you to start an evolution with us, to become part of that circle of giving and receiving, to change your own capacity to make a difference in the world by joining forces with UBC. We will both be the greater for it.


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