SALT LAKE CITY — A generous financial donation to the University of Utah by a prominent local philanthropist aims to help students work to make a tangible impact on critical issues facing populations worldwide.
The David Eccles School of Business at the U. announced Tuesday the creation of the James Lee Sorenson Center for Global Impact Investing, established through a $13 million personal gift from the renowned U. alumnus. The new center will engage students at the U. and partner institutions in creating sustainable change on regional and global levels through high-impact social investment, innovative curriculum and research.
Impact investments are made into companies, organizations and funds with the express intention of generating measurable social and environmental impacts in addition to a financial return.
The Sorenson Center will serve as a growth platform for the University Impact Fund — a joint venture launched in 2010 by the David Eccles School of Business, the Melvin J. Ballard Center for Economic Self-Reliance at BYU, Sorenson and fellow global impact investor Geoff Woolley. The Center will accelerate the work of the University Impact Fund, which cultivates impact investment expertise in students through real-world experience while providing consulting and advisory services in the social entrepreneurship and impact investment sector.
Additionally, the Sorenson Center will continue to focus on servicing the growth of the rapidly expanding impact investing space through research and thought leadership activities.
“Students these days come to school not only looking to be business majors or to make money, but they are actually looking for meaning in their life,” said Taylor Randall, dean of the Eccles School of Business. “(Impact investing) gives student the ability to be business people, but also create a huge difference in the world.”
Lewis Hower will serve as managing director for the new center. He had previously held the same position with the University Impact Fund. To reflect the changes, the current James Lee Sorenson Leadership Pavilion will be renamed the James Lee Sorenson Center for Global Impact Investing.
"The (center) will provide unparalleled experiences for our students and faculty to participate directly in solving some of the world's thorniest and most persistent societal problems," said U. President David Pershing. "The center will be a global leader in the creation of new knowledge of how to solve widespread structural problems, while training a generation of transformative leaders in social impact investment."
According to Sorenson, the issues the center will address will run the social gamut from poverty to health care to the environment, education, housing, sustainable and green energy, along with agriculture as well as entrepreneurial livelihood training and development. The Sorenson center will also focus on research that fosters greater understanding of how free enterprise can be employed to create large-scale societal change, curriculum development — including a proposed minor in impact investing to teach and train students, and applied market research that will disseminate the knowledge developed at the center to a global audience.
Randall said the center would provide an array of fellowship opportunities in social impact throughout the world for both undergraduate and graduate students.
The center will sponsor two endowed faculty chairs — a business chair that will be held by an academic scholar with international prominence in social entrepreneurship research and scholarship, along with an applied research chair focused on direct application of innovative research in fieldwork.
Pershing explained that Sorenson will play an active role in setting the direction for the center and mentoring its student participants.
Sorenson has built companies in industries ranging from technology and life sciences to real estate and private equity investment.
He also helped to develop several new industry categories, including digital compression software that helped usher in the online video revolution at Sorenson Media, and video relay services that transformed opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing individuals through Sorenson Communications.Comment on this story
"It is an honor to participate in this venture, which has the potential to effect genuine societal change and improve the quality of life for countless individuals throughout the world," said Sorenson. "On a personal level, this center is an opportunity to apply on a greater scale the lessons I learned about high-impact societal change."
“Impact investing is all about … “blended values” — not only financial returns, but also social returns,” Sorenson said.