UK students examine non-profit funding, innovation in Madison area

A trio of students from the University of York in the United Kingdom spent three weeks in Madison this summer, examining how funding for local non-profit agencies supports innovation. Their stay culminated with a presentation of their findings and observations with representatives of several agencies.

Their study marked the debut of a fellowships program between the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the University of York focused on research in social work and social policy.

Facilitated here by UW–Madison’s International Internship Program (IIP), the program also is offering opportunities for American students to conduct research in the UK. The summer program is designed for students of all academic disciplines who are generally interested in the concepts underlying social enterprise, charities and non-profit, non-governmental organizations.

The three students – Zoe Christo, Zoe Cassandra and Rebecca Hodgson – worked directly with three agencies – the South Madison Promise Zone (Urban League of Greater Madison), Sustain Dane, and Community Shares of Wisconsin.

IIP York Interns 095Christo welcomed “the incredible opportunity to research an area that I have great interest in, liaison with incredibly influential people in Madison, build solid professional networks, write and edit a final report that was acknowledged and will be used for future reference to support the non-profit organizations and people we worked very closely with. Most significantly it was an opportunity that gave us great responsibility and freedom to use our initiative to showcase all our skills and abilities.”

The agencies found the experience to be valuable.

“Community Shares of Wisconsin appreciated the chance to collaborate with other area organizations on this project,” says Crystel Anders, executive director.  “Since we provide flexible funding to—and support innovation through—our 62 member nonprofits, we were especially interested in how funding innovative models can address social issues.  We also appreciated the energy, insights, and ‘fresh eyes’ of the students from the University of York.”

“The South Madison Promise Zone’s goal is to partner with the community, nonprofits, and funders to create a comprehensive delivery system of services to have a collective impact by removing challenges for all to achieve,” says Peng Her, executive director. “Getting a chance to work with the students from the University of York and hosting organizations gave us to have a better understand how funders and nonprofits view innovation. We appreciate the excellent data the students provided.”

“As the region’s only organization working on broad spectrum sustainability, this compelling research project has given Sustain Dane new perspective on funders’ concerns when investing in non-traditional, innovative approaches to solving longstanding social, environmental, and economic challenges,” says Jessie Lerner, Sustain Dane interim executive director.

The students found their stay in Madison rewarding, as well.

“All the people we had met were so hospitable, welcoming, friendly and really helpful in offering us a truly memorable experience,” says Christo. “We were invited and showcased around the city; it was an honor and privilege to be regarded by so many trusted and respected professionals. There are also many students and young people in Madison who are equally friendly; we experienced a true American summer with a short road trip to Chicago on our days off.”

She also cited Concerts on the Square, Farmers Market, Art Fair on the Square and the Memorial Union Terrace.

“What I gained most from the experience was an insight into the culture of non-profits. I also met lots of amazing people who I hope to stay in touch with in the future,” says Hodgson. “My most memorable experience in Madison was the Fourth of July celebrations! I enjoyed the community spirit, the music and the fireworks. The Farmers Market was another definite highlight.”

Christo adds: “The internship experience is invaluable and I would highly recommend any student to apply, not only students with an interest in the non-profit sector but beyond, including math, science, business, sociology and psychology. It’s an opportunity to apply your knowledge … you can bring all your ideas to the table, lead the project and really put your perspective in practice.”

To learn more about the program and to read the students’ report, go to The Madison Projects website.

For more information: UW–Madison students interested in participating in this program and local organizations interested in hosting interns may contact Maj Fischer, director of International Internships Program, at (608) 261-1359,

By Kerry G. Hill

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