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Northeastern online course lets thousands decide how to donate Warren Buffett's family money

Posted by Your Town  July 15, 2013 06:31 PM

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Northeastern University helped launched a massive open online course on philanthropy today, in which thousands of students will decide how to donate a large sum of Warren Buffett’s family money.

Doris Buffett, the sister of Warren Buffett, is giving away more than $100,000 to the massive open online course, or MOOC, through her organization, the Learning by Giving Foundation, according to Rebecca Riccio, the Northeastern professor who will be teaching the course. Riccio said that the MOOC is the result of a partnership between Northeastern and the Learning by Giving Foundation.

In a promotional clip for the course, Warren Buffett and his sister talk about charitable giving.

“He makes [the money] and I give it away,” Doris jokes.

“The trick is for her not to give it away faster than I make it,” Warren says with a laugh, adding “at the end of this program I’ll give a final tip on how to make a billion dollars.”

The class will feature talks with Warren and Doris Buffett, as well as other well-known philanthropists including the founders of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, journalist Soledad O’Brien, baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr., and Boston Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner.

Riccio said that so far, more than 5,000 people from around the world have signed up for the course.

“It’s clear to me there are some [students] who consider themselves donors, or people who are working in nonprofits...,” she said. “If there is anything these students have in common it’s a passionate concern for their communities.”

Riccio said the MOOC is modeled after a course she teaches at Northeastern, in which students decide how to donate money from philanthropists like Doris Buffett. For the past five years, the class has given away a total of $83,000 to local non-profit organizations such as the Hyde Square Task Force, the Haley House, and the Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project.

The MOOC is expected to last about four weeks, Riccio said, and each class will last anywhere from 35 to 55 minutes.

Those interested in taking the course can still enroll this week, Riccio said. She hopes the class will empower donors to give more effectively.

“For me it’s an opportunity to teach people to give with your heart and your head,” she said.

Katherine Landergan can be reached at klandergan@globe.com. For campus news updates, follow her on Twitter @klandergan.

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