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Passion play: Matching innovation with philanthropy


February 23, 2012

The German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel once postulated that nothing great in this world was ever accomplished without passion. James Culver, not a philosopher but a Paradise Valley resident, has taken Hegel to heart, transforming his passion into philanthropic service to Arizona State University’s annual Innovation Challenge. In fact, Culver has set an example for others, increasing his support over the past two years while serving as both an event judge and a valued investor.

His interest was sparked near the end of a successful 20-year career with Allied Waste Industries, from which he retired in 2009 as senior vice president of operations finance. During his time with Allied he had the chance to interact with ASU’s School of Sustainability. Later came a visit to ASU’s Polytechnic campus and a meeting with a pair of professors in the College of Technology and Innovation – Milton Sommerfeld and Qiang Hu. There, Culver saw firsthand the development of meaningful solutions to what he calls “some of the planet’s most pressing issues.” The hook was set.

“ASU’s passion to be a catalyst for change was contagious for me,” says Culver, an MBA graduate of ASU’s highly acclaimed W. P. Carey School of Business. “By connecting with these professors and seeing the work being done, I was able to channel my own passion by playing a role in the Innovation Challenge.”

A signature part of ASU’s Global Entrepreneurship Week, the Innovation Challenge provides a hands-on opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students from across the university to make a difference in local and global communities through innovation while also vying for as much as $10,000 for the top idea.

“The opportunity to experience the amazing efforts of ASU’s students, who are seeking to create sustainable change and impacting peoples’ lives, has been humbling,” says Culver, who today is an investor in small businesses in Phoenix and San Diego. “Developing, analyzing, implementing and measuring are important aspects of any problem-solving or learning process. But to see this process used to effect global change is truly inspiring.”

Culver, whose experience with the Innovation Challenge has motivated him to pursue a degree in the School of Sustainability doctorate program, says he believes inspiration should lead to action.

“Each of us bears a responsibility for our impact on others, as well as our impact on the planet,” he says. “Social entrepreneurship, exemplified in the Innovation Challenge proposals, is a dynamic way to facilitate and hopefully expedite solutions and provide results. We all need to find a way to support these types of academic activities and opportunities.”

So, says Culver, climb on board and get involved.

“The ASU Challenges Before Us initiative is a brilliant articulation of the challenges the world faces,” Culver continues. “It enables each of us as individuals, the private and public sectors and academia to focus on areas of expertise and passion and to enable the development of meaningful, systematic and sustainable change.

“I’m very much aligned with ASU and the Challenges, and I very much want to play a role in an institution that has this type of vision and resolve.”

Steve DesGeorges, steve.desgeorge@asu.edu
Senior Director of Editorial Services, ASU Foundation