In 2019, Augsburg University established Interfaith at Augsburg: An Institute to Promote Interreligious Leadership. This program illustrates the many ways in which our commitment to interfaith learning and leadership can shape our work on campus and in the wider community, and this work requires a strategic leader and distinguished scholar to provide direction. Today we are pleased to announce that a significant gift has been made to make this leadership position possible: the El-Hibri Endowed Chair and Executive Director for the Interfaith Institute.
Fuad and Nancy El-Hibri first learned of Augsburg while researching higher education options for their son Karim, who was in recovery from substance issues. The family was looking for a university that could provide both a college education and a supportive program.
“Nancy and I diligently explored universities for our son which offered programs like StepUP. We were surprised that we could only find a handful of schools that had anything close to what Augsburg offers. StepUP clearly stood out with its reputation, scale, and program scope,” says Fuad.
Once Karim graduated from the StepUP program, Fuad and Nancy continued to stay engaged with the university. Initially, their support was focused on StepUP, including a significant gift towards the Oren Gateway Center where the program is housed. Fuad was among the sincere supporters who encouraged the university to create a StepUP Program Endowment, a fund that has since raised nearly $10 million to support the program’s unique offerings and outstanding staff.
“We are grateful for the StepUP program and the opportunities it provides to students in recovery. Karim is now the President of East West Resources Corporation, a business development and private equity firm. We are proud of his leadership skills and successful management of the business,” says Fuad.
As they learned more about other programs at Augsburg, the El-Hibris were impressed with how the university cares about its incredibly diverse student body. They were inspired by Augsburg’s philosophy which is embodied by the newly built Hagfors Center for Science, Business, and Religion, integrating three crucial pillars of study.
“Our family values higher education tremendously. Over the years, I have had the pleasure of engaging with several academic institutions, including American University and Yale School of Management,” says Fuad.
Augsburg holds a special place in their hearts though, and they have admiration for its leadership, including its tenth president, Paul Pribbenow.
“Paul is an extremely impressive and effective president. He is community-minded, strategic, and a true visionary.”
The El-Hibris aim is to support the university’s overall strategic direction, not just individual projects. They encouraged President Pribbenow to form the President’s Council, a small group of professionals and industry experts who serve as advisors to Paul and provide insights on strategic and operational matters. Fuad and Nancy currently serve as co-chairs of the council and have enjoyed getting to know the members and connecting more deeply with Augsburg’s programs and possibilities.
Now, Fuad and Nancy are generously establishing the El-Hibri Endowed Chair and Executive Directorship for the Interfaith Institute. President Pribbenow plans to launch a comprehensive search for a candidate who will serve as a national ambassador of the interfaith movement and partner with campus leaders as a change agent for interreligious learning and living. This position will lead the Interfaith Institute while simultaneously participating as a member of the faculty.
Fuad and Nancy’s gift will help to fulfill one of the goals of Augsburg150, the strategic plan, to advance the public purposes of an Augsburg education by enhancing interfaith leadership on campus and nationally.
“We live in a world that is religiously diverse, and allowing religions to thrive is a step in the right direction. But it is not enough. Interfaith dialogue, learning from one another, and engaging together in meaningful work is what it’s truly all about. The timing now is critical and we hope this is just the beginning,” says Fuad.
This sort of strategic philanthropy will help to fulfill Augsburg’s vision: As a new kind of urban, student-centered university, we are educating Auggies as stewards of an inclusive democracy, engaged in their communities and uniquely equipped to navigate the complex issues of our time.
“We have a unique opportunity to build an interfaith learning community that will be a model for all of higher education. The combination of Augsburg’s interreligious student body, with Fuad and Nancy’s support and counsel, will create the sort of academic and community leadership the world needs today,” says President Pribbenow.
The El-Hibris believe interfaith competency increases social capital and creates a thriving society. They see this gift as a catalyst for interfaith dialogue on campus and hope more people will become involved in supporting Augsburg’s Interfaith Institute, both as advisers and with financial contributions.
“The Interfaith Institute at Augsburg is not just about one individual or two or three, but a whole critical mass. The tools gained will not only solve immediate problems, but empower a whole generation of young people to respect one another’s differences, find commonality, and connect with one another for the greater good,” says Fuad.
Fuad and Nancy are delighted with what this gift will mean for the Interfaith Institute at Augsburg. They have given special praise to President Pribbenow, Matt Entenza, and Sarah Erkkinen for offering an opportunity to create what they believe will be a significant impact on society.
“This gift could have a real ripple effect,” says Matt Entenza, Chair of Augsburg’s Board of Regents. “The El-Hibris have a remarkable vision for Augsburg to lead the way by valuing faith within a pluralistic world and actively working together to create a better society. I know this is just the beginning, and look forward to growing this effort collaboratively.”