Spotlight on Philanthropy
Falilu “O.P.” Agbaje and Alishia Parkhill each received $2,500 grants to support their social ventures.
Falilu “O.P.” Agbaje and Alishia Parkhill each received $2,500 grants to support their social ventures.

New Student Social Venture Fund Pilot Prepares the Changemakers of Tomorrow

Thanks to the generous support of a small group of visionary donors, two students in the University of Maryland Graduate School’s Master of Science in Health and Social Innovation Program have been selected to receive $2,500 seed stage grants that serve as a pilot project designed to support their innovative student social impact ventures. These grants represent the first phase of a greater investment in early-stage social entrepreneurship by individual and institutional donors in Baltimore and beyond.

Mei Xu, MA, who founded the companies Yes She May, Blissliving Home, and Chesapeake Bay Candle, and serves as a University of Maryland, Baltimore Foundation (UMBF) trustee, has provided financial support dedicated to establishing the Yes She May Award, which funds women entrepreneurs. Thanks to Xu’s generosity, Alishia Parkhill, MS ’21, was selected as the inaugural Yes She May Award recipient for her social venture, Upholdu. Upholdu provides patient advocacy, health coaching, and end-of-life doula services to support, equip, and empower women and femmes diagnosed with serious chronic illnesses in order to improve their quality of life and produce the best possible health outcomes.

“As someone who has faced a serious illness and who works in serious illness policy, I can say that the critical piece of the puzzle that is missing is nonmedical, community-based support of all kinds,” Parkhill says. “Coupled with the disparities in health care that women face, it can be quite difficult to know how to advocate for yourself. I am so proud to receive funding from a donor who centers on women.”

Additional support provided by Luke T. Cooper Jr., JD, MBA, Baltimore entrepreneur and UMBF trustee; the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation; and Donald Manekin, founding member of Seawall Development Company, will enhance UMB’s Student Social Venture Fund Pilot capacity. All four donors share UMB’s commitment to stewarding the next generation of leaders in the social impact space and a pledge to fostering sustainable solutions to complex social problems.

The second 2021 implementation grantee is Falilu “O.P.” Agbaje, a second-year student in the MS in Health and Social Innovation Program. Agbaje is the founder of Aolat Treatment Place, a psychiatric rehabilitation program and outpatient mental health center in Baltimore that serves individuals age 6 or older who have been diagnosed with mental health disorders.

“I applaud the donors for their generous support,” Agbaje says. “We are now one step closer to achieving our goal toward making Baltimore City a more accepting and supportive front in the battle against mental health issues.”

The UMB Student Social Venture Fund Pilot is the first step in a five- to seven-year plan to foster social entrepreneurship that aims to set a national standard for structured funding support to promising social ventures through an incubator model. Through degree-level coursework, tailored coaching, and individualized mentoring, students in the program gain critical skills in business development, market and customer discovery, and community engagement as part of a unique, long-term investment in innovative projects working for social change.

“By promoting social entrepreneurship, we have the opportunity to not just improve Baltimore, but also to improve society and the human condition at large,” says Jim Kucher, DPA, MBA, program director, MS in Health and Social Innovation. “The Student Social Venture Fund situates UMB as setting a national standard in educating social innovators and has the potential to make a difference in the lives of citizens of Baltimore, citizens of Maryland, and citizens of the world.”

UMB’s multiyear approach to funding social ventures seeks to counteract the trend toward shorter-term social enterprise development programs, which often fail to address chronic issues and complex, systemic challenges that stand in the way of lasting social change.

UMB sees a substantial opportunity to build a pipeline to support sustainable social purpose ventures, designed to meet the social enterprise at each stage of its development, from grant to equity, as the enterprise evolves. Your support of this effort will go a long way toward helping to build these student ventures.

To donate to UMB’s Student Social Venture Fund Pilot, please click here. For more information or to discuss specific ways of giving to the fund, contact the Graduate School’s chief development officer, Kyle Locke, MS, by phone at 410-706-0182 or by email at

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Brandon Desiderio

Brandon Desiderio is a writer and editor in the Office of Philanthropy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.