What is the Fourth Purpose?

Defining the Fourth Purpose of a University

In addition to research, education, and public service, Columbia University identified a Fourth Purpose: to leverage scholarly knowledge to create societal and global impact, in close partnership with organizations outside academia. 

Fourth Purpose work is highly collaborative and interdisciplinary. Projects often engage government agencies, civil society organizations, industry, nonprofits, community groups, among others.

What Constitutes a Fourth Purpose Project?

While work across Columbia University has a positive impact on the world, Fourth Purpose projects:

  • Span scholarly disciplines
  • Include partners outside academia
  • Aim for tangible impact that benefits humanity

Who Advances the Fourth Purpose? 

The Fourth Purpose is a vast constellation of projects happening across Columbia University in units large and small, across the 17 schools, more than 200 centers and institutes, and beyond. 

To foster this vibrant ecosystem, several central offices are collaborating to spearhead efforts, forge connections, and facilitate the work that expands Columbia's impact. Key partners include Columbia Global (which includes Columbia World Projects, Columbia Global Centers, and the Institute for Ideas and Imagination), Columbia Technology Ventures, Columbia Entrepreneurship, and the Office of the Provost, to name a few.  

Fourth Purpose Outcomes

A group of teenagers gathered around a table and talking
Enhanced Community
A box of labeled COVID-19 testing vials
Improved Health Outcomes
Several people gathered around a table with mockup of wireframes covered in post-it notes.
Commercial Products
Women and men in Africa, some in traditional dress, gathered together.
Social Progress
Wind turbine on a hill at sunset
Sustainability Solutions
Young woman pointing at a computer screen, explaining something to black man.
Pathways to a More Diverse Workforce
Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
Changes in Policy
Teenage girl in headdress and father listening to doctor explaining treatment
Changes in Practice

News and Publications

Announcement of University Task Forces

September 19, 2019 - President Lee Bollinger announces creation of task force to explore how Columbia can more effectively address human problems through scholarship with impact.  

Wafaa El-Sadr Appointed Director of Columbia World Projects

January 21, 2022 - President Lee Bollinger appoints Wafaa El-Sadr to lead the initiative designed to bring Columbia's academic resources to bear on the great challenges facing humanity.

Samuel Sia Appointed Vice Provost for the Fourth Purpose and Strategic Impact

February 1, 2022 -Provost Mary Boyce appoints new Vice Provost charged with supporting Columbia efforts to bring knowledge to directed action for public good. 

Fourth Purpose Task Force Report: On Directed Action

December 15, 2020 -The Fourth Purpose Task Force submitted a report to President Bollinger recommending how Columbia can leverage knowledge to benefit humanity.