New Rules, New Opportunities
Corporate philanthropy is not new. From volunteer outreach programs to youth soccer team sponsorships, businesses have long felt the need to give back and have often done so through charitable donations that support important causes and nonprofit groups. However, this type of sign-and-send-the-check system led many companies to spread the wealth to a myriad of unrelated and unfocused programs. As a result, companies received little visibility, made little direct impact, and missed the opportunity to really leverage their resources.
Today, public education faces the mounting challenges of standardized testing, strained budgets, teacher retention, and global workforce competition. At the same time, corporate America has added pressure to prove itself to consumers, investors, and government regulators. These demands have given way to new opportunities for businesses to support education in a win-win situation that benefits everyone.
Businesses have begun to take a more targeted approach in their corporate social responsibility programs and are seeking to impact areas that have a correlation with their own business goals. For many businesses, education is an important part of their plans, since the needs exist in all geographic areas, across all subject areas, and for all kinds of people. The bottom line is that educational outreach efforts have the potential to make a real and lasting difference for all players involved.
The Win-Win Model
Companies get involved in education for a number of strategic reasons, including building a positive reputation and goodwill among consumers, employees, investors, and other stakeholders; developing brand recognition, whether to increase consumer loyalty, boost sales, or establish the company as an industry leader; building a more educated workforce; raising consumer awareness about a particular issue; and fulfilling a company mission or mandate.
Students, schools, and the general public can benefit from the experience and expertise that corporations bring to the table, particularly if the groups work together to ensure the right needs are being met on both ends. Companies looking to contribute to public school education, for instance, must consider the many demands that schools and educators face daily – time constraints, tight budgets, technology access, standardized testing, and explicit curriculum standards – as well as the unique places where outside help is needed. As long as they address the right needs, businesses have the ability to make a tremendous impact. By providing highly engaging resources, by building in strong connections with instructional needs, and by effectively marketing the resources, more and more companies are simultaneously meeting educational goals and their own business goals.
Parents are enthusiastic about the industry involvement, too, so long as it’s positive and productive. A Michigan survey conducted in April 2007 by The Detroit News, The Skillman Foundation, and Your Child showed that 77% of parents think businesses should play a role in education, particularly by providing additional resources to the existing curriculum. Many businesses are doing just that.
A Closer Look
General Electric has a five-year, $100-million "College Bound" program to boost the number of high school students who go to college in certain school districts. The program encompasses math and science curricula, professional development, management capacity, and the involvement and expertise of GE officials. One school superintendent said the initiative combines “high academic standards, best educational practices, collaborative relationships, and the expertise of a longstanding partner and global technology leader.”
In 2004, Citigroup announced the formation of its Office of Financial Education, along with a 10-year, $200-million commitment to financial education. Since then, the company has developed curriculum programs for aspiring entrepreneurs, college students with questions about credit, and pre-schoolers who are just starting to learn about money, among others. Thousands of Citigroup employees volunteer their time to teach these programs, which have reached people in more than 60 countries.
Beyond curricula, some businesses get involved in the education world to train a new generation of employees. Last year, President Bush introduced the American Competitiveness Initiative to strengthen education, increase investment in research and development, and encourage entrepreneurship, with the goal of helping the U.S. maintain its global leadership role in science and technology. Professional development, particularly popular in biomedical sciences and engineering, allows companies to reach out and flex their strengths and expertise, while ultimately strengthening a potential pool of employees.
Biotechnology giant Genentech’s CEO, Dr. Arthur Levinson, recently said, “We're hiring as many good people as we can out there, but there's not an infinite number of terrific people.” To address the shortage, the company sponsors biotechnology workforce initiatives, offers financial assistance and internships to diverse students, and supports health science education efforts from K-12 through the graduate level. This type of comprehensive, focused, relevant involvement is key to the new direction of corporate social responsibility. A new era of corporate involvement and investment in education is here, with promise and opportunity framing the way forward. Given the sizable resources available to private companies, a transformation in corporate social responsibility in education could very well transform public education itself.
“Changing the Game: Leading corporations switch from defense to offense in solving global problems”
Mark Kramer & John Kania
Stanford Social Innovation Review, spring 2006
Stanford Social Innovation Review, summer 2005
Michigan parents survey
GE’s “College Bound” program
American Competitiveness Initiative
Domestic Policy Council, Office of Science and Technology Policy February 2006
Biotech hiring shortage: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/
Genentech Web site