Compelling business case for school connections
OPINION: Businesses that place emphasis on corporate social responsibility, or CSR, are attracting a growing share of consumer goodwill and spending.
Put simply, CSR is a social or charitable initiative by which a socially conscious organisation engages in a business initiative or series of activities with a view of giving back to the community.
Those initiatives often involve partnering with a charitable organisation, community group or not-for-profit outfit and might involve offering pro bono products or services.
CSR can be as simple as an organisation donating much-needed funds to support the work of a social enterprise.
Other forms of CSR include delivering initiatives in-company to reduce adverse impacts on the broader community (think green initiatives), as well as activities such as volunteering.
The motivation for a business to become a good corporate citizen is driven by the harsh reality that acting in a socially responsible manner is increasingly becoming a pre-requisite for survival. Not only do companies with enviable CSR track records often attract a greater market share when it comes to selling their products and services, they regularly secure the very best staff.
What does any of this have to do with schools?
The answer is simple. More businesses need to join hands with schools to deliver CSR initiatives.
To date, many businesses have shown little interest in supporting schools as CSR partners, often focusing their efforts on charitable organisations.
But the rationale for businesses to select a school – or even a cluster of schools – for a CSR partnership is compelling.
All businesses have an interest in accessing well-rounded individuals with appropriate expertise and potential.
Yet without adequate support and funding, schools may struggle to produce these highly skilled and often-specialised future workers needed to develop new products and services and to enable entry into new markets.
Even more compelling, offering support, products or services to local school through CSR partnerships does not go unnoticed. Those who do notice – school leaders, teachers, support staff and, importantly, the parents of students – will often be quick to return the favour and support those businesses.
Businesses should not neglect the fact that many students, particularly from late primary levels onwards, will recognise the support offered by an organisation and might pay the favour forward a little later in life.
The possibilities for businesses to support schools through CSR initiatives are unlimited and can range from small to medium-scale initiatives and on to large-scale projects.
Take, for example: the building company that offers a school free building maintenance services; the supermarket providing free or cut-price products to help bankroll the school canteen; the community bank that offers up cash to support student tuition fee scholarships; the computer company that provides hardware for a new computing lab; or even the local news agency that provides copying paper, stationery and art supplies.
There is also the chance a business might contribute funds to set up a particular program. For example, an Indonesian company based in Western Australia might provide ongoing funds for a school to establish and deliver an Indonesian language program, or a motor dealer might provide a vehicle for a driver education program.
And for every small to medium-scale initiative, there is a large-scale possibility.
Let’s say a local school has a vision to become a centre of excellence in engineering. A strategic CSR partnership with an engineering company could enable the vision to become a reality if that company was prepared to invest in some of the start-up costs, provide equipment and offer expertise.
The bottom line is that our businesses need to be far more proactive in supporting schools to ensure they deliver tomorrow’s talented employees today.
And while businesses are unlikely to witness short-term gains to their bottom line or productivity report cards as a result of engaging in CSR partnerships with schools, when those benefits do arrive there is a good chance they will regret not having initiated those partnerships earlier.
And here is a thought.
The hesitancy of some businesses to approach schools for CSR partnerships provides a real opportunity for school leaders to take a more proactive approach to taking the lead.
It is often the case that businesses are oblivious to a school’s needs.
So the job of presenting an offer to a business – and one that is too good to refuse – should be a key role on each school leader’s ever-growing and complex job description.
• Professor Gary Martin is chief executive officer at the Australian Institute of Management WA