Can corporate social responsibility help bridge the gap between educational empowerment and economic stability?
By Lavinia Gene Weissman
The redefining “No Child Left Behind” act was passed exactly ten years ago on January 8, 2002. Today, however, there is real question on its value.
The EdWeek.com performance in review puts it succinctly:
"What does it really mean to leave no child behind; and is this a social issue that can be addressed by CSR?"
There is no denying that the future performance of our workforce depends on the quality of education available to our kids. That the U.S. has fallen behind in assuring access and funding for quality education is not news either.
Educational Standards: Are We Up For the Challenge?
Current curriculum and education standards do not assure the best possible education to prepare our kids for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), let alone help them embed this knowledge into careers that provide sustainable value.
In an economy where jobs are scarce, corporations believe that they are at an advantage, perpetuating the idea that there is not enough competent talent. To build the best workforce possible, CSR principles must be embedded in all aspects of the STEM curriculum. And EMC’s Kathrin Winkler isn’t the only one endorsing this.
The Role of STEM in Sustainability...
Ellen Weinreb’s recent research in CSO Back Story revealed that several of the country’s sustainability chiefs have educational backgrounds in STEM, helping them become critical, system thinkers.
Part of the challenge in insuring that a future workforce is prepared for careers in sustainability lies in integrating the foundational values of CSR with a set of values based around work. Consider, for example, the Swedish word for "work"--Narings Liv. Literally translated, it means "work that nourishes you for life"—a value system that should be at the heart of the CSR movement.
By integrating this value into our work culture, companies could examine a new system for defining work—one that could be translated into a functional educational system for children and adults.
It is time to declare an opening to an examination of workforce values and the question of how we prepare young people to sustain themselves both through their work and when they cannot work.
I see this as a creation of a CSR workforce eco-system that I describe as WorkEcology. We know that our current employment systems, workforce development and all that this implies—including benefits and compensation—are broken.
The tradition of education for employment and professional development is no longer a sustainable model. We know that it no longer assures ongoing professional development, wages that assure a sustainable lifestyle, or support of benefits that assure protection for disability, health care and retirement.
In preparing a young person for the realities of this kind of world, what kind of work are we preparing them for? What system of education will meet those needs? And how can corporations that advocate corporate social responsibility serve that preparation?
From Thought Leadership to Practice
As part of my thinking on these questions, I have begun mentoring a gifted 11 year old young woman, who is motivated and passionate about biology and other disciplines in science. Together we have uncovered a range of topics for discussion from bullying and dumbing-down to negativity and claiming personal power.
Thanks to Disney's ABC Studios and my affection for Extreme Makover, we watched episodes about how to heal and counteract bullying, and I began to introduce her to the power of social media at its best as an educational tool.
At a New Year's Eve party, my friend was put to the test. Overhearing her talk about global warming, a man in his late 40s approached her and, in front of the party crowd, informed her that her passion for global warming was useless, and that there was no definitive evidence.
Explaining CSR to an Adolescent
As I listened to this young woman the following day, I realized that all I could do for her is what I do in my career—provide a bit of education to inspire her, and identify networks of educational resources that will inspire her self-esteem and learning.
I pointed her to:
Where can this investment come from?
A 2011 Standard and Poor's analysis featured in the Wall Street Journal reported a total of $1.08 Trillion in corporate cash reserves.
Can corporations redirect a portion of their cash reserves and philanthropic foundation investment to assure no child is left behind and moves into a narings liv approach to work?
What would this imply for human resources, educational institutions and financial approaches to funding and sustaining access to quality STEM education that embeds sustainability and CSR?
Readers: Can social organizations and business effectively target No Child Left Behind by targeting organizational design and academic curriculum?