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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

C-Suite Advisory

Take Your CSR Program Back To School

School kids

By now we all know that corporate social responsibility (CSR) is not only good for local communities and the world, it’s also good for the bottom line. Any business worth its 21st-century salt has embraced this fact and is running with it. But are you running in the right direction? If you’re still obsessing over Millennials, then the answer is probably “no.”

There is no generation larger, more diverse, or more determined to create social change than Generation Z. Born between 1996 and 2010, this current school-aged generation is primed to effect big change. From organizing protests to volunteering, the members of Gen Z are already actively involved in supporting causes they care about.

Young adults have made it clear they also expect companies to support causes important to them. They are more likely to spend with brands that build customer loyalty through causes and are more likely to want to work for companies with employee engagement programs that reward social action. With workforce pipelines to fill and Gen Z’s estimated spending power of $143 billion, companies that listen to Generation Z will be the companies that thrive.

One of the most direct channels to reach Gen Zers is where they spend the majority of their day: in school. And who rules the school? That’s right: teachers. From student values and career passions to social issues and workforce readiness, teachers are shaping and influencing Gen Z’s future in today’s classrooms.

According to recent research, the members of Generation Z rated educators as having the most influence over their future career path (even more than parents and close friends) and significant influence over their civic engagement. From developing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills to inspiring action through recycling programs so students can inherit a cleaner planet, teachers are trusted influencers for Gen Z.

There are three primary keys to success when implementing your CSR program in schools: Align your efforts to teacher priorities, appeal to student interests, and deliver change with real-world impact.

The Allstate Foundation cracked this simple code. It recently pledged $45 million over five years to social and emotional learning (SEL) through the “Good Starts Young” program. The foundation provided educators with the tools teachers were asking for to support their students’ skills of self-awareness, self-management, emotion regulation, and social awareness to help prepare the next generation with the skills necessary to thrive in an unpredictable world.

How to Reach Out to Gen Z

If it’s time to scale your CSR impact by engaging this influential generation, here are three timely tactics to get teachers on board, engage students, and create real-world change.

  1. Introduce kids to science and technology at an earlier age.
    Lighting the STEM spark at an earlier age for skills that will be in high demand for the foreseeable future is one way you can support CSR initiatives, teachers, and their students, while contributing to your workforce pipeline.
    By middle school, students have often decided whether they are “good” at math and science. Make a long-term investment in kids — and our economic future — by supporting STEM skills in early education. Consider creating age-appropriate materials that can introduce students to STEM, set aside time for your employees to visit with students virtually, or support younger students’ teachers by providing them with STEM-related professional development.
  1. Help young people grow into well-rounded, highly employable adults.
    More and more school districts are investing in SEL programs because research shows that developing skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving at a young age contributes to academic and career success later in life. According to a Columbia University study, for every dollar invested in SEL skills, there’s an average return of $11. Clearly, it’s a worthy investment.
    As a corporate leader, you aim to hire talented and enthusiastic workers with diverse ideas, but you also want them to have solid people skills and be emotionally intelligent. Soft skills — the ability to interact well with others — are essential to succeed in business today. A 2019 LinkedIn study revealed that 57% of business leaders believe soft skills are more important than the hard skills required to perform job tasks.
    Some experts even believe that not investing in SEL could cause U.S. businesses to suffer. It makes sense to ensure our kids are more than just book smart. After all, the technical capabilities workers need to thrive may be totally different 10 years from now — they are certainly different today than they were 10 years ago. But success will always demand social and emotional intelligence.
  1. Support issues Gen Z cares about.
    Generation Z is more conscious of social justice issues than any previous generation. Twenty-six percent of Gen Z members volunteer, and the majority want to positively impact the world. The environment is one of the top four issues they care about. Even though many Gen Zers aren’t yet 18 years old, they’ve organized protests, movements, and activist groups focused on climate change, such as Zero Hour and Youth for Climate.
    Many corporations already have CSR initiatives connected to the environment, supporting causes like clean water, recycling, conservation, and combatting climate change. Partnering with schools and teachers can help companies reach a larger audience and educate students and their parents on these issues.
    The United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals are a good place for corporations to start. These goals include ending poverty, teaching children around the world how to read, and finding innovative new ways to reuse and recycle. Each goal can be supported through innovative K-12 classroom curriculums. Think about how your business can provide teachers with supplemental learning materials that coincide with environmental campaigns (e.g., Sept. 15 is International Coastal Cleanup Day) or other events related to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

September is just around the corner. Now’s the time to take the power of CSR back to school by collaborating with teachers and schools to educate a new generation of activists and future employees.


Written by Linda Ingersoll.

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Linda Ingersoll
Linda Ingersoll leads MDR’s Strategic Engagement team, creating partnerships with corporations and nonprofits to develop programs that activate educators and inspire students. Linda is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.
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