The Global Learning Village – a public-private partnership for community education in Australia

[:en]The first plenary session of the Asian Forum on CSR (AFCSR) presented an example of cooperation among corporations, government and community organizations to improve education and employability in a once neglected suburb of Melbourne, Australia.

Frank McGuire, the member of Parliament for the area called Broadmeadows, said this cooperation, dubbed the “Global Learning Village” has made a major impact by creating using communications technology to provide widely available online learning programs.

McGuire said the core philosophy was “each child must be globally connected.”

He said the project had to work through typical obstacles of government – the silo mentality, institutional egos, and bureaucratic inertia. He described how corporate buy-in gave credibility to the project along with financial resources and management expertise.

They key to getting corporate buy-in, he said, was creating projects that were a “good value fit” with corporate brands. He cited the examples of the local newspaper financing a community library and ICT companies including Microsoft, Intel and CISCO getting behind the rollout of a high-speed broadband network and an “ideas lab” that will provide the basis for future development of community learning.

The Global Learning village, he said, had helped make Broadmeadows a more prosperous community and a key driver of economic growth in Victoria.

In response to a question, McGuire said he was developing a handbook to developing such projects elsewhere that he called “Global Learning Village in a Box.” Those interested could contact him at [email protected] for details.

This was followed by a presentation by Edita A. de Leon, senior vice president for Nestle (Philippines), who described what she called “creating shared value.” She presented this as a new twist to CSR introduced by Harvard professor Michael Porter.

In fact, however, shared value has always been a key element of effective corporate social responsibility program. Without benefit to both society and the company any program claiming to be CSR would be short-lived and ineffective. K.I.Asia has taught this “strategic CSR” for nearly a decade in its CSR training program for corporate executives.

Ms. De Leon correctly noted that effective CSR programs that are strategically aligned with corporate business interests are likely to be continued even through market downturns and financial crises. “They cannot be cut because they are integral to the sustainability of the company.”

She cited three ways to increase shared value:

  • Developing new products, markets or value propositions that provide social benefits along with a financial return to the company.
  • Dealing with social or environmental issues that cause problems in the company value chain, such as workers ill-prepared for high-tech employment, inadequate water supplies or unhappy employees
  • Creating “community cluster” in which suppliers, service providers, government agencies, community organizations, educational institutions and corporations work together to “drive competitiveness.

She said Nestle programs were examples of creating shared value and described efforts to improve farm productivity and extend the Nestle supply chain to reach small community stores at the so-called “bottom of the pyramid” by hiring motorcycle deliverymen.

Ms. De Leon said the closer the program was to the company’s core activities the more likely it was to get significant funding and corporate attention.

In conclusion, she said that a crucial element of such shared value CSR programs was to be able to measure their impact on both society and the company.

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