Last week I read an impressive case study from the Union Bank in the United States, an interesting sustainability program that improves financial literacy and employability for high school students while building relationships with the community and gaining a loyal set of customers. I was inspired to share it, as well as a couple of other great education-focused sustainability case studies from AT&T and Microsoft.

Union Bank’s student-run branches in Los Angeles

"Cambodia: Children Seated at Desk" by Global Partnership for Education on Flickr
“Cambodia: Children Seated at Desk” by Global Partnership for Education on Flickr

Last week CSRWire announced the opening of Union Bank’s fourth student-run branch, in the Loara High School in Anaheim. The program started in 2011, and has been expanding slowly since 2014. All branches are opened within schools and, to quote Union Bank Managing Director and Regional President Robbin Narike Preciado, set out to “impart valuable financial management skills and mentoring to today’s youth”. Bank activities are conducted by the students under the management of an experienced branch manager. The banking products (e.g. savings accounts, debit cards, etc.) managed and delivered by the students are fully available to students and staff. This experience is also integrated into the school’s curriculum to provide an academic context to the real world experience. To provide extra incentive for the students, a stipend and college contribution is given at the end of the course.

This is indeed an exciting sustainability program with fantastic social outcomes, but is it shared value? I would argue that yes, it is: the social value is evident and commercially it is smart. Union Bank has entered a new market by opening a new branch. It would have attracted all the school community’s attention, from the selected students to their parents and teachers, as well as the curriculum and program developers. Having such a close engagement with the bank is bound to convert those individuals into loyal customers and brand advocates. Moreover, the graduates of this program become a perfectly groomed talent pipeline.

Microsoft’s less interesting donations program

Compare this to the IT giant Microsoft. Back in September last year, it announced $75 million over three years to improve access to computer science for students in disadvantaged communities all over the world. It would achieve this through cash and in-kind donations to non-profit organisations globally. This recent corporate sustainability program on education, while a large sum of money and wide in scope, is not very interesting.

AT&T, a telecommunications giant, also relies on a philanthropic approach with education. Going off AT&T’s coverage in sustainability media, it appears acutely focused on the issue of education. Its education-focused program is called Aspire, “the company‚Äôs signature philanthropic initiative to promote student success in school and beyond”. In September last year, it pumped $20 million into schools in 26 US states on helping provide new educational content using mobile technology, supporting organisations that help students build skills and start careers in IT/computing, and to facilitate online communities. For a telecommunications company it is not hard to see the alignment to its core business.

"AT&T ATandT" by Mike Mozart on Flickr
“AT&T ATandT” by Mike Mozart on Flickr

AT&T also has mentoring

But AT&T’s Aspire program goes beyond donations. In January this year, an article in 3BLMedia explained how AT&T were more than just philanthropists in education. The company’s Aspire program actually reached its 1 millionth mentoring hour since it started in 2012. More than 160,000 students in 336 cities have been mentored by AT&T employees since it began. Excitingly, the mentoring program partners AT&T employees with students as they go through high school, so staff engagement and professional development play a role as strong business drivers too. Of course, this mentoring is largely facilitated through technology and is performed by its staff members. These all indicate a bit of “shared value thinking” in terms of providing business value in conjunction with the social good.

A few conclusions

Taking a step back from the examples themselves, two themes stood out for me: the United States, and the shared value link. All were US-based, and I actually have not noticed much on the topic from other regions of the world. As evidenced particularly by Union Bank and AT&T, it is quite easy to find a shared value approach to sustainability through education too. Any organisation can contribute towards – any organisation can integrate students into their activities, donate to schools or mentor youth – and all these can help business in terms of staff, customers, community and product development. Hopefully with these little nuggets of inspiration, other organisations can consider incorporating education into its sustainability strategy.

"Marines, kids and books: Oh My!" by Presidio of Monterey on Flickr
“Marines, kids and books: Oh My!” by Presidio of Monterey on Flickr

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