Making Education Work for Business and Business for Education

I’ve been working on education this past month. This post, originally for WISE, explains why.

In the last month, 200,000 Syrian refugee children have had the chance to return to school in Lebanon — some of them for the first time in more than four years. This was a talismanic example of what the public and private sector can achieve when they work together.

We all know that Corporate Social Responsibility is win-win: business does something good for the community, and employees do their day jobs in more motivated ways as a result of having been involved. Fair enough. But we now need to move beyond CSR towards a more enlightened partnership, and nowhere is this clearer than in the field of education. The private sector needs better access to education in order to create the consumers of tomorrow. And it knows that lack of access to education creates an angry, marginalized, radicalized generation.

The private sector’s entrance to this space won’t just disrupt the old humanitarian order: It needs to disrupt the old humanitarian order. Governments and NGOs are the first to admit that they cannot deliver the new Sustainable Development Goals alone. The sweet spot lies in the creation of new alliances, harnessing not just the money that business can donate, but the ingenuity, creativity and networks it can unleash.

So rather than a company like IKEA being asked to contribute to a fund for refugees, it is coming up with ingenious ways to provide affordable shelter. Digital puts this concept on steroids. Facebook’s best contribution is to get refugees online – for every ten people connected, one is lifted out of poverty. Companies like Microsoft and GEMS are finding tech solutions to get schooling where NGOs can’t go – education without borders. If we are able to map where the gaps are in humanitarian delivery, we should now be able to matchmake companies with the actions they can take.

The Global Business Coalition for Education is at the heart of this effort. We are finding new ways to confront old challenges; connecting private sector ideas to humanitarian problems; and amplifying work already underway. The message to governments needs to be: how can the private sector help? The message to campaigners needs to be: where can we help? The message to the private sector must be: please don’t wait to be asked to help.

Just as governments commit 0.7% of their GDP to fight poverty, the private sector, and individual citizens could commit 0.7% of their profits, and more importantly time. Get this right, and we move beyond CSR as Corporate Social Responsibility to CSR as Corporate Social Results.

Supporting education is an investment not a donation. It makes sound business sense. Global education can work for business, creating consumers and talent. But first business must work for global education.

Professor Tom Fletcher CMG is a former UK Ambassador, now Global Strategy Director for the Global Business Coalition for Education. He was Foreign Policy Adviser to three British Prime Ministers. His book on the future of power will be published by Harper Collins in Spring 2016. He blogs at Naked Diplomat, and tweets at @TFletcher.

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