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To Davos, CGI, and Beyond – Seeking a New Role for Business in Education

A few weeks ago at snowy Davos, we saw the outline of an idea whose time has come. Soon after at Clinton Global Initiative, the outline sharpened a little further. Conversation by conversation, company by company, we’re seeing a new conception of how big business can improve education worldwide.

This new role for business in education rests on shared value, and holds that companies can improve their profitability and competitiveness by addressing education’s needs. This role is not just conceptual, but a new approach that’s already benefiting businesses and educators alike. We saw this at Davos at a roundtable hosted by FSG, where Pearson’s CEO John Fallon shared how his company is now evaluating every investment above $3 million based on learning efficacy. Adi Godrej, Chairman of the Godrej Group, discussed why training 1 million Indian youth in employable skills by 2020 is integral to meeting Godrej’s ambitious plans for growth.

Fifteen other executives from business, philanthropy, and nonprofits joined the conversation, and likewise shared examples of companies that are taking a far greater responsibility for results along the school-to-work continuum. There was electricity in the room, and a sense of opportunity. From selling products and services that deliver proven gains in learning, to building bridges between school and work, deeper engagement with education can clearly be excellent business. At the same time, civil society leaders showed a remarkable openness to partnership – driven by the potential to harness the unique capacities of business for solving education challenges.

A few weeks later, at a session convened by Clinton Global Initiative, another group of cross-sector leaders came together to discuss business’ changing role in education. Just like at Davos, multiple companies declared education to be critical to their competitive advantage. We also saw emerging consensus on what needs to change for business and its partners. These ideas ranged from tangible steps – like better measurement of social and financial returns – to cultural dynamics like helping companies and nonprofits understand one another’s motives and better speak the same language.

But most importantly, at CGI and at Davos, we felt a readiness for action. The private sector’s involvement in education is growing. Companies like Pearson, Godrej, Intel, IBM, Discovery, HMH, SAP, Cisco, CVS, Western Union, Verizon, Lego and more have already seized on shared value thinking. We see tremendous opportunity in this momentum, but also an urgent need for more companies to align profit with purpose, for better partnerships across sectors, and for smarter incentives to bring out the best abilities of business. Doing so can help realize the full promise of shared value, and contribute in a small way toward better learning and life outcomes for millions of students worldwide.

Download The New Role of Business in Global Education and visit sharedvalue.org to learn how you can be involved in spreading this idea. We welcome your feedback and engagement on this important work, and look forward to the path ahead.

Kate Tallant

Head of Business Partnerships Save the Children

Matt Wilka

Managing Director FSG