Nelson Mandela once remarked: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” and I’m inclined to agree. In a world riddled with social ills, one common factor becomes evident, and that is the pivotal role of education in shaping our society.

I’m of the belief that one’s destiny should in no way be predetermined by the socio-economic bracket one is born into. All children — whether they live on the Upper East Side in an apartment complete with staff or in a township in South Africa where access to basic amenities is sorely lacking — should be gifted with the assurance that they will receive an equal education. Sadly, the basic right to education has been overlooked or under-delivered in many developing countries, and the onus has fallen on the private sector to rectify the problem (The ethics of which is a different matter altogether).

Catalysts of social change
Corporations are slowly recognising and accepting their roles as influencers and catalysts of social change. That said, we can’t ignore the fact that we live in a profit-driven, consumerist society, and the art of marrying a commercial venture with an altruistic objective is a task that should be handled with the utmost care. Right now, the question big businesses should be asking themselves is: “What can we do that will facilitate change for the better?” Ultimately, it’s a scenario where companies can increase customer loyalty and profit. Several big corporates are leading the way by example, and have run campaigns that have successfully fulfilled both their brand objectives and added value to lives that needed it the most.

A soft drink powering education
A campaign run by Coca-Cola (the most recognised brand in the world), entailed partnering with the Department of Education and the Philippine Business for Social Progress in the Philippines — an area renowned for its lack of infrastructure and crippling poverty. “The Little Red Schoolhouse” campaign, run by McCann Worldgroup Philippines, saw over 100 schoolhouses being built in an effort to show that education was possible, even in the most under-developed areas. At the end of 2012, over 50,000 children were being educated, and an inspiring 16,663 children had graduated. The impact this has had on these children is profound, with the majority of them being the first member of their family to graduate. Once nothing more than a dream, the possibilities available to them are now within reach.

An innovative approach to bringing textbooks to the impoverished

Another noteworthy campaign, also implemented in the Philippines, addressed a common problem particular to developing countries. Unable to afford iPads or e-readers, children were carrying up to 22 books back and forth from school, leaving them exhausted and unable to perform at their optimum. Some even developed Scoliosis as a result. Partnering with Smart Communications, the largest telecommunications company in the Phillipines, DM9JaymeSyfu produced a campaign “Smart TXTBKS,” that turned analog mobile phones into e-readers. Traditional textbooks were translated into 160-word snippets, which were then uploaded onto inactive sim cards and repackaged as Smart TXTBKS, enabling children to easily access information that would normally have been a cumbersome task.

A new future for private-public partnerships?
In a world economic climate that’s seen governments scrambling to cut deficits, spending on services has seen a marked decrease. In a move that confirms the shift towards altruism by the independent sector, some companies are providing or contributing to public services previously funded by the state.

The “O2 Learn” campaign is an educational initiative that provides students with “mini lessons” in the form of videos — made and uploaded by teachers across the United Kingdom. Interaction from students is encouraged, with viewers having the chance to vote for their favourite teachers, who are then rewarded with a monetary prize — for themselves and their respective schools. Part of O2’s “Think Big” program, the project has seen an overwhelming response from teachers and students alike. As well as providing a much-needed tool for learners, O2 is increasing their brand loyalty by positioning themselves as a company that is genuinely concerned with the society in which they do business in. The decrease in public spending is a dilemma that most Western countries now face, leaving corporations with an opportunity to transform the way they do business. The question then is, are you and your business ready to step up to the plate?

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Thomas Kolster © 2017
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