CSR Learner's Corner Archives

A New Education

Last week, after securing my Human ♥ Nature customers’ orders in their flagship store along Commonwealth Avenue, I decided to spend a little time in the upstairs Enchanted Farm Café before I delivered the orders. If it were just another restaurant, I wouldn’t dawdle anymore, so that I could get home and back to work, but that Café wasn’t just any “other” place. It is close to my heart for two reasons: One, it is the metro extension of Gawad Kalinga’s Enchanted Farm, the heart of its ending-poverty social enterprise movement. Two, it was our client for our college thesis – strategic consultancy for GK businesses.

The phrase sounds a little out of the ordinary, exclusive, even. Strategic consultancy for GK social enterprises? And for a business thesis at that? What am I playing at, you may ask.

What it is, is actually part of the Ateneo de Manila University’s – my alma mater – increasingly socially aware management program, which begins with individual “teeth” of one aspect of business operations each (like accounting, law, basic management, etc.) and culminates in a two-part business project class focusing on the “mouth” of strategic management that effectively replaces the usual research thesis. As far as I can tell, there are four different tracks of such: LS 126/7, where each group puts up, runs, then evaluates their own business; the Social Entrepreneurship version of such; the Business Accelerator Program, which grants a minor in enterprise development and is a tougher version of LS 126/7; and the class I took, LS 152/3, Strategic Management for Development – a partnership with GK and McKinsey (which provides the consulting lessons). Except for this one, all others involve setting up your business.

When I was entering my senior year in university, I was geared up to take the social enterprise track (pun unintended) – if it fit my schedule. Which, it turned out, didn’t. But during one of my Frontline meetings, my colleague told me that she had been accepted into the “GK class”. Whatever that was, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. I wasted no time in pestering the lovely ladies of my home department until I had gotten in that class.

They promised that it would be more difficult than the usual track, but I was prepared. Or, at least I thought I was. Over the following nine months would occur some of the most challenging and worst experiences in my life – but also some of the most rewarding and best. That is, however, another story.

I brought that up as a way of introducing a rapid retrospective rumination at that class and how it affected me, or rather, my social enterprise life. We got to learn about Gawad Kalinga and its vision and models. We also got to learn, definitely, about strategic management, as it was the crux of the class. But however meaningful the class was for me, looking back, it appears that there was something still “lacking” – social enterprise itself wasn’t just entirely drummed into our minds. Or rather, social enterprise still seemed to be another world entirely. It was as if I was stuck in between two paradigms – that of “traditional” business represented by the classroom, and that of “social” business that was the most exciting world I had encountered.

But I think that’s where the problem lies – social enterprise should not be an “exclusive”, separate class (the social enterprise sections were much less than the regular ones). It should be the business management program itself; there shouldn’t be any distinction. Otherwise, the implication would be that the so-called “regular” tracks weren’t socially responsible or aware.

My upperclassman friend told me that he doesn’t believe in social enterprise because he believes all enterprise should be social from the very start. It is a view shared in my new favorite book that I’m devouring now, John Mackey and Rad Sisodia’s Conscious Capitalism (review coming soon). Would that it were the case! Unfortunately, enterprise has somehow failed along the way to prove itself capable of social responsibility, hence social enterprise as a separate discipline.

I call for the reunification of social enterprise and so-called traditional business. One way to start would be to reshape the business educational system. Which brings me to my second, and more important, point.

I mentioned that I could count at least four tracks for the Ateneo management thesis – there could be more. Now, if the Ateneo were to more fully, more integrally, apply social responsibility into its curriculum, there should be only three tracks – the regular track, the business accelerator (enterprise development minor) track, and the consultancy track. All would be socially responsible – all would be in themselves CSR 2.0. All of them would have to implement sustainability and responsibility in their business models, and of course the businesses or consultancies would be graded accordingly – what impact is made.

I say 2.0 because CSR 3.0, or individual CSR, needs to come first before the student can even think of putting up a business. That said, classes in CSR 3.0 should come as early as freshman year, fully integrated across its non-academic classes as well, so that the student is prepared for business – or any thesis project, for that matter – come senior year. It’s a beautiful vision for a university course to produce top-quality graduates – as the Ateneo does now – but graduates who are singly determined to rebuild the nation.

In fact, one could even start in prep school by already slowly introducing CSR there. The ultimate goal would be to turn every youth into a good citizen who is socially responsible and can sustain – or more than sustain – doing so. With such a wide-reaching institution like the school, it would be a very effective way to make CSR spread like wildfire. It is not religion-dependent (although CSR for us here is faith-based), so even secular schools can do this.

It’s something I hope to see during my lifetime applied to the majority of schools not just in the Philippines, but in the worldwide education system itself.

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