Big Business Should Rescue Public Education
Tuesday, 28th September 2004 at 1:09 pm
Big business could – and should – rescue public education according to Phil Dye, a lecturer in business dynamics at Sydney’s APM Training Institute.
His opinion piece is republished here courtesy of The Age newspaper:
The message from big business during the present reporting season is clear. We’re doing very well, thank you! The past quarter has seen record profits from Newcrest, Woolworths, Rio Tinto, IAG and Pacific Brands to name just a few.
These aren’t just profits in the millions, but profits rated in the billions. Rio’s last profit registered $1.4 billion. BHP Billiton’s was $7.6 billion. Now that’s a big number. I previously thought a billion was only a number astronomers used, yet a billion is actually a thousand million. I know because I looked it up.
Yet these figures represent only a third of the much-discussed “triple bottom line” now expected from big business. The triple bottom line involves reporting not only on financial matters, but environmental and social factors as well.
Yet Australian business is slow when it comes to thinking beyond the dollar bottom line. Community partnerships, the concept that big businesses can band together to support initiatives that advance society, is far more popular in the US and Britain.
The Levi Strauss Company recently pioneered the Community Investment Team approach, where more than 100 CITs around the world identify and invest in worthwhile projects.
The London Benchmarking Group is another. This is an association of unrelated businesses that donate to specific needy areas. Companies such as BP, IBM UK, Marks & Spencer and Whitbread view social investment as a business obligation, and see no need to “own” the investment as a brand recognition or PR tool. The linking of businesses to foster social development may provide some marketing leverage, yet it’s the power of joint investment that’s more important. Perhaps with just a little co-operation from our corporate champions we could not just narrow the divide, but fill it.
In this way, massive investment from a group of companies can be made towards society, and massive results benchmarked. It’s really quite simple.
In Australia, the areas of social concern have always been education and health-care. The robust argument lately has centred more on education, and specifically federal government funding to the private school system. There’s either rage over the perceived neglect of the public system or rage over the possible withdrawal of funds from private schools.
There’s also an enormous chasm when it comes to resources across both sectors. Yet what if our big end of town took the lead from some other countries and saw education not only as the responsibility of government and individuals, but of the corporate sector as well – and I don’t mean the corporate takeover of our schools by Krispy Kreme or McDonald’s!
An Australian equivalent of the London Benchmarking Group may consist of companies such as Rio Tinto, Woolworths, BHP Billiton and IAG. Let’s call them the “Aussie Helpers”, just for fun.
These “Helpers” may identify a few specific issues that need to be tackled during a year, and may decide that 5 per cent of their total net yearly profit is all they can afford. They may argue that they already give to other charities, the arts, sports and community events, so 5 per cent is reasonable. Fair enough.
If 5 per cent of net profit came from these four companies alone, a total of $512.6 million could be dedicated to particular issues over the year.
Then let’s say they decided to allocate just half of this towards the public and private education of Australians. Let’s call this the “Aussie Helper Education Fund” – a fund with $256 million. If my research is correct, this is more than the total public works budget for Victoria’s schools in 2004.
Their advisers may nominate 150 public schools and 50 private schools across the country that really need a hand. Some may only get enough to build a new classroom. Others may get an assembly hall, specialist teachers or new heaters. $2.5 million among 200 schools buys a lot of resources.
Now if the top 30 companies in Australia gave 2.5 per cent of net profit, we would see such a dramatic balancing in our education resources that the great private/public school divide would no longer be an issue. Imagine!
I can hear the cries of “red under the bed” now. Yet doesn’t it seem a little odd that in the days of record profits from the big end of town, we are still experiencing an enormous chasm in the educational resources available to our children? Perhaps with just a little co-operation from our corporate champions we could not just narrow the divide, but fill it completely.
By doing so, these champions would add substantially to their triple bottom line at a time when Australians are suddenly realising the true meaning of “billion” – a potentially dangerous piece of learning.