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How is social responsibility changing international education?

Companies within the sector judiciously support causes which complement their work. ICEF, the global networking company for agents and international educators, created an Education Fund this year, which offers donations to educational projects in countries already sending international students abroad.

EC has appointed CSR Champions in every one of its school centres: "responsible behaviour is our signature"EC has appointed CSR Champions in every one of its school centres: "responsible behaviour is our signature"

“The Education Fund intends to create a meaningful relationship between the service we provide and the projects we support”, says ICEF’s marketing and communications manager Korinne Algie.

“This horizontal, reciprocal relationship has granted us a strengthened sense of community founded upon shared social responsibility.”

Another advantage of CSR strategies, says STS’s manager James Crimp, is staff satisfaction. The Sweden-based company, which organises education programmes globally, intends to donate to Plan International on a long-term basis, but it rarely publicises its charitable work.

“Staff need to know that they are working for a conscientious and responsible company,” Crimp explains. “That was our initial goal. What surprised us was the closeness you can have with a charity. Plan regularly visit us at our headquarters to give talks to the staff about the difference the donations are making.”

Jason Flaming shares Crimp’s view that CSR strengthens companies and schools at their core.

“In the words of author Simon Sinek, “all companies know what they do, most know how they do it, but very few really understand why they do what they do,” he says.

“Having a socially conscious strategy in place is a way to anchor our collective understanding of ‘why we do what we do’”

As a director of ILSC, Flaming works in New Delhi and helps run Learn to Earn, an educational sponsorship of underprivileged girls. “Having a socially conscious strategy in place is a way to anchor our collective understanding of ‘why we do what we do’, it gives us a reason to get up in the morning, and it helps to define who we want to be as we move forward in the industry.”

Jonas Haertle, PRME Secretariat, UN Global Compact Office and Pernille Kallehave, Aarhus University, Denmark (one of HESI signatories) at Danish Pavilion at Rio+20 exhibition area

The key to the popularity and success of new sustainable and ethical projects is the sector itself. Bogie Lapinski, of Canada’s ILAC school, underlines this: “How many of us have spoken to bright and articulate students who will never have a chance to study abroad? Yet often institutions do not have the flexibility or resources to think outside the box.”

But ILAC did have the resources, and its director Jonathan Kolber created a non-profit arm of ILAC, the ILAC Foundation. After reading a book by Palestinian campaigner Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, Kolber was moved, and began donating to the doctor’s charity Daughters for Life, as well as offering scholarships to female students from the Middle East.

“I’ve seen first-hand that for a lot of children the opportunity to go to school – let alone higher education – isn’t a reality”

CSR initiatives are often driven by personal goals. i-student group’s managing director Paul Loftus explains why he founded the educational charity Rhinocrocadillipig: “For the last 16 years since I’ve been in the international education industry I’ve done a lot of travelling.

“I’ve seen first-hand that for a lot of children the opportunity to go to school – let alone higher education – isn’t a reality.” Loftus utilises industry contacts in finding and funding charitable partners with educational aims.

In the case of The Bell Foundation, set up recently by The Bell Educational Trust, it was more the case that the endeavour reflects the Trust’s ethos of promoting social cohesion, integration and opportunity through language education. This is close to the aspirations of founder, Frank Bell, who set up the school chain after his Prisoner of War experiences.

So what is the future of CSR? Strategies and campaigns are becoming increasingly sophisticated, which may call for a radical rethink of the mainstream. The phrase ‘corporate social responsibility’ denotes charity; something incredibly important, but primarily outward looking.

Weidenhielm, of ESL, hopes businesses will up their game. “The economics of CSR are fundamental, but they are often overshadowed by environmental or social criteria”, he says. “CSR then remains in the status of a passive utopia, and this doesn’t match with a business mind-set.

“We use CSR in addressing business relations, with the goal of sharing values and ideas to be more successful and profitable; in other words, sustainable.”

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