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The critical role of education in CSR

Magalie is an Associate with the Australian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (ACCSR) and a guest lecturer in Business & Society and Corporate Governance at the La Trobe University (Melbourne), Graduate School of Management.

Magalie MaraisA new Insights Series paper by ACCSR – “Universities and CSR: Thought Leadership and Competitive Advantage” – highlights the growing importance of universities and education to the CSR agenda.

As a lecturer in corporate social responsibility (CSR), I am always surprised to notice the lack of knowledge of my students, undergraduate or post-graduate, about CSR. Most of them have heard of the term, but asking them to propose a definition typically draws a blank.

And the clichés are numerous. Students’ perceptions navigate between idealistic – CSR as changing the world, to radical – CSR as a dangerous and subversive ambition developed by communist anarchists! Worse still, few students are able to describe actions that could be associated with a strategic perspective of CSR, such as sustainable product innovation.

However, having attended CSR classes and further explored the opportunities, many students wonder why this subject has not featured earlier in their education journey.

I truly believe that if we want organisations to integrate CSR with core strategy, we have to start by giving future managers the keys for understanding new ways of thinking and behaving. We need to provide them with the skills and knowledge that will allow them to be innovative when considering changing societal values and expectations and its implications for organisational strategy and practice.

And this should be done at the earliest possible stage.

For instance, high schools could organise CSR education initiatives as part of their curriculum. ACCSR recently addressed year 12 students at Shelford Girl’s Grammar School on the topic “Social Justice and Social Responsibility” as part of a leadership development program.

Universities will also have a great role to play, especially by widening their offer of training programs in CSR and developing innovative partnerships with the private sector, government and NGOs.

There is growing demand in Australia for people with an education and experience in CSR and sustainability, and it’s only getting stronger. As a lecturer I can feel the passion and the growing interest of students in social and environmental issues.

How else do you think we can accelerate the education of our future CSR and sustainability leaders?

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