Students really get the CSR Concepts….

Two recent lectures and workshop sessions with students have shown me how far CSR thinking is already incorporated into student’s thinking today. It might be true that CSR (as a cross-sectorial topic) still lacks the academic recognition very often, but it seems this doesn’t keep students from really embracing these concepts with an ease that only comes close to children learning a language in a new country – very easily and quickly.

At one occasion, a group of highly talented students from the Economic School (WFI) of the University of Eichstaett-Ingolstadt (Germany) presented models how Corporations are integrated into Education in countries like Australia, China, the Philippines and Slovakia. As an example, “Manageria” is a Slovakian Network which is linking Business leaders (through a sort of Skill based Volunteering, even if they don’t call it that way) to their former University. Students practice what practitioners discuss with them. And it seems to be very scalable through concepts of (non-commercial) franchising for example.

When the students presented concepts from the Philippines and China, the difference was quite striking. While in the Philippines, companies are considered to be a true part of the solution, there seems to be a natural boundary in China that (foreign?) companies can’t cross. Similar like in a lot of other countries, in the Philippines large multinationals are considered to be a stable factor and a trusted partner, who actually assume significant responsibility for the society. In China, however, the corporate involvement (even if called responsibility) often seems to stop at sponsoring, running competitions and things like that. More like a provider of resources, but not a true local citizen. Not sure this was surprising, but eye-opening again…

The second experience was in a totally different area – students from the “DHBW” in Ravensburg were taught the concepts of CSR and it was astonishing what they already knew about it. Contrary to conventional literature, they assumed that CSR is much more than Corporate Giving or Volunteering, much more than Corporate Social Investment, but actually a function of the firm that touches everything, from Supply Chain to Sustainable Consumption and Sustainable Products. CSR is then of course seen as a Strategic Management tool for the company, rather than a “side dish” that talks about doing good and behaving well. The embedded Case Studies I integrated into the lecture were dealt with easily and revealed an understanding of CSR that was unthinkable just two years ago among freshmen students.

If these are our future managers, I can sleep pretty well tonight. And if I wake up, it’s just to wonder about how much we sometimes pay experts to tell us the same at overpriced conferences. But maybe the money we pay at these “thought leading” conferences is mainly for the food, which (to be very honest) is usually better than at universities. But I guess that’s not the point here….