What do High School students think of CSR?

Last Friday I was at the Global Issues Day of the Western Academy of Beijing, here in China, and I gave a workshop on CSR and corruption, to 30 High school Students.  I also gave a Keynote speech to all the HS and MS students, but their was no time for Q&A there. The Western Academy of Beijing is an International School from Kindergarten to 12th Grade students in the International Baccalaureate Program, and has a strong philosophy to make their students true Global Citizens. My respect for High School teachers just tripled in the six hours I spent at the School that day. And it was a great day of learning for me: how to make PowerPoint presentation suitable for 800 people to enjoy,  was something new for me, and I had way too much text, so next time better…

And I had to make a definition of CSR for Middle School students: Corporate Social Responsibility is the Responsibility a Company feels to everyone and everything they have an impact on, and they react to that feeling in a responsible way. What do you think of that definition?

But here are some reflections on the High School students CSR workshop.

I put the students through the Socratic method of thinking and then deciding: First, they had to understand what the heart of the problem was: for instance, I gave them the real life example: Would you disclose to your boss the name of a certain manager who did not like the Company CSR program, when you promised all the managers you interviewed to archive the results anonymous?  And how would you answer to your boss when he demanded the name?  Then they had to do a thought exercise: they had to think really hard about the two extreme reactions you could give as an employee to a boss like that. Then, they had to debate with each other to get the right answer in the middle.

The interesting thing about this workshop method is that you are very free to openly discuss multiple values, the good and the bad ones, without taking a side at once: you have to ponder a while on the bad extreme, and also ponder for a while on the extreme morally good answer (that will probably get you fired or sued). The students of this international school were very capable of conducting this thought exercise and enjoyed taking on both extremes. … Yes, some said, lets tell the boss the name, but only if we get a pay rise! The other extreme: I will quit my job if I have to answer your Question, Boss!

How to get the right Balance? We had to think about what values we want to uphold, but also, what and who do we want protect? Which relations are at stake? What are all the consequences? And here my High School Students had to learn a little bit more, about the importance of relations (Guanxi in Chinese) and the weight of Integrity, the consequences of giving in- what would this mean for your future professional life your place in the company?

I had positive reactions to my workshop, some thanked me personally afterwards and I enjoyed thinking about the way these students were learning to create and uphold their value system: as young learners, they are still defining the black and white in their values, and they need to learn the interdependence of their communications in the process of a company. Because it’s not just creating your own values, but also weighing in the relation and then thinking up an action plan that will make your CSR improvement work.  I will use this for the CSR Training in January 2014 and onward!

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