I had an epiphany the other day while talking to my partner regarding a mental connection about higher education and social good companies (like TOMS, Warby Parker, Krochet Kids, FEED, and many others across the country). They share many of the same traits and goals, but in some other very important ways, higher education is falling behind these organizations in realizing their place as a social institution meant to benefit the community it serves.
First off, the similarities between the two. Higher education institutions and social good companies both are making money in order to propel their missions. Colleges and universities are funding their endeavor to educate the citizens of tomorrow, while social good companies are selling a product to benefit their chosen cause. All the money (typically) goes toward that end goal. While they have to pay for personnel to fulfill and facilitate their operations, they put their profits to good work rather than just sitting on them. This is generally called a “double bottom line”. A lot of major corporations are trending this way, with huge donations to various nonprofits or their transition toward supporting responsibly made products. There is a push toward this in the economy since a lot of people vote with their dollars in terms of buying products that align with their values. They won’t buy something that isn’t responsibly made and look for items that are sustainable, fair trade, organic, etc. Some companies and higher education institutions will even go as far to include the planet in their impact, abiding by a “triple bottom line“. This entails all the possible impact organizations can have; profits, people, and planet. This is an even harder reality to embody but those companies that do are definitely leaving their communities far better than when they found them.
The differences begin in terms of the rates of adoption between social good companies and higher education institutions. A company like Krochet Kids was built recently from the ground up as an entity that kept their global impact in mind. Many colleges and universities have been around for decades (or centuries) with greatly varying missions and traditions. They could not have foreseen the need for globally conscious sustainability measures that are necessary now in the face of climate change. While some institutions have done well adapting, these venerable organizations just aren’t as nimble when confronted with the dynamic nature of modern social need.
College students are more globally minded and connected than ever before. They understand the needs of their community and want to be engaged in doing social good and changing the world. They are eager to learn how and that is where student affairs professionals can come in. We can offer programs and opportunities to capitalize on this energy to create socially conscious leaders who understand the urgency of the problems facing the world and have the confidence to try to solve them.