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Justin van Fleet, President of Theirworld and Executive Director of the Global Business Coalition for Education, joins us on this episode of Change@Work. He and host, Chris Thornton, discuss the important role businesses play in the education system, how investing in education can help companies to achieve their ESG goals, and outlines key examples of how some of the world’s largest organizations are investing in education now.


This transcript was automatically generated with artificial intelligence. It’s in the queue to go through a review with human eyes!

00;00;09;22 – 00;00;33;16

Hello and welcome back to Change@Work. I’m Chris Thornton. This week I sat down with Justin Van Fleet. Justin is the president of their world and executive director of the Global Business Coalition. Both are nonprofit organizations with the mission of ensuring that every child, the future of our workforce has the best start in life, has access to a safe place to learn and the skills they need for the future.

00;00;33;18 – 00;01;03;21

With increasing pressures for companies to focus their CSR efforts on environmental sustainability, Justin’s team aims to focus on how investing in education can directly affect the future of business. The Global Business Coalition, or GBC, points out that society is facing a global skills gap. The latest forecast shows that by 2030, more than 50% of children and young people worldwide will lack the basic reading and math skills needed to participate in the workforce and society.

00;01;03;24 – 00;01;27;23

Which is not only a detriment to business, but future innovations in climate action, health outcomes, and so much more. So here he is to tell us how they work with businesses to minimize this education gap. Justin Van Fleet How are you, Justin? I’m doing well, thanks. Excellent. Thanks so much for joining us. Let’s get right into it and ask some questions to get to know you just a little bit better.

00;01;27;26 – 00;01;50;28

If you’ve been going to events like theater concerts. That’s a little bit. I have a newborn this year and so I’m going out a little less than I than I ever have before. So, yeah. So someone said that you like to ask a few questions about what people have been up to to get to. And I was afraid this might be one of the questions because I’m relatively boring in the social.

00;01;51;01 – 00;02;10;25

So am I. So how’s home, what’s going on in your house? No, it’s it’s it’s great but it’s yeah, it changes every single day. I’m watching this little human grow up in front of me. And so every day I’m excited about what new skill he’ll have, whether it’s rolling over, grabbing something. And so that’s been quite a joy over the past few months.

00;02;11;00 – 00;02;40;00

Limited sleep, but but lots of smiles. Sure. Absolutely. Congratulations. As we record this about how old? Ten months. Ten months? Yep. So what are we getting into? We’re. We’re beyond rolling over. What are we doing beyond rolling over? Starting to do some things where it’s. I think it’s going to crawl any moment now and definitely has things he likes and doesn’t like and certain things that make him smile like Sound of a Cat or a book.

00;02;40;00 – 00;02;59;15

We have called Happy Dogs Sad Dog, which we just read over and over and over again. All right. Another question for you. I might be able to guess the answer. Anything bringing excitement into your life right now? Well, I would say I would just that I mean, every every morning just trying to see what the next new skill is that that a young person develops is really fascinating to me.

00;02;59;16 – 00;03;18;14

Mean, we do a lot of work in early childhood development, day to day at the organization and and to live that experience at the same time that we’re running campaigns on the issue is really a learning experience, but just an experience of pure joy and excitement for me. Excellent. We’ll get into what the Global Business Coalition for Education is all about.

00;03;18;14 – 00;03;42;17

And just one more question. What’s the best gift you’ve received and why? The best gift I’ve ever received. A few years ago, I turned it was my 40th birthday. And if you’re listening to this is my my 30th. And it was during the pandemic. And so we had been sort of in lockdown for about two months. And so there were no big parties and big celebrations.

00;03;42;20 – 00;04;00;07

But my partner had put together this video compilation of a lot of different people just sing Happy Birthday, just friends that I had had throughout the years. And so it was just during that period of time. And that’s what everybody sort of had, that sense of isolation to have all of those messages from so many people. It was really special.

00;04;00;10 – 00;04;21;04

I think that was probably the best birthday gift I’ve ever received. That’s a good one. That’s really good. All right. Let’s get into it. Let’s get into the Global Business Coalition for Education. Tell us about your organization and what what are you aiming to accomplish? Sure. So we’re a movement of businesses dedicated to ending the global education crisis.

00;04;21;04 – 00;04;49;04

And we want to make sure that every single child on the planet has the best start life, a safe place to learn, and the skills that they need for the future. And we believe that the business community has an essential role to play in helping make that happen. And so what we’ve been doing for over a decade now is working with businesses through their not just philanthropy and corporate social responsibility, but through their core business to see what they can be doing to help make a greater impact in education around the world.

00;04;49;04 – 00;05;10;29

And through those efforts, really, a rising tide lifts all boats and we have more young people in school with opportunities to learn and go out and participate in society and the economy. Business is better off and the world is much better off. So when you think about what we talk a lot on here about ESG and the role of ESG and what companies are doing, it feels like there’s a direct connection.

00;05;10;29 – 00;05;42;00

Is that right? Definitely. And and education’s a weird one for businesses. It used to be an area, sort of a social investment area that fell under corporate social responsibility or philanthropy. And as businesses evolved and ESG has taken hold, a lot of companies that traditionally invest in education have found it difficult to do so with all of the new ESG language and trying to figure out how and why it fits in when they have climate goals and they have all of these other governments goals and DE&I goals and what the connection is.

00;05;42;00 – 00;05;59;14

And so that’s really where as as you allude to, we’re doing a bit of work in that area to try to bridge that gap and make it hit home in a much more direct way for companies. So full disclosure for those careful listeners of previous episodes, I used to be a high school teacher and grew up the son of a superintendent of public schools.

00;05;59;14 – 00;06;45;08

So you’re speaking directly to my lived experience. How can businesses work with you to reshape their ESG and social impact strategies? Specifically? So we work with a variety of businesses in many different ways. So we have the most basic offer we have is that you can join and be a member of this coalition and get information. When we started this, there was a fellow at the Brookings Institution previously, and I was doing work in corporate social investment in education, and we found that companies were doing 18 times more in global health than they were doing in global education, and that all of the education investments were a lot of small, short term, one off contributions

00;06;45;08 – 00;07;12;05

and nothing really added up to the sum of its parts. The first thing that we can do with with any company that wants to be involved is share information. We want to be a neutral broker for knowledge and evidence to help companies make the greatest impact they can without having to recreate the wheel. We also do a lot of tailored consultant advice work with companies that want to develop different strategies, and then we run projects and campaigns that companies can come behind.

00;07;12;05 – 00;07;36;01

So we have a big initiative, for example, right now in Ukraine with HP and Microsoft, which is around digital equity. We have another initiative with Dell and Deloitte where they’re sponsoring the Skills Friendly Cities Initiative in the U.S. So we actually run these projects and campaigns, but we also work inside the company is almost an extension of their own CSR ESG department by providing that extra capacity and expertise and education to make some of those strategic choices.

00;07;36;03 – 00;08;02;21

So big global impact possibilities. What about local impact possibility? Both education’s very localized, and when companies are thinking about what they can do. I mean, it’s one thing to look at the big stats and knowing that in 2030, just a few years from now, there’ll be 1.6 billion young people on the planet and more than half today are not on track to have the most basic reading and math skills to participate in the economy.

00;08;02;23 – 00;08;28;10

So those big macro numbers are scary and then sort of point to some big strategic threats to business. But same time, businesses operate in communities, their employees live in locations around the world, their consumers live in these same locations. And each context is different. And so in there, they’re looking at how to attain and attract talent. They’re trying to work in different markets.

00;08;28;11 – 00;08;55;08

It often comes down to that very basic fiber. The community and what they’re doing to engage that local level. It struck me early on, at least looking back on on the tension of the role of education in decisions that were made locally that my dad was involved in. I could see dinnertime conversations nights, weekends, phone calls come in and to our house about decisions that were being made.

00;08;55;15 – 00;09;28;17

Looking back on that, I realize now education is incredibly political. Are you finding that as companies move into wanting to have an impact on education, is politics still part of it? And if so, how so? Education is political from what’s in the curriculum to how it’s being taught to who’s teaching it. But what we try to do is bring everybody back to the really basic fundamental issues that we can all agree on, is that every young person deserves a quality, basic education.

00;09;28;17 – 00;09;58;12

They deserve the best start in life where they can attend preschool and have those basic health interventions as well to help them get a great start. And every young person deserves to identify their skills and talents and learn how to develop those and participate productively in society in one shape or another. And I think if we go back to those basic tenets of the individual and opportunity and helping to specifically reach out to those that that traditionally have been left behind or marginalized or where we can really impact issues of equity.

00;09;58;15 – 00;10;24;06

And I think most people can get behind those those concepts. And that’s what we really start from, that those commonalities as a point of departure as opposed to those there’s really specific issues that can be divisive because I think we agree on on 95 to 99% of what education should be in. And some of those arguments tend to be at the fringes and we can still impact vast numbers of young people by operating in sort of the common areas of agreement.

00;10;24;09 – 00;10;47;00

Guy and Daggerwing. We’re talking a lot about greenwashing and how to avoid greenwashing, right? And for those unfamiliar with that term, I’ll define it. I’m sure you could define it in different ways, but I’ll define it as talking about your efforts without actually having real impact. And so you get this total disconnect between what you’re saying and what you’re actually doing.

00;10;47;00 – 00;11;17;05

And so you’re saying that you’re doing some things, but the impact of that perhaps doesn’t doesn’t quite measure up. How does education or educational investments, how does that come to life? And in avoiding the greenwashing possibility, I guess maybe said differently, I think I could look at a child’s life and how he or she or they were impacted by education and measurable outcomes as well.

00;11;17;08 – 00;11;44;02

Are you finding that education can play a better role in helping a company achieve its ESG goals? Yeah, 100%. When we started this project, it was pre the greenwashing era in debate when we started to really dig into these ESG tools. And as the critiques started to come out around, issues become much more prominent. We pause. We still keep going down this route, and we decided the answer is yes, because people are right.

00;11;44;04 – 00;12;18;05

Planet’s getting warmer. Inequality is on the rise. Of course, if these companies are making this grand claims about the impact they’re having in society, but we don’t actually see a difference, then greenwashing is real. You know, there are claims out there about things that are happening that aren’t necessarily changing the course of our of our future. And so where we really wanted to double down is we thought that S and ESG was being left behind and there was no set of tangible metrics that were convincing to a business to really take serious investment in social issues and convincing the society of the Great Change.

00;12;18;05 – 00;12;40;16

And that’s where we wanted to put the rigor, because we thought if we could get the S right in ESG and particularly through through investments in education, that that would actually counter the greenwashing effect and that we can actually demonstrate results. So in our playbook, what we we started out from the company’s perspective, and so we mapped out what are the 14 most commonly cited material risks that companies face.

00;12;40;23 – 00;12;56;27

And then we looked at all of the different things that a company could do in education. And when I say education, everything from early childhood zero to fives all the way up through skill development and training for the workforce and everything in between. And what we try to do is map different investments. And that could be an h.r.

00;12;56;27 – 00;13;17;15

Policy internally at a company. It could be a social investment. It could be the use of of their own talent or their their goods and services in it to address social issues. But we looked at how those different investments could address the material issue or material risks that a company faces. And then we put metrics on it. So what could you actually see as a social outcome?

00;13;17;18 – 00;13;39;22

What could you see as a business outcome? And how would that stack up against some of the common rating agencies and what they’re looking at? And you see, so we connected all of the dots so you could go from a risk that you’re facing to an evidence based initiative you could implement to societal metrics and business metrics, all of which are transparent and ones that could be measurable so that we can actually show results on both fronts.

00;13;39;24 – 00;14;12;16

So you’re getting into the playbook and the value of the playbook by being a member and anything else that I would find in that playbook if I’m interested, I think that’s the key is sort of this model. And then with us and with our with our team, we can then come along and help map out where various examples are of success, what other companies have done, what the latest research is showing to help a business really make the best choices to address their own key internal issues, but also drive a greater societal impact.

00;14;12;18 – 00;14;30;19

Now that you have a recent report out called The Business Case for Investment in the early years, what are some key highlights from that report that you would want our listeners to know? I’m really glad you asked. As I mentioned earlier, this is a very pivotal area of my life at the moment with with a ten month old.

00;14;30;21 – 00;14;49;22

But what the research is showing is that there’s a real limited investment in the 0 to 5. IT it’s not an issue in the U.S. or the globe in lower income countries. It’s a global issue that’s affecting everyone on the planet. And we’ve wanted to take our ESG playbook and then do some real deep dives into specific issues.

00;14;49;22 – 00;15;14;23

And this was one of them. We worked with some of the other companies at Omnicom, and we did a few polls and surveys. And what we were finding is that in the U.S. for a U.S. statistic, we had 24% of parents dropping out of work or dropping out of school because they couldn’t afford childcare costs. Two thirds of households were making major economic changes and decisions because of the costs of childcare.

00;15;14;26 – 00;15;32;23

And then we looked even at Gen Z and sort of this newest wave of parents and over Athena’s over a quarter of them are spending more than 60% of their income on child care. So this is this is an issue that parents care about, employers care about, because it is impacting whether or not they can attract the talent that they want to the workforce.

00;15;32;25 – 00;15;50;25

And so we started to look at how business could actually play a role in shaping and investing in the zero to fives in a way that made sense for business, but could really give us that injection of enthusiasm that we need in the political landscape to take this issue much more much higher on the on the up the flagpole.

00;15;50;27 – 00;16;09;23

Listen, I think I know the answer to this one. So I’m going to sound like somebody who’s completely ignorant on it. Why should business play a role in any of this stuff? Why don’t we just leave it to local stay national governments, companies don’t need to stay involved in any of this. It’s really, in fact, none of their business.

00;16;09;26 – 00;16;34;21

And they probably shouldn’t be setting policy or affecting policy. So why don’t they just focus in on profits and investors and their consumers and leave education alone? They can do that, but it’s not a smart choice for business if we’re looking at where is your talent coming from, Where are the consumers in your new markets? They can buy goods and services.

00;16;34;27 – 00;16;54;28

You’re looking at the innovation that you’re able to have in the workplace or as a company, or if you’re looking at how your own services or products could could play a role in effecting change. There’s a connection with education. And so business, the potential of business is really directly linked to the potential of education, the quality of education.

00;16;55;01 – 00;17;15;02

And it’s not saying that business should be driving the purpose of education, but there should be a conversation. They should be engaged in making that, making sure that that common set of principles and that basic quality education that everyone agrees on is is not only possible, but it’s it’s still a reality for most young people around the planet, if not everyone of them.

00;17;15;04 – 00;17;42;19

You talked about some incredible programs earlier, right. Big headline driving programs that I can get really excited about. What’s reasonable for businesses to think about the the kind of impact and momentum that they can have toward closing that educational skills gap. I would say the sky’s the limit. The only really, really it is. I promise you it’s the limit.

00;17;42;19 – 00;18;07;12

I can give you a few examples and the only thing that we’re constrained by is the interest of companies and companies really wanting to lean in to to make change, not on competitive basis. I’ll give you one example of a big numbers and then two examples of some policy change areas where we can make an impact. The first one is is Ukraine, where HP contacted us initially and said that they had a lot of devices that they’d like to contribute.

00;18;07;12 – 00;18;23;11

This is right when the word broken out, is there something that we could do? And so we went off. We tried to come up with a plan and we talked to the Ministry of Education, the different partners that were on the ground that were dealing with the refugees in the displaced population. And we identified that, yes, there there’s a real need for devices.

00;18;23;11 – 00;18;53;01

People are fleeing their homes, no way to connect to learning or their teachers that want to keep teaching their classes, but they’re unable to do so. We needed software that would work. And so we got Microsoft on board and they agreed to lead and provide the operating systems. We had 70,000 devices that our team worked with a set of nonprofits in the region and with these companies to deliver some 70,000 devices inside Ukraine, inside a war zone and in refugee hosting countries.

00;18;53;03 – 00;19;17;00

And today we’re in November. Right now, I don’t know what the podcast is, but today in November, there are 1.5 million Ukrainian students who are either using one of these devices in a classroom today or in a computer lab or tuning into a class taught by one of these teachers using a device. So 1.5 million, it’s incredible. And that was one idea that a few people at a company had that they wanted to try to make an impact.

00;19;17;00 – 00;19;34;11

And that’s what I’ve been able to do in about a year’s time, which I think that’s. So when I say the sky’s the limit, that was just two companies partnering with us in the US are working on the Skills Friendly Citizen Initiative, which just trying to build stronger partnerships between youth serving organizations, the private sector and local government around skills.

00;19;34;14 – 00;19;53;08

And so Dell and Deloitte have come behind this with both the evidence base that we started with. But then we run a national challenge each year. This year, last week, actually, we awarded 15 cities. A spot in our cohorts will be a year long program where cities with these great ideas are networking with other cities facing similar challenges.

00;19;53;10 – 00;20;13;18

And then we’re investing in one of the city’s to actually roll out and scale up their their program. This is the second year that we’ve done this particular challenge and the feedback scrape, being able to bring together different groups that are working on these issues, but they’re in different cities. They’re just a matter of geography and time constraints not connected to others, doing doing similar work and facing similar challenges.

00;20;13;21 – 00;20;34;27

So we’re bringing in our private sector partners from the business coalitions to team up and see what capacity they have on the ground to also bring in. And then the last one where I think the sky must be the limit because there’s so much work to do, is our active early years campaign, this big campaign where we want to mobilize $1,000,000,000 in commitments from the public and private sector for the zero to fives over the next four years.

00;20;35;00 – 00;20;56;25

And we want business to be part of that. And so with this campaign, we’ve had different celebrities participating. Comedians are all out there on social media throwing tantrums as part of the campaign. So it’s fun and playful, but it’s very serious in that we want to mobilize a new set of commitments for these children. And that’s that’s the next challenge I’m putting to the business community in particular, where I think they can make a great impact.

00;20;56;27 – 00;21;18;02

Just I just want to point out, I don’t think I’ve ever had so much hope talking to a guest before, like you’re making me feel like there’s actual hope, especially when as we’re recording a, it can be pretty easy to get down about things and you’re saying there’s a possibility to make a real difference and the sky’s the limit.

00;21;18;02 – 00;21;47;26

And here’s what is possible. That’s wonderful. Thank you so much for that. No, you’re welcome. And I really believe that it’s too easy to listen to the radio or turn on the television or pick up the newspaper and get depressed and overwhelmed at what’s happening in our current realities. But we need to hold on to hope because great things are happening and people that sign up and work with us every week in your inbox, I can guarantee you you’ll get one good piece of news about something that’s changed in the world because of our network coming together to make a difference.

00;21;48;00 – 00;22;13;12

And that’s a real good reason to sign up. How do they sign up if they want to get involved with GBC Education? Yeah, if you’re if you’re just an everyday individual, you can go to WW their world dot org. It’s the organization that oversees GBC and sign up for our weekly newsletter. And if you’re a business that wants to get involved, you can go to GBC Dash Education talk and all the information’s there to sign up and become a member and to kick off your journey with us.

00;22;13;15 – 00;22;32;00

What’s next for GBC Education? A lot, a lot. We’ve just said our five year strategy and we have big goals and big numbers and targets where we want to directly work with 200 businesses and impact the lives of 50 million young people over the next five years. And we just we set our staff retreat because we’re one year into that strategy.

00;22;32;07 – 00;22;50;10

So we’ve set the bar even higher and we’re and we’re off to the gates to kick off the new year in 2024. Justin van Fleet, president of there, World and executive director of the Global Business Coalition for Education. Thank you. Thank you so much for joining today. Thank, Chris. It’s been it’s been a real pleasure. Thanks so much.

00;22;50;10 – 00;22;53;09


More in the Series

Chris Thornton is a Senior Principal and member of the global leadership team at Daggerwing Group. In his role, Chris serves as a source of strategic counsel for Senior Executives with client firms, advising them on how to help clients achieve Executive alignment, transform their cultures and equip and enable people managers to lead and embed change. An expert in the people side of change with both client-side and consulting experience, Chris has worked with leading companies including Nestlé, Pfizer, and GE Aviation to do change right and make it stick. He is also an active speaker on business transformation, a driver of innovation in Daggerwing’s breadth of change consulting services, and the host of Daggerwing Group’s podcast, Change@Work. Chris and his wife were featured in the New York Times for their love of pie.