How State Department STEAM Camps Benefit Both Girls and Employee Volunteers

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Teaching girls how to say hello to Harry Potter through code sounds like something Hermione Granger would do at Hogwarts. But it’s part of the curriculum for high school girls from more than 27 countries who participate in WiSci (short for Women in Science) STEAM Camps (STEAM, often referred to as STEM, stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Design, Mathematics) each year.

A global public-private partnership boosting STEAM opportunities worldwide

Funded by the U.S. Department of State and run by World Learning, WiSci operates through a public-private partnership with Google, NASA, Intel, Microsoft, the American Society for Microbiology and the United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up. The two-week, all-expense-paid camps provide girls ages 15-18 with a cross-cultural experience where they learn from women in STEAM from participating organizations.

At last week’s 3BL Forum, Jim Thompson, director of private engagement within the Office of Global Partnerships at the U.S. Department of State, shared how the program is helping keep girls focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics throughout high school and into college.

To date, the program has reached more than 600 girls and young women at camps held in nearly a dozen countries, including the United States, Ethiopia, Namibia, Estonia and Peru. Through hands-on, girl-centered instruction, participants learn to value taking risks, bounce back after failing and build the reliance to keep trying again.

After camp is over, participants are expected to take what they’ve learned back home and share it with their communities through presentations, workshops, science fair activities and in the classroom. According to Girl Up, previous WiSci campers have started science and coding clubs at schools, have remained in contact with mentors they met at camp and have continued working on projects begun at the camp with girls they met from other countries. In addition, of the past campers who are now enrolled in college, 78 percent are studying STEAM subjects.

STEAM Camps offer valuable employee engagement opportunities

According to Thompson, it’s not just the girls who benefit from the camp experience – so do the professionals from sponsoring organizations who volunteer to teach and mentor girls.

“It’s a great way for employees to engage,” said Thompson, addressing 3BL Forum attendees.

A common theme among speakers at the 3BL Forum last week was the growing desire of employees – especially millennials and Gen Zers – to be part of an organization that shares their values and provides them with opportunities to give back. And linking volunteer engagements to an organization’s core mission just makes sense.

Instructors from NASA at WiSci camps, for example, have taught girls JavaScript programing using satellite data visualization tools like the Google Earth Engine. Google employees have highlighted how they use technology to make a difference in people’s lives, including the company’s TalkBack app for vision-impaired Android users and a smart spoon designed for people with hand tremors. They applied the learning by helping girls build their own apps that take accessibility into account. And volunteers from Intel have leveraged experiences from their daily jobs to teach girls about robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).

For the sponsors of WiSci, it’s a win-win-win: They are helping to bridge the technology gender gap, they are creating a pipeline of skilled future workers and they are providing a rich engagement experience for their employees. And that is something that Hermione would definitely raise her wand for.

TechGirls (U.S. Department of State)/Facebook

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New Roadmap Seeks $500 Million Investment to Transform Recycling in the U.S.

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The Recycling Partnership, a nonprofit that describes itself as a “national force for improving recycling,” has recently released a roadmap and “Bridge to Circularity” report aimed at transforming the United States recycling system and aligning it more with the goals and needs of a fully circular economy.

“Our current recycling system is fundamentally underfunded and incapable of delivering a circular economy without dramatic evolution,” said Keefe Harrison, The Recycling Partnership’s CEO, in a press statement. “With this report, we are providing the clear roadmap to create a new and improved recycling system of the future.”

Recycling is an old technology, but it badly needs more innovation and improvement. The main concern is that the recycling rate in the U.S. has hit a plateau. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, recycling rates saw a rapid uptick, as environmental awareness grew and more and more communities, particularly in urban areas, adopted practices such as curbside recycling. But then, all that progress stalled, and the U.S. recycling rate has been stuck at around 34 percent for the past decade.

The reasons are multifold – from the fact that suburban, exurban and rural areas have been slow to adopt municipal recycling, the limited cost-effectiveness of recycling systems, low fossil fuel prices that help keep virgin plastic cheap and the lack of centralized waste management systems across municipalities.

This harms companies, too, as it limits their ability to become more sustainable. There has been a strong push for more brands to add recycled content to their packaging. But some can’t source enough recycled inputs. Coca-Cola, for example, has set a goal to use 25 percent recycled PET in its bottles but has been unable to meet the timelines due to the challenge of getting enough recycled materials.

The Recycling Partnership report highlights three key barriers that are keeping recycling rates low and inhibiting progress towards a fully circular economy. One is that packaging innovation has outpaced the capabilities of our recycling infrastructure – think the proliferation of new materials, such as Amazon’s non-recyclable plastic mailers gunking up recycling operations. Second, the system is unable to deliver the supply of recycled material necessary for the success of efforts like the New Plastics Economy Partnership. Thirdly, there are underlying structural challenges that make developing a sustainable system difficult without more outside input.

The Partnership is calling for “Recycling 2.0,” new technology, data-driven systems and increased consumer participation that should all enable greater recyclability and circularity in our economy.

“To make this a reality, we’re calling for $500 million to fund these new initiatives,” Harrison said. “This will be the first step toward fully optimizing our nation’s recycling capabilities and ultimately building the bridge to a circular economy.”’

The initial focus will be plastics, an area that deserves attention as knowledge about the scale of plastic pollution in our natural environment grows. But this group doesn't plan to stop there – ultimately hoping to encompass all recycled materials and ensure that less waste ends up in landfills or nature.

“Concentrating on plastics alone will not create a viable platform for a truly circular economy,” Harrison said. “Nor will recycling alone ultimately suffice.”

We'll all need to work together to break through the 34 percent glass ceiling and hit the ultimate goal – 100 percent recycling and reusability. Only then can we say that our waste management system is truly, genuinely sustainable and circular.

Image credit: Recycling Partnership/Facebook

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How Can We All Hear That the World Is on Fire?

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The annual rhythm of the United Nations' year peaks with the General Assembly in September. Over a month later, it’s a good time to reflect on this year’s gathering, which was remarkable for its focus on fighting climate change and the transforming effect of one teenage girl telling it like it is in a way people haven't heard before.

“People are dying, entire ecosystems are collapsing, we are in the beginning of a mass extinction," said 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, addressing the U.N.'s Climate Action Summit in New York City. "And all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth."

The world has heard many comprehensive scientific explanations of what we need to do to combat global warming – all of those were many times longer than the 495 words that Thunberg used in her speech to delegates. Yet her words had a galvanizing effect on everyone who heard them, and she is spurring more people to act with a sense of urgency that was never triggered by thousands of pages of carefully argued science.

Why are so many people hearing these messages as if for the first time?

The reasons behind this are important to explore and should cause us to think about how we try to bring about change in the world. They are embedded in human psychology and can help us learn how our messages are received by those we would wish to influence. Understand these human foundations, and we will understand why sometimes our climate change arguments hit home or sometimes they seem to hit a wall. It’s all to do with calm, clear messaging, which can arise from within, as it seems to for Thunberg or for the rest of us through the use of mindfulness techniques to calm ourselves before we speak.

We need to light a fire under the seats of decision-makers. Thunberg has sparked the flame, but we must learn how to keep it burning brightly.  Extinction Rebellion is certainly fanning the flames, but what can we as development practitioners do to keep up the momentum?

A calm and direct voice helps us to hear these messages better than the raised voices in a high-volume argument. Research has found that the human ear closes down to reduce the volume of strident speech, so a measured approach cuts through more effectively than raised voices. Note how Extinction Rebellion, though determined to get their point across, are unfailingly polite and forever apologizing for the disruption they cause. Getting the tone of voice right – and using techniques such as meditation to build audible compassion and empathy with our audience – helps people to feel safe and truly hear the message.  

How can we do this? In UNDP’s Green Commodities Program, we have developed a series of carefully designed processes that bring all the relevant stakeholders together into carefully curated safe spaces where people can explore differences, find common ground and build sustainable commodity solutions together.  We call it Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration for Systemic Change. It instills trust among stakeholders, builds resilience to external shocks and produces a community that can calmly hear each other’s ideas and problems.

If we are to take the actions we must take to combat climate change, we need not only to change what we do, but also consider how we think and speak. And we must create collaborative spaces where we can be calm and feel safe if we are to truly hear each other’s solutions.

Image credit: United Nations

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Companies, Communities Come Together To Rethink Blighted Spaces For An Equitable Future

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(Image: With entertainment districts like the Staples Center and LA Live in Los Angeles and The O2 in London, AEG says it's working collaboratively with communities to rethink urban spaces.) 

Vacant and underused spaces tear holes in cities around the world.

In the U.S., nearly 17 percent of the land in large cities is considered vacant. The number of units that are effectively abandoned rose from 3.7 million in 2005 to 5.8 million in 2016, an increase roughly equal to five times the entire housing stock of San Francisco, according to a 2018 report from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

When large swaths of neighborhoods are left to decay, residents who can, move away—and what is left are urban deserts void of jobs, opportunities and hope, reenforcing a cycle of poverty for many.

In creating the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which seek to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all, the role of cities has not been forgotten. Through SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), public and private stakeholders are tasked with working together in all stages of urban development to build consensus, inclusion, resilience and sustainability. In areas where this is done right, the result is revitalization projects that create jobs, grow city economies and drive adjacent development.

Private sector can play a key role in revitalizing urban spaces  

AEG, the leading sports and entertainment company, offers a case study in transforming underused or abandoned inner-city properties into commercial districts that drive economic growth for local residents while retaining the culture of the local community. The company has created world-class venues in once desolate urban neighborhoods, such as the Staples Center/LA Live in Central Los Angeles, The O2 in South East London and Mercedes-Benz Arena/Mercedes Platz in a blighted rail yard in eastern Berlin. 

The company is the first to admit, however, that going into a new community with lofty redevelopment plans is not always met with enthusiasm by local residents. There have been many examples of inner-city development in historically low-income communities gone wrong. Examples include corporations coming in with little engagement with local residents, fueling fears of dislocation, the loss of unique community cultures and increased noise and traffic. 

AEG said it's doing things differently.

LA Live reimagining urban spaces in Los Angeles(Image: LA Live in the Pico-Union section of Los Angeles.) 

Listening to the voice of local communities 

Irene Lewis, executive director of the Red Shield Salvation Army Community Center in central Los Angeles, remembers what her neighborhood—known as Pico-Union—was like before the Staples Center. 

“When I came here, there was nothing,” she said. “Hotels were being used for prostitution, there was a lot of crime—I would hear gunfire every night and afternoon. It wasn’t safe to walk down the street.”  

Red Shield has been a mainstay of the Pico-Union neighborhood since 1929, when the community center was built on two vacant lots. Today, it supports 5,000 local residents with a ballet studio, community pool, after-school tutoring and educational programs, a computer lab, a sports pavilion and more.

“We’re a safe haven for kids to keep them away from the streets,” Lewis said. 

Red Shield is also very much a voice of the community. When AEG came in with plans for the future Staples Center, Red Shield—located only a few blocks away from the planned site—quickly became a trusted partner, helping to connect the company with local residents through a series of community meetings. In these discussions, AEG representatives were able to hear the local communities’ concerns and fears, as well as hopes and desires for the complex.  

“We live in a world of haves and have-nots, and often, people in these communities feel like they don’t have a voice, that no one wants to listen to them,” Lewis explained. “But AEG has made every effort to listen to them—even before they broke ground.”

These early discussions with local groups spanned the course of 18 months. The end result was a comprehensive Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) that included a commitment from AEG to develop affordable housing units, day care centers and parks and recreation space. But the top priority expressed by residents was the need for jobs, Lewis said—which was reflected in the CBA by local hiring goals and a commitment to roll out job training programs.

Lewis recalled job opportunities began to spring up almost immediately—first in construction and eventually at the completed complex, such as in the entertainment center, at the onsite J.W. Marriott hotel, at food concessions, restaurants and in the movie theater. She points to a local woman who has been working as a security guard at the Staples Center since 1999.

“The most meaningful positive impact our projects can deliver is providing employment opportunities specifically geared to low-income neighboring residents,” said Ted Tanner, senior vice president of real estate at AEG. “Through extensive local hiring [within a three-mile radius of the properties] and job training programs, we have been able to enable residents to have a long-term stake and future as an integral part of our team.” 

Today, AEG is still working with Lewis and Red Shield to get community input for plans to add an outdoor area for families and a farmers market. 

LA Live Dark Nights engages community in new urban spaces(Image: An artist paints during a Downtown Dark Nights even at LA Live. Held regularly in the evening hours, Downtown Dark Nights invite local residents to enjoy free live performances, art installations and activities.) 

Beyond jobs: Maintaining neighborhood culture and community

Beyond jobs, the Pico-Union community voiced concern in early discussions with AEG that the sprawling complex could destroy the neighborhood's unique culture and institutions. They also feared that they would be excluded from the complex while thousands of higher-income visitors would flood in each day to Lakers’ games, concerts and high-end restaurants and bars.

That brings us to best practice No. 2: Remain engaged with the local community beyond the initial development phase and create an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere—something easier said than done in many development initiatives. 

In the case of AEG, Tanner said that in all of its major projects—whether in LA, London or Berlin—the company plans activities and events to bring local residents to the facilities for public, non-ticketed events. These include holiday festivals (ice skating and tree-lighting at Christmas, for example), arts and crafts fairs, food and wine festivals, outdoor concerts, pregame or concert fan fests, basketball tournaments, charitable events and even fashion shows. These complexes also welcome local residents and families by encouraging restaurant and cinema operators to offer special promotions or discounts.  In LA, AEG and its community partners have developed a dog park for local residents and held graduation ceremonies for neighborhood schools at the arena.

AEG also provides grants to local nonprofit organizations that support the backbone of the community, such as local schools, arts organizations and, of course, the Red Shield Salvation Army Community Center. Lewis recalled that when the Center was forced to close its pool due to budget cuts—the only pool available to local residents—AEG stepped in with support and also helped garner further support from other organizations.

“If we didn’t have their support, we couldn’t do what we do,” Lewis said. 

And without Red Shield and other community partners, AEG would not be able to do what it does either. 

This type of give-and-take relationship clearly ties back to SDG 11, its call to improve public spaces and make them more accessible to residents and its focus on intentional urban development that benefits everyone. This task is not easy, but stories like these prove it’s not only possible but critical for companies to play a key role. 

Image credits: Flickr/Mattia Panciroli, Flickr/DianaConnolly101, Flickr/Brutemus

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Speak Up and Speak Out: 4 Lessons From Ben & Jerry’s CEO Matthew McCarthy

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(Image: Ben & Jerry’s CEO Matthew McCarthy at the 2019 3BL Forum.)

A hush fell over the crowd at the 2019 3BL Forum as Ben & Jerry’s CEO Matthew McCarthy walked on stage, save for the click-clack of keys as dozens of tweets scrolled by using the #BrandsTakingStands hashtag. 

It makes sense that McCarthy’s remarks were among the most shared on social media during the 3BL Forum. When it comes to speaking out on social and environmental issues, Ben & Jerry’s is the real deal, the OG, its namesake founders the proverbial grandfathers of corporate purpose. 

From cause-driven product launches and consumer engagement campaigns to supply chain sustainability, Ben & Jerry’s has done it all. And McCarthy, who took the helm as CEO in 2018 after over 20 years at parent company Unilever, had no shortage of lessons to share about how to identify your corporate purpose and live it every day. 

“We're in the urgency business,” he said last week at 3BL Forum, the earnest sentiment behind his message tempered slightly by his friendly Southern drawl. “We need a much more aggressive approach within our organizations.” 

Read on for his top takeaways for purpose-driven leaders. 

3BL Forum Ben & Jerry's ice cream and purpose lessonsIce cream with a side of social purpose? Count us in! 

Don’t let fear block your progress

“No one wants to screw up, but the reality is that the distance between where you are and where you want to go as a business usually involves a good wipe-out,” McCarthy told business leaders at the 3BL Forum. “And in fact, in this world of hyper transparency, how you recover from a mess-up is one of the best opportunities to build authenticity with the people you serve.

"I know why organizations are afraid because I used to be afraid—and I still am. I don't want people to say bad things about my business or me. But in fact, getting criticized is just part of it—and I consider it a barometer of our success. If we're not getting some flack, we're probably not pushing hard enough.”

Make purpose the mission of your entire company

“Don’t just delegate to marketing or your corporate responsibility department or your social justice team—it's not just their job to do,” McCarthy said. “A lot of companies set up a group [around their purpose] or they ask marketing to come up with something when, in fact, some of the biggest opportunities for impact is through our supply chains.”

It’s not about selling more products

“My team doesn't do what they do in order to sell more ice cream,” McCarthy said. "The minute you restrict action that attacks a real social or environmental ill to sell more stuff, you have tethered it to failure.”

Put resources behind it

Many business leaders feel a conflict between spending money on their purpose activations and investing in their core business and operations. McCarthy called this a “death loop” and said feeling as if every dollar spent on purpose somehow takes away from the core business is a “completely flawed logic.” 

“In fact, forget about your core and spend on purpose,” he said. “I guarantee you, your friends will thank you.” 

Still curious? Click here for more insights from Matthew McCarthy and other purpose-driven speakers at the 3BL Forum. 

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California Wildfires: How You Can Help

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Wildfires up and down the state of California are leaving nearly 2 million individuals without power and hundreds of thousands more under mandatory evacuation order. Even more residents have been impacted by exceptionally poor air quality for stretches of miles across the state. The fires currently threaten more than 90,000 buildings across an ever-expanding evacuation zone, with strong winds raising the prospect of more fire breakouts and growth of existing blazes. In Northern California, the Kincade Fire has already impacted 74,000 acres, while the Getty Fire in Los Angeles has consumed over 600 acres and counting.

As a company with headquarters in California, this natural disaster truly hits home for PayPal. These are our colleagues, our customers, our partners, our families and our friends. The full devastation of the wildfires will only be known in the days and weeks to come, and we’re coming together as a community during this time of devastation and uncertainty. 

Together with PayPal Giving Fund, we have launched a disaster relief campaign to support organizations advancing relief efforts in California. PayPal is covering all processing costs, ensuring that 100 percent of your donation will support charities providing relief and recovery efforts. Through the PayPal Gives program, PayPal will also match donations made by a PayPal employee, according to terms of the program.

Your generosity has helped make a huge difference during times of natural disaster, from when wildfires swept through parts of California last year to when Hurricane Dorian ravaged parts of the Bahamas and North and South Carolina in September. 

We’re extremely grateful to anyone who is able to help provide disaster relief to those in urgent need. 

Written by John Kunze, SVP, Global Consumer Product & Technology

This story has been previously published in the 3BL Media newsroom and PayPal Stories.

Image credit of Walker Fire in Plumas County, California: U.S. National Forest Service

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Stop Wasting Time Looking For the Perfect Cause-Brand Connection—And Other Purpose Lessons You Need

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(Image: Ben & Jerry's CEO Matthew McCarthy talks cause-brand connection and what it means to live your corporate purpose at the 2019 3BL Forum.) 

The brands taking stands movement reached new heights in 2019. We saw Gillette and Anheuser-Busch air Super Bowl ads with purpose-oriented messaging, Procter & Gamble and LUNA Bar fight for equal pay for women’s soccer players, and brands including Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart and Walgreens enter the push for gun safety

Still, some business leaders view the movement with trepidation. If I speak out on a social or environmental issue, will I alienate potential customers and employees? What about boycotts, should I worry about those? I’ve taken a hard look at my brand and my products, and I just don’t see how they align with purpose. Maybe I should wait until I find the right fit.

Well, Matthew McCarthy, CEO of Ben & Jerry’s—which has taken no shortage of stands in recent years, from voting rights and criminal justice reform to single-use plastics—has some news for you. 

“Stop wasting time trying to find the perfect cause-brand fit. Just do it,” he said at the 2019 3BL Forum last week. “What does ice cream have to do with structural racism and social justice? Not a lot, except that we care about it and our team cares about it.”

A brand without a cause is a dead brand walking

Of course, we see plenty of purpose activations that align closely with a company’s products or operations. Look no further than Ben & Jerry’s fellow Unilever brand, Vaseline. 

While it may sound strange at first to call Vaseline a purpose-driven brand, it turns out its signature jelly is used by healthcare professionals in developing countries to ward off skin disease—particularly in temporary shelters like refugee camps, where people live in tight quarters and access to sanitation is limited. From this realization, the Vaseline Healing Project was born, and it’s now active in 52 countries, providing medical help to people who are displaced by natural disasters, conflict and extreme poverty.

But we can find just as many purpose missions aligned with the spirit and values of a company, not its products. What do LG electronics have to do with life skills that spur happiness? What do Bridgestone tires have to do with LGBTQ rights? Again, not a lot, but these companies, their teams and their customers resonated with the cause, so they took it and ran with it.
 
No matter what you do, make sure you do something—or your days may be numbered, McCarthy said. “The biggest under-told story in business right now is that the main reason why so many businesses are struggling is because they're not doing anything to make the world better,” he said at the Forum. “If you're not doing something to help the world, you're probably dead and you just don't know it yet.” 

Young people are raising the bar—and it goes way beyond cause-brand connection

As business leaders struggle to find that perfect cause-brand connection, consumers—particularly young people—are already moving beyond this mindset, said Meredith Ferguson, managing director of DoSomething Strategic, the social impact consulting arm of DoSomething.org

“When thinking about taking a stand, it’s not just about selling your product or aligning with your product anymore,” she said at the Forum. “It’s about using your power, influence and platform to solve the world’s most pressing problems. And we’ve got enough of them that we really need your voice.” 

In fact, DoSomething Strategic—which regularly surveys DoSomething.org's young members—has found that taking a stand on causes aligned with your products and operations is simply what’s expected from today’s young people. 

“If you’re a clothing brand that isn’t size inclusive, that’s just poor business strategy. Being size inclusive is not taking a stand. That’s just being a responsible business,” Ferguson said. “Young people are saying that is table stakes now. We just expect that of you.” 

“Don’t think the cause platform you support has to be in lockstep with what your brand sells,” she continued. “It just has to be in lockstep with what your brand is about from the inside out.”

cause-brand connection and what young people want from brands at the 3BL Forum(Image: Allison Alt (second from right), executive director of Good360, talks about what young people expect from brands at the 2019 3BL Forum.)

Your stakeholders want to see purpose—and they want to get involved 

A 2018 study from DoSomething Strategic indicates that although young people positively recognize brands that take stands, what they're really looking for is a way to get involved. “The easiest way to make an impact on a consumer and an employee is to invite them to be a part,” Ferguson said at the Forum. 

Allison Alt, executive director of Social Impact 360, which trains young people to lead purpose-driven businesses, agrees. “What I find in speaking with young CEOs and young business leaders is that meaning and purpose in their daily work is what they are really looking for,” she said at the Forum. 

“We’re starting to see more brands stand for something, which is wonderful, because it signals to the next generation that you care about their need to be engaged and passionate in the work they’re doing. But companies need to ask themselves: What am I doing to bring that purpose into everyone’s daily work?” 

Curious about how to embed your purpose and live it daily? These insights from business leaders shared during the 3BL Forum will get you off on the right foot. 

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Another Chapter in Retailer Activism: Aldi Speaks for the Bees

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From gun safety to climate change, brands are speaking out as never before on areas of deep public concern. That includes the retail industry. Slowly but surely, retailers are beginning to promote themselves as safe spaces for shoppers concerned about their own health, human rights and the environment. The latest example is the popular discount grocer Aldi.

Retailers push the envelope

Retailer activism is especially evident in the retailer-manufacturer field, where companies like Levi-Strauss can reach deep into their supply chains to foster social progress.

The retailer activism movement also manifests itself in other, often overlapping shades.

One involves creating safe spaces for customers. In 2013, Starbucks began requesting gun owners to keep their weapons out of its stores, regardless of permissive local laws.

Yet another type of retailer activism manifests itself in the sustainability field. For example, Ikea and Walmart brushed aside the political wars over renewable energy and became early adopters of rooftop solar. In doing so, they helped to mainstream controversial new technology and normalize it in the public consciousness.

Aldi speaks up for the bees

That normalization process can take a generation or two (renewable energy is still a political hot potato, for that matter). Nevertheless, the end result is that consumers begin to recognize and appreciate behavior by retailers that are in the vanguard of change.

Consumers also begin to expect more from retailers that lag behind.

A new policy on pollinator protection announced by the U.S. division of Germany’s Aldi supermarket chain illustrates how consumer expectations and retailer activism can work together and accelerate change.

Consumers are becoming more aware of the role of bees and other pollinators in the global food supply, and Aldi’s new policy supports that concern.

The new policy also bolsters Aldi’s brand reputation as it expands its range of organic products.

Last week, Aldi U.S. announced that it will encourage its suppliers to find alternatives to harmful pesticides, specifically those containing the compounds neonicotinoids and chlorpyrifos (CPS), which have been linked to impacts on bee and bird health.

“As a leading grocery retailer, at Aldi U.S., we want to make sure the way we do business also supports our communities, our people and our world,” the company explained in a press release.

Under the new policy, Aldi will encourage its suppliers to practice strategies designed to reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides.

The new policy also prevails upon suppliers to avoid jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. Aldi admonishes them to refrain from using “regrettable substitutes” for pesticides containing neonicotinoids and chlorpyrifos.

The limits of retailer activism

Aldi is not the first supermarket chain urging growers to begin transitioning out of harmful pesticides. Whole Foods set a high bar several years ago.

Few if any supermarket chains followed in Whole Foods’s footsteps, until last year. That’s when Costco announced a pollinator policy that is very similar to Aldi’s.

Like Aldi, Costco mentions neonicotinoids and chlorpyrifos by name. The company also includes similar guidance on following laws that require the use of certain chemicals.

In addition, the Costco policy issues the same admonition against using “regrettable substitutes.”

That language may seem tepid, but it is highly suggestive. The phrase “regrettable substitutes” is well known in the public health field. It refers to a whack-a-mole situation in which some chemicals are banned, only to be replaced by others that are just as harmful — or even worse.

More to the point, the phrase echoes the “respectfully request” language deployed earlier this year by Kroger and other retailers seeking legislative action on gun safety. It is an indication that supermarket chains are reaching the limits of their ability to change the behavior of their suppliers. They are poised to ally themselves with grassroots activists, and lobby for broad changes in federal policy.

Going beyond bees

The use of hazardous substances in agriculture is just one issue in which retailers could begin to flex their muscles in alliance with other activists.

In another recent development on that score, Lowe’s has just announced an update to its chemical policy.

In addition to banning the use of certain chemicals in carpeting and other goods, Lowe’s will no longer carry pesticides containing neonicotinoids, with the exception of those used for trees and shrubs. The new policy also bans the use of neonicotinoids by the company’s plant suppliers.

With Aldi and Lowe’s now on board, it will be interesting to see if other leading retailers announce similar policies on pesticides - and use their voices to help advocate for changes in federal policy.

Image credit: Pixabay

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A new policy on pollinator protection announced by Aldi illustrates how consumer expectations and retailer activism can work together and accelerate change.
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Facebook vs. Twitter on Political Ads: Who Wore It Better?

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Now that Facebook and Twitter have staked out polar opposite positions on political advertising, industry observers are weighing in on the relative merits of each argument. That’s all well and good, but this Facebook vs. Twitter spat avoids the million-dollar question in the social media room: What are leading brands and other commercial advertisers supposed to make of all this?

Facebook vs. Twitter on political advertising

The political advertising controversy blew up last month, when Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg made it clear that the platform has no intention of fact-checking political advertising.

As if to retort Zuckerberg directly, shortly thereafter, Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey announced that his platform is banning all political advertising outright.

Free expression vs. scale of expression

In his argument against fact-checking, Zuckerberg cited the fundamental value of free expression. On closer inspection, though, that value is more relative than fundamental.

The free expression argument also muddies the waters between the constitutional guarantee against repression by government, and the right of private businesses like Facebook to determine what content goes onto their platforms.

Dorsey’s argument in favor of eliminating political ads came closer to identifying the root cause of the problem. For Twitter, Dorsey explained, the fundamental issue is one shared by all social media platforms. Its business model simply does not account for the expense of monitoring content at scale.

“Internet political ads present entirely new challenges to civic discourse: machine learning-based optimization of messaging and micro-targeting, unchecked misleading information, and deep fakes, all at increasing velocity, sophistication, and overwhelming scale,” Dorsey explained in a Twitter thread last week.

In addition to banning overtly political advertising, Twitter is reportedly planning to ban issue advertising. The full policy is set to be announced formally on November 15.

Who will clean up this mess?

Perhaps without intending to do so, Dorsey appears to be leaning in favor of a framework that lifts the burden of fact-checking political advertising from social media platforms and places it on the government, where it would trickle onto the shoulders of the political advertisers themselves.

In this “trickle-down” framework, political advertisers would be responsible for adhering to rules and regulations established by law, much as drivers have to adhere to rules for driving a car. Enforcement and punishment would be the responsibility of law enforcement agencies, not social media platforms.

After all, auto manufacturers are not responsible for enforcing traffic regulations, nor do they enforce licensing, inspection, insurance requirements, or any other area involving drivers.

If this is beginning to sound familiar, it should. Here in the U.S., commercial advertisers are already subject to federal rules and regulations governing claims about their products, through the Federal Trade Commission. Breaking those rules can involve heavy fines and a significant loss of reputation.

Extending that framework to political advertising is a delicate task, but not necessarily an impossible one.

Business Insider political reporter Eliza Relman made just such an argument earlier this week.

After describing the pushback against the political advertising policies of both Facebook and Twitter, Relman wrote that “tech companies wouldn't be in the position of creating policy to counteract this abuse if we had an effective Federal Election Commission, the agency charged with regulating how money is raised and spent in elections.”

When boycotts work

Oversight by the FEC is probably the last thing that either Zuckerberg or Dorsey would want, but it could be something that commercial advertisers welcome with open arms.

Unilever and other leading commercial advertisers have already made known their antipathy for objectionable content in social media platforms, and they have called upon social media companies to do a better job of policing their users.

Commercial advertisers have also been dealing with concerns over objectionable behavior on other platforms, including the media organization Breitbart and certain programming on Fox News.

Leading brands already have enough on their hands without having to deal with the reputational impact of placement in a wild-west environment for political advertising.

In other words, Zuckerberg may have handed commercial advertisers another reason to extricate themselves from Facebook and find alternative ways to engage with customers.

Safe spaces for brand reputation

To be clear, Twitter has also come in for its share of criticism, though to a lesser extent than Facebook.

With political advertising out of its hair, Twitter will still face pressure to moderate user content. That could become a far more complicated task as political influencers seek alternative ways to push out their messages.

Nevertheless, so far the indications are that Twitter is in position to make up for the loss of political ad dollars with an increase in commercial ad revenue, as leading advertisers seek safe spaces in which to promote and protect their brands.

Image credit: Unsplash

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The latest Facebook vs. Twitter spat begs this question: what are brands supposed to make of these social media companies' stands on political advertising?
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Stackable Credentials and Modular Programs Bring More Options to Postsecondary Education

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The future of postsecondary education will be modular, stackable and more democratic. That’s according to edX, a nonprofit organization founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, that is re-imagining the postsecondary education model.

In their view, our rapidly evolving economy, fueled by constant advances in technology, requires workers to continually update and refresh their skills to find employment, stay employed, and advance their careers. 

Jobs of the future will also be multidisciplinary, requiring a mix of skills which can’t be learned in the traditional setting of today’s college degrees, which focus almost entirely on a single discipline, said Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX and professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT. 

Therefore, college degrees must become more flexible and customizable, allowing students to stack up learning modules to match their skilling needs, interests and job requirements, Agarwal said. He predicts a future where students will no longer receive a single degree from one university, but rather design their own personalized degrees from many online or on-campus programs. 

This type of approach can also “democratize access” to education, Agarwal continued, increasing access to high-quality education for everyone, everywhere. 

“Access is often blocked by barriers of time, money and location, and our mission is to break those barriers down,” he told TriplePundit. “We believe education is a human right, and we seek to increase access to it for everyone around the world through our work.”

MicroMasters programs brings flexibility to graduate education 

edX has already applied these concepts to its MicroMasters programs, a series of graduate-level courses offered through top universities like the Massachusetts Institution of Technology Thunderbird School of Global Management, a unit of the Arizona State University Knowledge Enterprise , Boston University, Georgia Tech and the University of Queensland in Australia. Launched in September 2016, edX now offers more than 50 MicroMasters programs  in popular subjects including cybersecurity, business analytics, data science, artificial intelligence and user experience design. 

Students can use their MicroMasters program certificate to start or advance their careers. Upon completion, those who do well can apply the credits they’ve earned toward an on-campus master’s degree at the participating institution, if accepted into the on-campus program. 

“The workplace is changing more rapidly today than ever before, and employers are in need of highly-developed talent. Meanwhile, college graduates want to advance professionally, but are realizing they do not have the career-relevant skills that the modern workplace demands,” Agarwal told us. “The MicroMasters program initiative provides the next level of innovation in learning to address this skills gap by creating a bridge between higher education and industry to create a skillful, successful 21st-century workforce.”

According to edX, these programs offer several advantages for students. There are no admissions requirements, and coursework is career-focused so skills learned can be immediately applied in a real-world setting. 

The programs are shorter in length compared to a traditional master’s program: A completed certificate is comparable to up to half of the credits needed for a master’s degree in the U.S. (or up to 30 percent in Europe) upon acceptance to a university program. 

They are also cost effective, ranging from $600 to $1,500. And they’re very flexible, offered fully online, as either self-paced or instructor-led, and available multiple times per year so students can take the courses at their own pace to fit busy schedules. 

Success speaks for itself 

edX recently surveyed students who had completed MicroMasters programs, and 87 percent reported positive career outcomes such as changing jobs, getting a raise or receiving a promotion. 

Many of these success stories are available on the edX blog. For instance, a student identified as Danaka recently completed her online MicroMasters program credential in supply chain management from MITx before being accepted into MIT’s on-campus graduate program to complete her degree. Her MicroMasters program credential is credit eligible and counts for half of her degree requirements.

Another student, identified as Tobias, works as an investment manager in a firm that funds renewable energy projects. He completed a MicroMasters program focused on solar energy in hot desert climates to help him better understand the challenges and risks of solar investments in these regions. He also appreciated the international nature of the program:

“People from all over the world became my course mates, [and] I enjoyed the discussions and different views,” he told edX. 

The next level: Equalizing postsecondary education with MicroBachelors programs

Following up on this success, edX is now designing MicroBachelors programs, a stackable series of courses that learners can take to acquire career-relevant knowledge and gain 21st-century skills. According to edX, these programs will remove learning challenges for working adults, such as cost, time and previous educational experience, and enable learners to advance their careers while also pursuing a bachelor's degree.

Several organizations have already signed on to support the MicroBachelors programs, including the SunTrust Foundation, the Yidan Prize Foundation, the Lumina Foundation, the Walmart Foundation and Boeing.

*This article series is sponsored by SunTrust Foundation and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team. 

Image: LinkedIn Sales Navigator/Unsplash

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