One of the great things about my job is that I get to regularly talk with students across the country about Corporate Citizenship.  Recently I had the opportunity to talk with students a little closer to home when I was at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business to work with a few classes of aspiring MBA scholars.

(Pictured Below: University of Washington's PACCAR Building, Foster School of Business)

 

I delivered a presentation to Scott Reynolds’ Ethical Leadership classes on the role of business in society and talked about the expectations various countries have related to corporate responsibility in addressing social issues.  I always enjoy sharing the work we are doing at Microsoft in the area of corporate citizenship (aka CSR), but more importantly, I get the opportunity to challenge the students to think about ethical leadership within the context of corporate responsibility.  Theory is of course one thing, but thinking about these issues in a real-world context presents a more realistic perspective.

  

 

Scott gave the students a challenge.

 

“Divide into teams. Each team will be assigned a country, they will research that country’s local  governmental needs and societal challenges, as well as Microsoft’s current local Citizenship efforts.  Following that research each team will craft a CSR plan that maps to Microsoft Citizenship’s mission.” 

 

The point of this role playing is to bring these issues and opportunities to life while encouraging students to think through specific issues and solutions on a global and local level. Furthermore, it gives the students freedom to imagine utilizing resources from a major corporation to help solve worldly issues.

(Pictured below: Dan Bross, Scott Reynolds pre-class discussion)

There was a fantastic dynamic in these sessions.  Each presenting team was challenged by their classmates.  This debating approach created a great environment that forced every student to thoroughly prepare and think through their ideas. The challenging confrontations are a major part of what makes programs like these successful; it brings me great joy in facilitating such a test.

 

Over the two days of presentations, I listened to, eight teams representing 8 different countries from Europe to Asia and South America. While all of the presentations were well thought out and executed, perhaps one of the most provocative discussions was during the French team’s presentation.

 

I am not sure if it was the official Microsoft job titles they gave themselves, or the outlandish riot slides, but this team had a sense of humor that kept the class’s attention while they tacked the problem statement: "Tech sector is doing ok, the recession is not nearly as bad, but people are still unhappy, so how we get to a happy place?" Their solutions lead to thought provoking questions and discussions between the students:

 

Stated Problem:

 

Unemployment

 

Student team France solution:

 

Provide 500,000 IT Certifications for the unemployed and  partner with NGOs to train those people (for reference, you can find Microsoft Citizenship’s workforce development resources here)

 

Challenging questions:

 

Audience: "Do you think certifying 500k people will dilute the credibility of the certification in the eyes of employers looking to hire?"

 

Presenter Response: "Do you think certifying 500k in a country of 65 million is really diluting credibility?"

 

Audience:  "In the IT sector specifically, it's possible…"

 

Me: “Do you think we have enough resources to train all of those people?”

 

Presenter: “Of course, we are Microsoft” (I’m not sure our community affairs team would sign up for this target J)

 

The conversation continued with both the audience and the presenters bringing valid points to the table and really bringing the issue to life.

 

Conversations and exercises such as these have the potential to reveal deep seeded problems and further the conversation as to what the roles of corporations in a social setting should be.

 

It’s both thought provoking and inspiring to hear the the potential leaders of tomorrow evaluating and analyzing solutions to pressing economic and social issues.

 

So here’s a question for you.

 

What’s your view of these exercises?

 

What other scenarios or suggestions do you have?

 

As I meet with business school students around the country I’d love to expand the conversation and if you’ve any ideas, then let me know!

 

To learn more about Microsoft Citizenship click here