The recent announcement of Future Shop’s donation of $50,000 for computer labs (or as they are to be known “Future Leaders Tech Labs”) to each of two Toronto schools has become a touchstone for commentary across the country.
I see the situation as enlightened self interest on the part of Future Shop and the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). I’m sure that Future Shop’s intention to help students isn’t completely insincere, however, it’s unlikely the donation would have been made if there wasn’t an ROI for the company. For its part ,the TDSB doesn’t have adequate public funding and has turned to parents and the private sector to close the gap. However, as stated in today’s Globe and Mail, this is indeed a “slippery slope” and the degree to which it’s appropriate for the school system to provide business benefits to corporations and other private sectors funders isn’t yet clear.
Here are some questions that the players should be asking themselves and some ideas that may be instructive:
How can Future Shop (or any other corporation) support schools in way that maximizes business impact and minimizes risk to its reputation?Future Shop should work with and through a relevant educational non-profit organization that would have the responsibility to decide which schools are most in need of support, what is required, and how results will be measured. This approach would result in a credible and equitable allocation of funds that would eliminate (or at least mitigate) criticism.
What is the best way for Future Shop to promote it’s support of TDSB in a way that creates awareness (as needed for brand building) and is seen as genuine and authentic?For all intents and purposes, painting the labs with Future Shop colours is the same as putting the company’s band name on the door. In fact, this approach could be seen as more controversial because it has an flavour of duplicity. The more effective and authentic approach would be for Future Shop to have absolutely no brand presence except on the computers themselves, to do an internal presentation to parents and teachers with the participation of a non-profit partner and a TDSB representative, and to promote the contribution in local stores.
Where’s the program?As executed, there is no “program” evident in Future Shop’s donation/sponsorship. Perhaps there’s an opportunity for Future Shop to define, in conjunction with a credible non-profit organization, what “Future Leaders” means in this context and and to develop a social brand to capture and communicate the value and values of this idea. Then the company and its community partners could develop programs to bring this idea to life. Possibilities would include providing educational software with all computers, undertaking research to identify opportunities for technology to have more impact with children who are disadvantaged, and engaging Future Shop employees as in-school or community volunteers.
We’re certain to see more situations like this and I welcome your feedback and ideas.