Two months ago I wrote about IBM’s triple-benefit employee engagement programs. I thought it would be difficult to find a company with a similar program that provides substantial value for the company and truly benefits the community or people that the employees work with. Fortunately, I was wrong.
Meet Project Belize, PwC’s international development leadership program in Belize. Since 2008, the firm’s professionals at all levels, from interns to senior partners, travel to Belize City every year to host financial literacy camps, provide scholarships to students, train teachers and principals, and build educational playgrounds.
Throughout the years, Project Belize has become one of the most competitive programs within the firm: out of the thousands who apply, less than 400 are selected to participate. What makes Project Belize unique according to PwC is that it combines the firm’s business goals with social impact and it’s an international volunteer experience to boot.
To learn more about Project Belize I talked with Shannon Schuyler, Principal and Corporate Responsibility Leader at PwC. Here’s an edited version of my interview with her:
TriplePundit: Why did you choose Belize of all the countries in the area that could use some help?
Shannon Schuyler: When we originally looked at this about five years ago, we really wanted to have an international internship experience. We had to figure out where we could take interns that would be relatively easy to get to, English-speaking, safe and has the environment where we felt we could make a difference because it is relatively small.
Considering that 60 percent of the children in Belize don’t go to high school because of the cost, we saw a big issue with getting the children to the next level. Also, when you look at the local economy which tends to be driven by entrepreneurship they weren’t having enough influx of people who are savvy enough financially to be able to start their own businesses. And so we really felt that with all these things coming together Belize was a good place for us to be and to see if we can make an impact.
3p: What does the financial training you provide to the students and the teachers in Belize focus on?
SS: Our first program focused on teaching students what it means to be financial responsible and what it means to be an entrepreneur. So over the course of the days that we’re down there, some of what we teach them is about creating their own business, and encouraging them to think about where and how they’d spend extra funds if they became available. And so they get an idea of what their future could hold. Then we back up and talk how they can actually begin to earn and save money to be able to get to the point where they could start their own business.
We had so many teachers that were interested in what we were teaching in their classrooms, because they themselves don’t have a lot of higher education, we started a program to teach the teachers, and then we found that the principals are really interested as well and so we have now a separate program for them, looking at how they manage the funds specifically within their schools.
3p: In addition to the training do you also provide the students with financial assistance?
SS: One of the things that we were so disheartened to see is students who are eager to continue their education and go to high school but couldn’t because their parents couldn’t afford it. And so, we started a scholarship program, where every year scholars who were part of our different programs are given scholarships so they’re able to go to high school.
3p: Do you have data on the results of the project in terms of the impacts on the local economy?
SS: From different assessments that we’ve done we know that 90 percent of the principals are now actually utilizing what we’ve taught them. We have several people who actually started businesses, and today we can track that more than $3,000 that were earned by these students who started their businesses because they participated in Project Belize. We also see that the number of students who now are interested in going to high school has grown almost 60 percent.
3p: What do you see as the most important benefits of the project to PwC?
SS: We have just gone through a significant study around what we have been able to do with corporate responsibility and one of the findings is that corporate responsibility appeals to people who actually want to stay in the firm longer so it really helps with our retention. When we look at the different programs, Project Belize contributes more than anything else that we do to retaining our people. So it’s something that really drives personal satisfaction and engagement, which is so critical for us.
3p: Are you running any similar programs in the U.S.?
SS: Actually our work in Belize had led to the commitment we made last year with the Clinton Global Initiative – a $160 million five-year commitment called ‘Earn Your Future,’ specifically around teaching financial literacy within the U.S. Our goal is to reach 2.5 million students and educators in the U.S. in five years and be able to connect them and have them be more financially responsible. And so for us it brings into practice what we’ve learned in Belize.
Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris and an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Business School, CUNY SPS and Parsons The New School for Design, teaching courses in green business, sustainable design and new product development. You can follow Raz on Twitter.