How Industry and NGOs Collaborate to Shake Up Education

year upThere is growing desperation for skilled labor in today’s technology-based economy. As Jean Charest, Premier of Quebec warns in the World Economic Forum’s “Global Talent Risk Report, “We are entering the era of unparalleled talent scarcity, which, if left unaddressed, will put a brake on economic growth around the world, and will fundamentally change the way we approach workforce challenges.”

Meanwhile, over 75 million young people around the world are unemployed. Your mind might immediately travel to developing countries in Africa or Latin America, yet this conundrum is most striking in the U.S. where 53 percent of young Americans are either unemployed or underemployed – a generation seemingly shipwrecked in the wake of the economic storm that is the global recession.

What is the cause of this drastic imbalance between soaring demand and undersupply of talent? The obvious roots reside at the heart of our education system.

In his book, “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change The World,” Harvard Innovation Education Fellow, Tony Wagner explains why he believes that the U.S. is in grave danger of falling behind as a leading innovator in the world. “The culture of education as we know it is radically at odds with the culture of learning that produces innovators.” According to Wagner, American schools educate to fill children with knowledge when they should focus on developing skills like critical thinking, collaboration across networks, adaptability, imagination, and effective oral and written communication.

As TriplePundit learned at last week’s Global Philanthropy Forum, many nonprofits are working to revolutionize education through innovation. Still, preparing young people for the professional world remains one of our world’s most critical challenges.

Amit Bhatia of Aspire addresses the Global Philanthropy Forum
Amit Bhatia of Aspire addresses the Global Philanthropy Forum

Throughout the forum, special emphasis was given to the role of the private sector in addressing the global education crisis. After all, isn’t this really a sustainable business problem at its core? Businesses are shifting their focus to responsible supply chain management, waste reduction and water stewardship, yet the need to ensure a sustainable pool of talent is often missing from the corporate sustainability agenda. If companies do not take powerful action soon, they will face a severe shortage in their labor supply. At best, they will experience stunted growth. In more extreme cases, they will suffer defeat at the hands of cutthroat competition in a fully resource constrained world.

Many of the most successful nonprofits are already incorporating the private sector into their models. Take Year Up for instance – IT jobs in the US are expected to grow 22 percent per year through 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Recognizing these opportunities, Year Up partners with leading companies like Salesforce, Google and HP to train disadvantaged youth in skills like computer science and engineering. By placing youth in internships with these companies, Year Up provides opportunities for real life work experience while creating an environment that promotes job placement.

The Global Philanthropy Forum shared a variety of successful models from other countries in hopes that they might replicate to scale, or at least inspire similar adoption across other regions of the world. Earth University in Costa Rica involves the private sector along the entire spectrum of their ethics and ecology-focused education model. Business partners help devise curriculum, grade students and provide on-the-job learning through 16-week internships in industries like ecotourism and sustainable agriculture. According to President, Jose Zagul, Earth University concentrates on “forming an ethical leader and entrepreneur by focusing on experiential practice over theory.” The results will turn heads in any community – 23 percent of graduates go on to start businesses and each graduate creates an average of 4 jobs. Similarly, Aspire focuses on the “last mile of education” in India by building bridges with 50 corporations like IBM to enroll thousands of youth in an immensely effective 3-6 month boot camp focused on job placement.

Noticing the emerging role of education in the sustainability conversation, some leading US-based corporations are beginning to take more direct action by initiating youth education programs in-house.

Gap Inc’s This Way Ahead program brings together nonprofits and Gap employees to train underserved youth in career exploration and job readiness. In addition to providing 125,000 volunteer hours, the program also offers participants paid internships at Gap and Old Navy stores where they receive on-the-job mentorship from employees. The benefits to GAP are immeasurable, including enhanced employee moral and seamless access to an already-trained work force from which to hire new employees.

Probably the largest and best known corporate youth education program is Microsoft’s YouthSpark initiative which aims to create skills-development opportunities for 300 million youth around the world. Through programs ranging from the Imagine Cup technology competition to the BizSpark business incubator, YouthSpark supplies students with mentors and guidance to educate through performance-based methods. Microsoft also works inside the classroom. The TEALS program (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools), places Microsoft’s computer engineers into low-performing high schools to teach computer science courses. Andrea L. Taylor, Director of Community Affairs for North America, explains Microsoft’s mission to leverage programs like YouthSpark to help drive our future: “Equipping students and young adults with access to technology, and the skills required to use that technology is not only essential in helping them to pursue sustainable careers, it’s vital for our economy.”

Perhaps more of our world’s leading companies will awaken to the increasingly unsustainable labor situation and take part in revolutionizing the ways we educate our youth. Maybe then, we could finally break the seemingly intractable gridlock that binds our deeply flawed public education system and begin cultivating the innovators who will determine our future.


Videos of sessions at the Global Philanthropy Forum are available on the GPF Org YouTube Channel.

[Image credits: Global Philanthropy Forum]

Travis heads up strategic partnerships here at Previously, he has worked with several social enterprises including Calvert Foundation, SOCAP and Karisimbi Business Partners, a socially motivated management consulting start-up in Rwanda. He has also served in Guatemala as a Social Entrepreneur Corps Fellow and continues to support Wild River Organics, his family’s organic fruit farm. Travis received his BS in Business Administration from Pepperdine University. He can be reached at and followed on his responsible travel blog at

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