The global COVID-19 pandemic is one of the greatest disasters of the previous decades that has disrupted the normal functioning of human societies at many levels, including higher education, business, the public sector (Bozkurt et al., 2022). Thousands of students were forced to adjust to remote learning schemes, which was a major challenge for many of them. Similarly, educational institutions had to rapidly develop these new processes and adapt their programmes to new communication channels. During this painful adjustment, many global corporations offered extensive assistance in the form of product discounts or direct provision of knowledge and support. As noted by such authors as Reiser and Dean (2023), this collaboration may be characterised as for-profit philanthropy. This essay aims to appraise the impact of such initiatives on educational development in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For-Profit Philanthropy and Its Benefits
For-profit philanthropy is the term conceptualised by such authors as Reiser and Dean (2023). It is generally defined as firms’ internal initiatives aimed at socially responsible goals that frequently form a major part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies. The earlier work by Reiser (2008) explores the example of Google as one of the pioneers of this innovative model. The analysed company created a separate entity called Google.org that was radically different from traditional CSR efforts in several spheres. First, this division performed its own market analysis to identify optimal targets for investments (Harrison and Seim, 2019). The goals of these activities remained philanthropic and included climate change, disease prevention, poverty elimination, and other environmental and social issues. However, Google utilised its internal expertise to select the most interesting and promising projects in this sphere. This made it a key investor in multiple renewable energy companies. It also provided grants to individual projects and research institutes investigating topics of interest.
Second, these investments were performed within for-profit schemes, which granted Google control over the course of money utilisation and the progress of initiatives realisation (Lall and Park, 2022). This scheme was substantially different from traditional charitable donations that were not expected to produce any revenues and could be used inefficiently by the recipient. Third, many of the projects supported by Google.org were realised using its internal workforce within the scope of its free volunteering CSR efforts or the famous 80/20 rule where employees could allocate 20% of their paid time to side projects (Backstrom and Bengtsson, 2018). As a result, major sustainability problems were explored by thousands of highly motivated and competent innovators possessing unique skills and having access to the resources of one of the world’s information technology leaders. Fourth, the Google Grants programme provided free advertising to the selected philanthropic projects, which helped them gain public attention and receive additional investments. As noted by Reiser (2008), the key advantage of this new model was the fact that a major global corporation was selecting its own priority targets and using all of its vast resources and competencies to realise them since this involved both return-on-investment and CSR elements.
From the standpoint of traditional philanthropy schemes, the solution discussed by Reiser and Dean (2023) provided multiple advantages from the standpoint of global wellbeing. On the one hand, the involved firms were genuinely involved in the projects they selected on their own. Newer examples of successful initiatives included the development of vaccines, HIV treatments, and malaria treatments by the Gates Foundation combining the resources of Melinda Gates, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and other stakeholders (Blunt, 2022). From the standpoint of the greater good for society at large, this is more effective than progressive taxation or involuntary CSR efforts seeking to achieve minimal compliance rather than tangible results. On the other hand, for-profit initiatives are interesting for these firms and fully transparent for global regulators, tax authorities, and governments (Schmitz and McCollim, 2021). On the contrary, many purely philanthropic projects of the past were involved in money-laundering schemes and other crimes. These violations only became possible due to their unique tax treatment and minimal reporting obligations. In this aspect, for-profit philanthropy departments of major corporations are operating within the same regulatory frameworks as the other business branches.
Moreover, for-profit philanthropy schemes are largely similar to social enterprises as a more effective form of charitable operations (Ko and Liu, 2021). They utilise the internal resources of firms to achieve superior results instead of entirely relying on external contractors. In the case of direct investments and grants, they allow the firm to maintain control over the use of its resources while also offering operational improvements based on its own technological solutions. As found during the Grand Bargain meetings of humanitarian practitioners, the lack of effectiveness and efficiency in stakeholder communication and resource utilisation were some of the main problems adversely affecting philanthropic projects (Offiler and Williams, 2022). Such companies as Google or Microsoft can use their expertise in these fields as leverage to help the recipients improve their operational performance and maximise the gains created from any external aid. In fact, for-profit philanthropy may be an effective method of realising the triple bottom line concept in CSR where financial profitability and sustainability are as effective as social and environmental elements of the model (Islam et al., 2022). As a result, the successful development of such projects will help corporations continue their joint management for years to come creating long-term benefits for global societies.
Educational Development During COVID-19
One of the spheres severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic was the sphere of traditional education (Debbarma and Durai, 2021). Millions of students were forced to continue their studies from their homes and embrace the concept of remote learning. A similar stress was experienced by educational institutions many of which lacked proper programmes, technologies, and competencies for providing high-quality educational services in this new setting. This situation required the rapid advancement of organisational development in order to minimise the disruptions in learning processes worldwide. In this situation, many for-profit organisations offered free support or discounts for their products (Giles, 2020). The list of such providers included Adobe, Atlassian, Avaya, Google, IBM, LogMeIn, Loom, and many other globally operating powerful corporations. As noted by Patil (2021), such initiatives could be seen as for-profit philanthropy where these firms offered their products and services to new audiences in the form of trial solutions. This allowed them to win future paid customers while also testing new technologies in the context of modern education to see what problems have to be addressed first.
In the post-pandemic scenario, it is becoming evident that the demand for remote learning may continue due to substantial cost savings and greater availability of quality education opportunities worldwide (Peter and Huber, 2021). As more and more students from developing countries will prefer to receive new knowledge via digital channels and blended schemes rather than full-time physical presence at university and school facilities, this is going to pose a number of challenges before practitioners in this sphere. They include the creation of optimal platforms for storing learning materials, distance learning connectivity solutions, AI-powered learning monitoring and personalisation tools, teacher training, and the provision of seamless connectivity across multiple devices and networks with high levels of cybersecurity and confidentiality (Fayed and Cummings, 2022). The earlier-mentioned concept of for-profit philanthropy may be highly beneficial in this sphere as a way of obtaining support from innovative industry leaders competent in the use of digital solutions (Kilby, 2021). As opposed to purely financial assistance, this aid gives its recipients clear instructions in spheres where they lack knowledge and competence for developing their own change plans.
Potential Benefits of For-Profit Philanthropy for Educational Development
From the standpoint of corporations, for-profit philanthropy has a number of clear advantages in comparison with traditional CSR or charity (Maurasse, 2020). First, it allows companies to maintain the triple bottom line by ensuring that their investments produce tangible results for all stakeholders in the short- or long-term perspective. In the case of post-COVID educational development, such authors as Ayun et al. (2021) noted that the use of such solutions as Google Classroom will continue afterwards on a paid basis due to the discovered benefits of their utilisation. As a result, the provision of discounted technologies or investments in commercial educational products creates a win-win situation for all involved stakeholders. Second, companies can use their internal resources and know-how as leverage in addition to direct monetary assistance (Harber, 2021). This makes such initiatives similar to both social enterprises and venture investments where larger organisations can provide support in both tangible and intangible forms. For smaller partners, this may be highly beneficial as they receive free guidance and get access to a vast knowledge database of large corporations. As a result, educational organisations can build greater resilience and engage in open innovation loops to promptly respond to the challenges encountered during the pandemic.
Third, for-profit philanthropy aimed at the education sector will allow companies to improve their own training and development programmes (Izumi et al., 2022). As they share their resources with the recipients to help them adopt cutting-edge technologies in the post-COVID world, they can also collect information about new solutions and new barriers in this sphere. This will have a positive impact on both parties further supporting the win-win approach and the triple bottom line strategy. Some recent examples include the collaboration between Meta and ten US colleges and universities where the company provided multiple virtual reality (VR) units to co-develop new ways of learning on the basis of experiments involving thousands of students (Cotter, 2022). These items are provided at discounted prices ensuring that the corporation covers its costs within the scope of this collaboration while its partners can afford the test the technology on a relatively large sample of learners (Whitford, 2022). Afterwards, such knowledge can be used to scale up Meta's business offerings in the education sector by offering field-tested platforms and software products specifically designed to address the pains of modern education organisations adopting virtual reality solutions.
With that being said, for-profit philanthropy in the post-COVID world may also have a number of potentially problematic consequences (Birchall, 2021). Direct investments into crucial infrastructural projects or major social initiatives give corporations greater leverage they can use for lobbying purposes. They also gain access to national education systems as well as their databases, which may not be properly regulated by existing legislative provisions in many countries. This also concentrates control over the provision of learning services in the hands of a single commercial entity and increases perceived switching costs if the recipient of philanthropic assistance chooses to work with other providers (Bernhagen et al., 2022). At the same time, such collaborations create power shifts between public and private domains that can strengthen existing monopolies. While crisis periods such as the global pandemic required prompt response actions in terms of educational development, long-term strategies in this field have to reflect the interests of local societies rather than multinational corporations.
It can be summarised that for-profit philanthropy initiatives have influenced educational development in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in a number of ways (Izumi et al., 2022). On the one hand, they took the form of direct investments in innovative projects in this field offering new ways of learning. These initiatives benefitted both parties since global corporations such as Google or Meta could test their ideas using large samples of students and improve their own training and development processes (Harber, 2021). On the other hand, some collaborations were realised as a discounted provision of products and services leading to future cooperation in this sphere after the end of the pandemic. This allowed educational institutions to test various solutions supporting the prompt digitalisation of their teaching processes and select the ones that were most suitable for their needs (Maurasse, 2020). At the same time, continued for-profit philanthropy initiatives in the post-pandemic environment should be controlled by governments and industry regulators. While they ensure the realisation of the triple bottom line concept and provide tangible benefits for all involved parties, they can also create excessive power concentration in the hands of the sponsoring corporations (Bernhagen et al., 2022). This outcome may not be beneficial to local societies having different long-term sustainable development agendas from multinational enterprises.
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