What it Really Means to Give Back

The major investment that’s required for the future is in human capital.

I’m very proud to be part of the U.S. Competitiveness Project at Harvard Business School where we’re trying to model what it means to give back to society.  And in that project we have been surveying alumni to find out what they think the problems are.  We’ve been working on what actions businesses can take.  And we do this as a global institution.

It's really important to the world that the U.S. be strong and have a strong economy because then our companies can contribute to the rest of the world.  And our markets are still the most desirable.  And we've been the innovators for the world so we want to be strong.

But there is a view that we have been slipping.  And it doesn’t have anything to do with whether the stock market is up or down.  It has a lot to do with whether we are investing in what’s required for the future.  And the major investment that’s required for the future is in human capital.  It’s in education.  Our alumni and the public that we surveyed have told us that among those things that are weaknesses and maybe getting worse in the U.S. is K-12 education and skills. 

And that’s worrisome because there are hundreds of thousands of unfilled jobs in America because we don’t have enough computer programmers or software engineers.  We don’t have enough laboratory aids to work in hospitals or biotech life science start-ups.  That’s a tragedy because there’s a lot of kids in schools not getting educated.  A million students dropping out of high school a year in America.

So we worry about that and we want to put business into action to do something about that by sponsoring schools that will teach real skills to help those kids get jobs.  And then at the other end of the education spectrum, one of the things that our alumni tell us is a strength and getting better is our system of higher education, our universities, our colleges.  Well I think that’s just fantastic but working at a university I know that that requires more investment for the future.  And we are no longer the single largest source of advanced degrees in the world.  Other countries are catching up and well they should.  But we have to keep investing in that.  And our alumni tell us that this is a strength and they want to see that strength continue.

And so we learned a lot of things about what various sectors contribute to making this a great society.  But I have to say that it all comes down to being willing to invest in people.  Their skills, their talent and groom a generation for the jobs that they could have if we only matched employers with that pool of talent that’s been neglected. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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