By Gina Singleton

*Editor’s Note: CC Biz Buzz is a new monthly column series that will feature insightful commentary from a member of the Columbia College Robert W. Plaster School of Business faculty.

A current topic buzzing around the Robert W. Plaster School of Business involves “business for good.” Corporate Social Responsibility refers to for-profit organizations aligning with relevant causes and programs for the social good. Traditionally, we think of a corporation’s goal as “profit for stockholders.” The terms corruption or greed may even spring to mind. That mindset is changing. Millennials and younger generations are more likely to support companies that support their community. Donating money to a charity is no longer enough. We like to see a program of effort. As a millennial myself working in education, I’m an advocate for educating in addition to giving aid.

Critics argue that the buy-one, give-one companies like Tom’s Shoes might actually be a detriment to the community served. For those unfamiliar with these companies, when a consumer purchases a product (i.e. shoes from Tom’s), the company will “match” that purchase by sending a product (i.e. shoes) to a country in need. This is a wonderful concept but poses the question: Does this put the local shoemakers out of business? If so, this only hurts that country’s economy, making them worse off in the long run. If we want to help with the issues of poverty in developing areas, it might be important to teach them to build their own economy so that they can flourish without aid and dependence. I’m not attacking companies like Tom’s; I even own a pair! The buy one-give one model is the start of a conversation, rather than the end.

Corporate social responsibility can include practices like committing to a low carbon footprint, taking care of employees, philanthropic activities, volunteer work and more. It is becoming so popular that it has impacted the accounting industry. Currently, companies are not required to report on their social and sustainability information. However, a Sustainability Accounting Standards Board has been created to develop accounting standards for companies to report on these practices. The Global Reporting Initiative Framework was created and companies who report on these practices can use this framework. This is an ongoing effort in the financial reporting industry with the intention to provide the public with what is now considered valuable information on these social and environmental practices.

This summer, I took an opportunity organized by a UK-based non-profit organization, Accounting for International Development, to travel to Kathmandu, Nepal, to develop training materials and teach underprivileged youth the basics of accounting. I was partnered with Sakcham Rural Nepal, a Nepali-based organization founded by Nagendra Rijal, that is dedicated to creating training programs for the youth and marginalized. It was an eye-opening experience. Before arriving, I prepared course materials similar to what I teach in Accounting 1 at Columbia College. These ideas completely went out the window when I arrived. Since English is not their first language, I had to scratch everything and start fresh. My materials went from having a lot of text to lots of pictures (not an easy chore with accounting!) After re-creating the materials and teaching to a classroom full of squirmy kids, I felt rewarded with the fact that I provided them with knowledge not only to help themselves individually but to help their economy as well. Hopefully, the materials will also be distributed and taught to others long after I am gone.

I was shocked and pleased by the Nepalis’ high level of interest in the topic of accounting. They were ambitious and eager to learn. The teenagers take education very seriously, as they understand the importance of education as the only way out of a life of poverty. They asked more questions than I had imagined and challenged me in ways I was not expecting. Of course I did not have answers to all of their questions! These 15-year-olds asked me what they can do to help their own economy and country. These students WANT to get educated and get to work. They don’t necessarily want to just receive money (or shoes!) from abroad.

Having only spent a few weeks in Kathmandu, my contribution was small. But that’s how change is made. If everybody contributed just a little, the impact is huge. You don’t have to travel across the world. Just by supporting a business that practices corporate social responsibility, you are contributing! Qualities to look for in a company include sustainability practices, social-change initiatives, or any other ways that give back to the community. For example, Google provides grants to several social-impact initiatives and is also now the world’s largest corporate renewable energy purchaser. Domino’s Pizza is fixing potholes around the country. It is not just large corporations participating in this growing trend. Many local companies are also playing their part as well. I encourage you to educate yourself on what your favorite companies are doing and support those you feel are making an impact!

Gina Singleton is an assistant professor of accounting at Columbia College teaching a variety of accounting courses. She received her master’s in accounting from the University of Missouri and is a licensed CPA. She has worked as a senior auditor for a Big 4 public accounting firm, as an accountant in the construction industry and as an adjunct at Columbia College. As an auditor, she worked in a variety of industries including software, construction, telecommunications and oil & energy.