The COVID-19 crisis has forced the world to rethink what a new, sustainable economy looks like. The pandemic swiftly exposed cracks in existing business practices, raising questions about the old-world order. For example, we’ve already seen reports of serious labour shortages, companies having to re-evaluate their supply chain efficiency and operations practices having to be revised.
The question I continue to return to is this – what if we seize this opportunity to invigorate and reinvent business? Are we equipped for the challenge?
This question excites me and drives me. It’s also the question that we ask every day at Torrens University Australia, in our work, in our governance, in our curriculum, in our research and in our approach.
To invigorate and reinvent business is in stark contrast to the American economist Milton Friedman, and the long-held view that the only reason a company exists is shareholder value.
Our President and CEO, Linda Brown, argues that “profit and purpose are completely interlinked and must be considered together. As businesses we have a responsibility to society, which is why I believe profit and purpose go hand-in-hand.”
“Businesses that don’t get behind this thinking will miss incredible opportunities moving forward. This is why we are a Certified B Corporation.”
For Brown, being a B Corp aligns Torrens University Australia, and its sister institutions Think Education and the Media Design School, with a global community of companies committed to designing a better future.
As B Corp certified higher education providers, Torrens University Australia, has proven that public good can be delivered from private investment.
We are at the forefront of how business interacts with social and environmental impact.
We also know that our impact is considerable and growing.
According to a new report by Deloitte Access Economics, between 2015 and 2018, our ongoing operations contributed an estimated $1.2 billion to the Australian GDP, supporting nearly 2000 full time equivalent jobs during the period.
The economic impact of our skilled graduates was $1.4 billion in public and private benefits, attributable to 2015-2019 graduates. This means that the economic impact of Torrens University in Australia, from 2015 to 2019, was above $2.6 billion.
What is a B Corp?
The B Corp movement is built on the idea that business is about stakeholder value, not just shareholder value. That means making a positive impact on staff, customers, industry partnerships, community, and the environment.
Mustafa Kadir is an Industry Consultant in Business at Torrens University Australia. He says that being a B Corp places us in the heart of a global community that uses business as a force for good.
“At Torrens University Australia, Think Education and Media Design School, we’re part of a larger community actively working to reduce inequality, lower levels of poverty, create a healthier environment, build stronger communities and create more quality jobs with dignity and purpose.”
We are part of a growing chorus of other larger companies that are also Certified B Corporations, such as Kathmandu, Keep Cup, Ben and Jerrys, T2 Tea, and Bank Australia, which have pledged to bring together people, planet and profit.
To be certified, companies need to be for-profit and go through a rigorous process involving an assessment, documentation, interviews and site visits. Just like an exam, you need to score at least 80 out of 200 points on the B Impact Assessment to become certified. The company must also complete a full-legal disclosure questionnaire, and make all of its data available on B Lab’s website, a non-profit third-party accreditor.
As both Certified B Corporations and higher education providers in Australia and New Zealand, Torrens University Australia, Think Education and Media Design School take this responsibility seriously.
Our commitment to the B Corp values is woven into the fabric of the entire business. That includes strategic growth decisions, the values of the organisation and upholding its philosophy to Be Good – an endeavour to transform lives through education.
Leading from the front
Torrens University Australia, Think Education and Media Design School have set out to be not just the best in the world – but also best for the world.
Linda Brown explains that this means we hold ourselves to a high standard.
“As a Certified B Corporation, we have to meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, but also public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. For example – all the data we submit for the certification is put on the website administered by the non-profit B Lab.”
Ms Brown states that this puts a laser-sharp focus on results, outcomes and impact.
“For us, we believe universities should be leading the B Corp movement, because fundamentally universities were established for both the public good and social advancement. The principles of being a university align with the principles of being a B Corp,” says Brown.
“We would ultimately like to see every university in the world embed the values and ethos of being a B Corp.”
Ensuring business sustainability for impact
“If you sit in our executive meetings, if you sit in our board meetings, the focus is always on balancing purpose –to ensure business sustainability for impact. Ultimately this means we base all of our decisions on what is best for our students.
Student centricity ensures our model succeeds. If we don’t put student success first, we will not balance our purpose and provide a business that is sustainable and poised for further growth.
Torrens University is fundamentally designed and curated to ensure access to high quality and affordable higher education. Our model provides access to students from around the world, and is a pathway for many students for non-traditional and disadvantaged backgrounds into education.
“As a Certified B Corporation, we had to consider the barriers to participation. This is why we provide considerable financial support for students through scholarships. In 2019 this amounted to $21 million (Aus) in scholarships, and each year this grows,” says Brown.
Another key innovation at Torrens University is the focus on graduate employability. Mustafa Kadir says this means playing a critical role in providing students with the skills and knowledge to become future leaders.
“What we teach today, and the values that we embed into our students set them up to become the leaders that we want to shape tomorrow.”
Ultimately, Torrens University’s focus on employability ensures something far more significant – economic mobility for its graduates and communities. We are incredibly proud that in 2018 more than 90% of our students are finding employment within 12 months of graduation.
“Economic mobility means that an education can change the course of a student’s life, and the lives of their families and communities. So, we know that by making higher education affordable, high quality, and accessible, we open ourselves up to a world of possibilities for our graduates moving forward. As a business, this thinking is founded in all of the pillars of being a B Corp.”
As industry-focused, staff like Mustafa Kadir are continually asking the question how can our programs, our curriculum and our graduates be fundamentally connected to industry -ensure they are ready, relevant, and positioned to shape the future.
This approach means that Torrens University considers industry both a partner and collaborator in every part of its operations.
“As a private enterprise, as a B Corp and as an Australian University, we are in a unique position. We don’t just believe we should be using the movement to get ALL universities involved, but we also want to see the industry evolve and step up to address the challenges of this time,” says Brown.
Torrens University is in the fortunate position as an industry-focused private university to bridge the divide between industry and education, private and public. We can pose the question: what can we all do to ensure the business is purposeful and accountable?
We also ensure our courses are relevant and up-to-date with industry standards. We are unafraid to be a socially conscious university.
This dynamism allows us to make crucial decisions quickly.
For instance, a recent example of this is how Torrens has responded to COVID-19, by making a suite of short courses available for free to the general public until the end of 2020.
Since April, Torrens University has had over 15,380 completed courses and 11,000+ users – a total $2.1m worth courses given for free.
By making this catalogue of short courses free, we have not just provided public good – but we have been able to focus individuals on ensuring they are skilled and ready for the inevitable economic recovery post-Covid-19.
Making a global impact
Fleur Fallon is Program Director – Undergraduate Studies at the Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School. She says embedding the values of innovation, sustainability and the circular economy into the curriculum helps students to envision how they can make a positive impact on society, the environment, and the world.
“The way I have been teaching students is based on positive collaboration, collaborative leadership, and the idea that everyone is accountable for outcomes and their actions.” says Ms. Fallon.
It’s also about getting students to think outside the box. Ms Fallon says while hospitality is typically about high-end service, “the real meaning of hospitality lies within heart.”
“During COVID some hotels opened up as quarantine areas, and some took in people who are homeless. When we can put purpose and people at the centre of things, then we are creating a more caring community,” she adds.
It’s an idea that’s central to the inclusive economy, which increases opportunities to share prosperity more broadly. According to Ms Fallon, innovation and bold ideas like these can come to life when you have a group of people pulling in the same direction.
“I like to use the analogy of a dragon boat where people are rowing in the same direction. So, it’s creating that framework where we can be the best and we’re supporting our students to be the best that they can be as well.”
Having this strong vision to be a catalyst for change, the education providers have also included opportunities within the curriculum and research to directly help solve some of the world’s challenges. For instance, anyone can sign up to the online short course, Voices Of Social Change. And Torrens University is committed to a research agenda which makes a positive impact on society.
As part of its B Corp certification we also embrace the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Through the B Impact Assessment, we are able to assess, compare, and improve their performance against the SDGs each year. This helps our institutions remain committed to equality and stamping out injustice.
Mustafa Kadir says, as one example students in Adelaide have volunteered over 7,000 hours to make a difference.
There are many examples of how Torrens University, Think Education and the Media Design School take our values and our position as a B Corp to create tangible difference and meaningful change. Many are listed in our annual social impact report.
“One exciting example is our students have been working with an events company and mapping the business processes associated with those at risk of being homeless, and creating pathways to employment for them,” explains Mr Kadir.
Measuring what matters
Being a B Corp provides a pathway to accountability. But Ms Brown contends that the purpose of certification is not to get a perfect score.
“It’s really about choosing the areas that you want your business to impact your communities, your workers, and your customers.”
Certification allows you to peel back the layers of the organisation and not only benchmark against peers, but against your own performance and expectations.
“It’s the ideal tool to find out how you’re doing against competitors within an industry and trying to improve areas that are important to you. But it also adds an element of public pressure within – to do better next time.”
Rallying around purpose: It’s the future of business
B Corps are a growing movement that has been accelerating. Just last year there were 3000 B Corps across 70 countries, and in less than 12 months that figure has been bumped up by a further 500 – that includes over 150 different industries.
So, what’s driving this trend?
According to Mustafa Kadir consumers today are demanding that businesses become values-driven.
“Customers are demanding that business is there for the good of the community, and for the good of the planet. Your customers want you to be responsible. Your customers want you to be socially conscious. Your customers want you to be purpose-driven. It’s what establishes trust.”
According to Mr Kadir, coronavirus pandemic is the ultimate business test. Rather than viewing it as a disruptive sickness, he sees it as an opportunity to build environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals into the core of businesses – while delivering profits for shareholders.
“Using business as a force for good has reciprocity. Customers are likely to stick with you during times of hardship if you show you truly care. If people feel valued, ultimately, they’re going to keep coming back to you.”
“Typically, you’d have various marketing channels to promote your products and services. Well, nowadays you have brand ambassadors, and your best ambassador is your loyal customer,” he adds.
We believe the more companies that adopt this ethos, the better. That’s why we’ve created a free short course in collaboration with B Lab Australia and New Zealand to introduce more people to what it means to be a B Corp.
It’s only one step towards a more massive impact. As Linda Brown argued – -we believe there is an opportunity for universities and schools around the world to support the B Corp movement, and ultimately to embed ideas of being a B Corp into the curriculum, research and engagement.
We are ready to collaborate, to partner, and ultimately to play our part in this critical global conversation.
To learn more, sign up for our free Introduction to B Corps short course.
Find a course