Social Purpose, Woke-Washing, and Your School

The recent Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity for the the advertising, media and communications fields was notable in a number of ways, but perhaps the most salient was the earnestness and seriousness of the Grand Prix awards. Missing, according to this piece by I-Hsien Sherwood and Ann-Christine Diaz in the June 21 AdAge, was any hint of humor, long a staple of the advertising world.

Also notable, and a harbinger of a new sensibility among those in leadership roles, was the speech by Unilever CEO Alan Jope. Jope said that Unilever brands (Unilever is a giant British conglomerate, for those who don’t know) must show social or sustainable meaning and purpose or risk divestment. Going even further, Jope chastised his peers for “woke-washing“–where a company or institution claims to be engaging in specific action to make the world a better place but, in reality, is carrying on as before–saying that the practice is polluting the purpose category.

Jope’s remarks about social purpose and woke-washing prompted me to remember Al Adams’ Independent School article about the public purpose of private education. As holders of 501 (c)(3) tax exempt status, it seems that private, independent schools have a “higher calling” to demonstrate public purpose, else we risk being justifiably painted as schools for the children of rich parents. If called to account for your school’s public purpose, what would you say?

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Propellants and Solvents and You

Only the very largest schools can be many things for many people. Smaller schools face constant strategic choices about what they are not going to do.

The smart objective for a smaller school isn’t just to find a way to do more; rather, it is to make it very hard for students and parents to leave. In other words, leverage the emotional bond that attaches students to the school—a bond that exists outside purely rational thought.

Unless you are the biggest with the most, there will always be someone else that will win the rational competition game. But, that is a transactional win—literally what-have-you-done-for-me-lately—while winning the emotional game laminates students to you for decades.

Once laminated, the trick is to avoid the propellants and solvents that de-laminate students and their families from schools. We will write more about these in a future post.

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The Sweet Spot

The decision-making sweet spot for private schools is at the intersection of (1) what parents and students want, (2) what parents are willing and able to pay for, and (3) what the school can actually provide. This is the demand-willingness-capability trifecta. Too much of what we see schools spending resources on match their capabilities (“what can we do?”), but not demand and willingness. Of the three, willingness to pay is the most important and usually the least considered before embarking on a new initiative.

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Markets in Everything: Bluetooth-Enabled Diapers

Sentient spaces is a trend we are watching closely for its security applications and possible utility in improving teaching and learning. As an illustration of how quickly (and deeply) technology is moving into almost everything is this story about sentient Huggies diapers in Korea. Sentient stuff is the future.

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A Clever Pushback at the AI Trend

Evidence that every trend has a counter-trend (in the same way that waves have riptides) comes from a clever new ad for ING, a Netherlands-based global bank. With the trend lines pointing toward sentient spaces and more integration of technology and artificial intelligence into classrooms, we hear schools talking about the ongoing need for human engagement and interaction in education. Similarly, ING’s AI ad pushes back at the rush to AI. Watch it here (in French with English subtitles).

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University Matriculations are Changing

This image of a university placement bulletin board at Tashkent International School (TIS is a relatively small school)   vividly illustrates a trend we have been following for the past few years—more students matriculating at an ever-expanding array of universities, many of which are outside North America and the United Kingdom. One can call this phenomenon the “rise of the rest” as non-Ivy/Oxbridge and non-American universities elevate their global standing. We think the trend is something independent and international schools should embrace and cheerlead as it reflects more students finding the higher education option that best suits them.

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