COLLEGE PARK, MD - On Monday, September 24th, the Center for Social Value Creation of the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland (UMD) hosted a conversation with Verizon Foundation president Rose Stuckey Kirk to discuss corporate social responsibility and how the company applies its capabilities to help solve critical issues. Gathered before a group of Master’s and PhD students majoring in business, Kirk shared her personal journey and life experiences, how Verizon embraces core values in its approach to giving, and words of wisdom for the students as they embark on their own professional journey.
Verizon Foundation’s mission is to use its technology and financial resources to solve for education, healthcare and sustainability. As president of the foundation, Kirk leads the organization’s philanthropic strategy with an emphasis on projects that leverage the use of technology in addressing social issues. For instance in education, the foundation recently launched a program that focuses on innovatively integrating technology in the classroom to change the way teachers teach and students learn to increase student achievement in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects. She oversees employee volunteerism and coordinates efforts to communicate Verizon's overall corporate responsibility messaging. She has more than 25 years' experience in telecommunications with numerous leadership positions at Verizon. A graduate of Arkansas State University, Kirk is a member of the university's Advisory Board for the College of Communications and has spent more than 30 years working with organizations in Alabama, Missouri and Texas on the prevention of domestic violence. She currently chairs the Board of Directors for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Kirk grew up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, which she shared now has the dubious distinction of being one of the most dangerous metro areas, and one of the 10 most impoverished cities in the nation. She left 30 years ago in pursuit of her dreams, but is still actively involved in her hometown by serving on local boards and speaking to community groups. She will return in January to participate with a mentoring project.
Kirk shared that Verizon’s work aligns with UMD’s Creating Value’s mission – to build a better world through business principles. The discussion on corporate social responsibility centered on the view of American business commonly touted as the engine for future economic growth, but many also view it as the villain who created the country’s economic downfall with a profit-taking -- not profit-making strategy. She cited the work of Michael Porter and Mark Kramer, who concluded that the key to restoring America’s confidence with business is to invest in models and enterprises that solve the very vexing and real problems that are important to the very real people they serve.
She witnessed this model being implemented early on among local businesses while growing up in Pine Bluff, stating, “the bank had programs that taught us financial literacy skills and created a number of banking programs aimed at youth that were designed to help individuals begin to pull up from poverty… the paper mill visited our schools and taught us about pollution control and green initiatives before “green” was the sexy color it has now become. While the work was simplistic, it was heartfelt and designed to help heal what even then were hurts in the community in which I grew up. They were investing in us because they were taking responsibility for our long-term success, and they saw their long-term value tied to us. They needed the communities to stay stable...they needed a pipeline of well educated, well-paid employees and consumers…and we needed them to be profitable so they could continue to contribute to the infrastructure of our community.” Using this same approach, Kirk believes, grounded on the commitment to strong core values will restore faith and trust in the power of business.
Among the foundation’s current projects are Thinkfinity, a free online platform for educators that receives 2 million hits monthly, and 12 Verizon Innovative Learning Schools with a STEM focus that involves Verizon employees and partners.
In closing, she shared words of wisdom on how one can effect change now, and by doing so, be the leaders of the new generation:
- Only work for a company that aligns with your values.
- Work for a boss that challenges you and has a strong compass. Learn from him or her. Learn from success and learn from failures. Calibrate your own compass.
- Understand what it means to be a good follower. Trust leadership but verify; think for yourself, speak up, and be constructive by offering the value-based, sustainable alternative.
Photos courtesy of UMD and Verizon