“As of now, Earth is our only shareholder. ALL profits, in perpetuity, will go to our mission to ‘save our home planet,” an announcement by Patagonia, one of the world’s most successful sportswear brands in September set a new example in environmental corporate leadership.
Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard decided to give the entire company to a uniquely structured trust and non-profit, designed to pump all the company’s profits into fighting the Earth’s climate devastation and save the planet.
His answer is simple and speaks to what we all need to do, as individuals and as organisations.
“If we have any hope of a thriving planet—much less a business—it is going to take all of us doing what we can with the resources we have. This is what we can do,” Yvon Chouinard said.
It reminds me of that famous passage from Lord of the Rings:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So, do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Universities and higher education institutions are facing a unique time in history
We cannot wish that we are not facing threats such as the next pandemic, global poverty, increasing mental health issues, factory farming, supply chain breakdowns and how to ensure that artificial intelligence’s rapid rate of progress continue to support human values rather than take us over.
But we can define not only how and what we teach, but what we stand for and what we offer and take a longtermism view that engages the best use of our time, expertise and knowledge, right now.
Imagine, if institutions like Torrens University, could drive down the price of higher education, and make it fundamentally more accessible to more people globally?
As we head into the Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF2022), which Torrens University Australia is a proud partner of, with its mission to grow the global social enterprise to accelerate our transition to a new global impact economy, this is a bold and important question to ponder.
Because, in all honesty, while we can design the best courses in the world and distinguish ourselves by what we offer to students, as important as this is, it fails in comparison to what we could do if we really invested in greater access and greater social impact.
And my personal call for action, is that SEWF2022 is not just a talkfest but transpires into action from all who participate.
Here’s my call to action for all universities to do what we can, with the resources we have, in our current time, so that we change the future of the world.
- We embed social entrepreneurship in all that we teach – regardless of whether the course is humanities-based or science-based, technology-based or anything else. We reframe it as entrepreneurial learning – which is a way of empowering students to take control over what they can, in their lives and in the world. I say to all university students – what are the current challenges in your own community or sector and what can you do to address them?
- Practice and experiential learning build the muscle for success. At TUA, we have the Social Enterprise Hub where employability meets social impact in a very real way – we partner with not-for-profit organisations, for-purpose organisations and initiatives that give students the opportunity to have meaningful work experiences and give social enterprises the opportunity to have input from students who bring the latest knowledge and understanding and their creative zest to contribute to improving real-world problems.
- Create, share and support free or affordable open content. Much is said about the high cost of tertiary education and the need to make it more accessible to people who may not otherwise have the opportunity. Let’s get real about how we can do that and where we can either reduce costs or get rid of them altogether. One of the solutions is that textbooks and teaching materials produced by academics are distributed free of charge. I would take this even further and say that content that is useful to our tertiary students can also be useful to other people. At TUA, we have demonstrated this with the creation of our free courses.
- Practice effective altruism, and focus on genuine social impact– whether that is in our time, our knowledge, through scholarships, research, or fee reductions. At Torrens University Australia, we think that profit, purpose, and passion need to co-exist. Every business, every organisation, and every person need to make a profit to be sustainable – we need to put on our own oxygen masks first, to support others! However, we can also redefine what profit means to each of us, both individually and as organisations and how we can redistribute our profits to others.
As Will MacAskill, philosopher, and author of Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make A Difference, says “effective altruism is about asking "how can I make the biggest difference I can?" and using evidence and careful reasoning to try to find an answer. It takes a scientific approach to doing good. Just as science consists of the honest and impartial attempt to work out what is true, and a commitment to believe the truth whatever that turns out to be. As the phrase suggests, effective altruism consists of the honest and impartial attempt to work out what is best for the world, and a commitment to do what is best, whatever that turns out to be.”
Affordability, accessibility and quality: Revolutionising Australian and global higher education institutions
Let me return to affordability and accessibility for a moment, as these two points keep me awake at night. When I think about what affordability in education can and should mean, I immediately question why the quality of education is so intrinsically linked to high prices. What would happen if this wasn’t the case? What if we could deliver high quality and low cost? This would genuinely revolutionise Australian and global higher education.
In our partnership with Strategic Education Inc, we have a tool called Sophia Learning that provides high-quality online courses for US college-level credit at an affordable cost of $99 per month. This makes professional advancement affordable and accessible to students at every stage of their educational career. It’s like a gym membership, and learners can opt in and opt out, build their skills, work at their own pace and have a genuine and affordable way to earn college-level credit. Already Sophia has achieved 195,000+ course completions. I genuinely hope Torrens can innovate by bringing platforms like Sophia into the Australian market, but also to continue to disrupt Australian Higher Education by thinking genuinely about affordability, impact and scale.
Removing the barriers to education for all is one example of how I think about effective altruism.
SEWF2022 is the perfect opportunity for universities to step up in these ways and to give away our service in whatever way we can
There are many ways Torrens University is contributing to SEWF. The most exciting for me is that we have our Product Innovation team in attendance, tasked with mobilising our people in a co-creation process parallel to and intertwined with SEWF to generate a ‘Business + Public Good’ legacy to be shared with the world.
We don’t know exactly what will come from this, but we hope it’s free online learning experience that can connect with thousands of learners globally. A free, digital online social enterprise experience starring students, staff, industry leaders and global changemakers that will inspire, educate and accelerate youth understanding and involvement in for-purpose businesses in 2023.
About Linda Brown
Winner of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2022, for her efforts to keep students happy, and for creating a more personalized curriculum for students, Linda is a trailblazer, a ‘star and dynamo’ who envisions providing affordable, relevant education that is also intrinsically connected to industry.
Linda’s entrepreneurship is reflected in the Strategic Education Inc. acquisition of Torrens University Australia during the pandemic. This massive investment was seen as ‘a vote of confidence in the Australian education industry' at a time when a lot of Australian universities were struggling to keep educating.