New report finds Fortune 500 companies commit a fraction of CSR spend on education

The world’s first comprehensive study into global corporate education CSR spend, published by the Varkey Foundation in collaboration with UNESCO, shows that the 2013 Fortune Global 500 companies only spend $2.6bn (13%) of their combined CSR budget of $19.9bn on education related activities. The report also finds that less than half of the Fortune Global 500 provide any spending on education-related CSR.

The findings provide strong evidence that corporate giving to education is considerably below spending on other areas such as health. According to the report, if all companies in the Fortune Global 500 committed at least 20% of their CSR budgets towards education initiatives, total education related CSR spending would rise from $US2.6bn to US$4bn. If targeted properly, this would enable more than 3 million additional children per year worldwide to study in primary school.

Director General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova said, “This report signals the sizeable potential that exists for major companies to increase their corporate social responsibility spend on education. Their sights should be set on tapping the youth dividend in developing countries because there is no more powerful link than that between an educated, skilled workforce and sustainable economic development. It is an investment that makes sense now for business, for youth and for building more equitable and prosperous societies."

In order, the top ten spenders on education-related CSR in the Fortune Global 500 are: Banco Santander ($197m), IBM ($144m), Telefonica ($130m), Exxon Mobil ($116), Target ($95m), GlaxoSmithKline ($87m), Microsoft ($87m), Toyota Motor ($84m), Rio Tinto Group ($82m), Wells Fargo ($82m) (Figures are an average of the three years 2011 – 2013).

The report is published ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos to raise awareness of the Business Backs Education campaign, launched by the Varkey Foundation, UNESCO and Dubai Cares, which challenges business to commit 20 per cent of their global CSR spend on education by 2020

Vikas Pota, CEO of the Varkey Foundation, said, “This campaign comes at exactly the right moment, but to be successful it requires the world's business leaders to take a fresh look at their philanthropic spend. I would urge them to re-examine how much they currently commit to improving the education of children around the world.  How much is helping children learn the skills to raise themselves out of poverty and dream of better lives? How much is equipping children with the knowledge to compete in tomorrow's world?”

The report finds the majority of education related CSR spending is through a handful of large companies. The top ten companies contribute 42% and the top 20 contribute 62% of the total education related CSR spend.  The most popular area of spending for education related CSR activities is higher education (33%), while only 16% goes to primary education and 14% to secondary education.

Education-related CSR spending is not concentrated on where it is needed most.  In total, the CSR spend on UNESCO-designated education priorities, including Africa, Asia Pacific and Latin America, together with all global spending on primary and secondary education, only amounts to $1bn or 42% of the total Fortune Global 500 Education CSR spend. 

Australia (62%) and Germany (60%) are the developed countries that devote the greatest percentage of their education related CSR spend to these UNESCO priority areas.  The US spends 40% and the UK spends 24% of their education related CSR spend in priority areas. France spends only 4% of its education related CSR spend on priority areas.