Sunday, March 1, 2009

Mandating Community Service

I recently joined an organization called Boston Cares. They provide a great way for young people to find and get involved in volunteer/community service projects all across the greater Boston area. I had a great time last Saturday handing out food at the Red Cross Food Bank. It's a great way for me to meet other people in the area, get to know the city and help out in the community.

Now, normally I wouldn't bring it up.  I tend to be more of a Matthew 6:3 type of philanthropist, but I also happened across an interesting post on the Harvard Business Review Editor's Blog about mandating community service.  The author makes some interesting points about what young people get from community service organizations like City Year and why we should push for mandating community service from a business perspective:
1) A Work Ethic. My stepson, who could easily have earned a double Ph.D in Sleep and Responsibility Avoidance, now wakes up at 6:30 to face the music, puts on a uniform and works hard 50 or more hours per week.

2) Fundamental Skills. Today, too many kids are tracked to college programs to which they are not well suited; community services programs act as de facto apprenticeship and internship training programs.

3) Respect for Diversity. Companies cry a lot about the lack of diversity in their management pipelines, because they stay inside the same predictive box. By supporting community service programs that encourage young people from a variety of backgrounds, they can help to educate a new, multifaceted generation of leaders.

4) Empathy. Emotional intelligence is in huge demand these days. Companies need managers that can engage and motivate workers. I will wager that someone who has learned to work with the less fortunate knows more about right-brained, empathic leadership than anyone coming from the average MBA program.

5) Democracy 101. Finally, companies that support community service programs teach kids a lesson in real de Tocqueville-style democracy. As the great philosopher noted, democracy requires its citizens to be fully (mentally and physically) engaged. (For an impassioned "Amen," read former Senator Gary Hart's essay, "Restore the Republic").
Please check out the full article for more information and some helpful links.

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