I was delighted to have a very busy week recently with International Women’s Day. I talked to two corporate audiences, spoke at the “Women & Enterprise” Week in Derry, and sponsored an event for Roscommon Women’s Network, among others.
In each case, I always finish with a slide that shows the word give superimposed over receive. As you won’t have missed I’m sure, the latter has more letters than the former. This play on words is a visual reminder of my belief that if you give to the world, you will receive much more in return.
The other day I got a cheque in the post, the first royalties cheque for the textbook I wrote with Trudie Murray and Brian O’Connor. Now very few people ever get rich writing textbooks, that’s for sure. Still – it’s a sum that won’t go unused!
If you give, the world gives back
This cheque came as a result of my “CSR” efforts. As you may or may not know, CSR stands for “corporate social responsibility”, or, without the jargon, the way companies make efforts to impact the world in a positive way.
Very often as consumers we feel CSR is just a bit of window dressing to hide less palatable truths. The more cynical of us think it’s just about having a couple token projects on a website to encourage more customers to buy…
But how about the other side of the coin? What do we, as businesses (from the multinational to the sole trader), do for CSR? What can we do?
I like to be proactive about things, and I believe that what goes around, comes around. However, I don’t undertake CSR activities to get the nice surprises on the way back… In fact, if that’s all I did it for, that would remove the good out of it completely.
My company was set up in a recession; we have a high client retention rate and we have received so much help, both financial and otherwise, which was a decisive factor in overcoming the formidable economic odds stacked against us. This is why I’m genuinely and deeply appreciative of the people, clients, suppliers, government agencies, friends and mentors who have been constant companions to the business. This feeling of gratitude spurs me on to look at the world and wonder how the economy generated by our company can better our business environment.
Whether you call it CSR or karma, it works
This royalties cheque is direct proof of that. It’s only the latest link in a chain of events that started in 2008. At the time, I hadn’t started the company, but was self-employed and with the implosion of the stock market as well as the onset of the economic recession, business was slow. As a result, cashflow and morale were very low… I was trying hard to bring in new business, but the macro issues were strongly stacked against me, and in the meantime I needed to keep the faith…
So Ardle and I decided to tackle a pet peeve of ours and to make a few steps in the general direction of solving an issue that had been bugging us for a while: the fact that there is no financial, specifically no financial markets, education to speak of in Irish schools.
You can take your Leaving Cert in a state of blissful ignorance about such things as how the stock market actually works or what it means for the government to borrow. As a result, if you don’t choose to study these topics at university, you can be a voting citizen and still know zilch about those powerful economic and financial forces, whereas they shape your life in so many profound ways.
So we set to work, and decided that what we could contribute was a teaching module. After all I was a trainer myself, and I knew what it was that people needed to learn about the stock market (answer: everything). So we set out to build a comprehensive module to make the work of teachers easier and to inspire more students to become interested in finance; or at least make them more actively informed about the way the financial world works, and how they can take control of their own financial universe.
Why it pays to also focus on activities that don’t generate revenue directly
The result was “Introducing Wall Street to the classroom”, an eight-week course with slides, videos, activities, homework, tests, project ideas and teacher’s guidance. It is a comprehensive pack that teachers can deliver in Transition Year right away. If the feedback from teachers and students is anything to go by, it has in fact proven quite useful and engaging within their schools.
So there I was, young businesswoman me, in front of my computer, working out slides and voiceover, pouring hours and hours of work into this, for nothing – or rather, for no immediate gain. Yes, it was a lot of work, but it was also a lot of fun. In addition, I had to think in new ways as I had to familiarize myself with how to teach sixteen-year olds – I had to think laterally in terms of the different ways in which a sixteen-year old learns and incorporate examples relevant to them.
And as I was to discover very quickly, I got an awful lot from it and I was compensated in more ways than I could count, although they weren’t monetary at first.
This module opened the doors to a veritable flood of opportunities, more and more of which were paying. It led to working with the Professional Development Services for Teachers, speaking at teachers’ conferences and consulting with teachers’ bodies, delivering economic in-services, school visits, designing resources and brochures. None of this I would have imagined would come to pass, while working through the module late at night.
My involvement with secondary education led to my meeting Trudie and Brian; and this is how “Positive Economics” was born. It is now the market-leading Leaving Cert economics textbook.
Now while I was recording the module, I had no idea this would be the result. I just wanted to help the investing generation of tomorrow avoid the mistakes of today. A lot of people would have told me that then was not the time at all to be indulging in any activity that didn’t directly generate revenue – I had a business to run, what was I doing fiddling with not-for-profit projects?!
And still, it is the one best thing I did to take my business out of that lull. It was effective beyond my wildest expectations.
Are you on the list?