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Aug 30

Transforming the Public Education System Through Data

Melanie Ofenloch
Flickr creative commons photo by USACEpublicaffairs

Flickr creative commons photo by USACEpublicaffairs.

As the mother of an inquisitive, precocious six-year-old, I made a choice to send her to private school to give her every opportunity to get the best education possible. Given the current state of the Texas public school system and because I am lucky enough to have a choice, she currently is at a school where she is encouraged to be an individual and can learn at her own pace.  

Every year, millions of students do not have the same opportunity. Their teachers know very little about their histories, their successes and their challenges. Information collected by schools is seldom shared, meaning there are many missed opportunities for children because no universal standard exists for data.

The people at the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation are out to change that reality by creating Ed-Fi, a common data standard that can empower educators with real-time, actionable information on every student in their classroom, school or district. The data standard – which is licensed free of charge – acts as a universal translator of academic data, integrating and organizing information so that educators can start addressing the individual needs of each student from day one. It can measure progress and refine action plans throughout the school year.

Ed-Fi doesn’t replace existing education data or information systems. Instead, it enables them towork together to give educators what they need: holistic portraits of students that are detailed, easy to understand and up-to-date at any given moment. This addresses a long-standing challenge to meaningful systemic improvement in schools nationwide: the many and often non-interoperable information systems used by schools, districts and states.

Delaware, Colorado, Louisiana, Tennessee and my home state of Texas have begun implementing Ed-Fi. Those educators will have fingertip access to comprehensive student-level data that allows them to measure progress and refine action plans throughout the school year. Being able to better understand and meet the needs of students is a major stride in the right direction.

Kudos to the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, a Social Impact client, for investing $150 million and five years in developing the new Ed-Fi standard. This is truly a transformation in the U.S. public education system that will bring more focus on students and their academic growth and achievement. And a badly needed standard that will help fix a broken system.

Mar 31

The Charity Winemaker Movement: Support the Cause

Melanie Ofenloch

Wine and food are two things that personally give me great pleasure. I have always found wine makers and chefs to be some of the most charitable people I know. These are folks who work 90-hour weeks in their restaurants or wineries and then willingly give their one night off to raise money for a great cause.

As I’ve become more established in my local wine blogging community, I have had the pleasure to get to know some of the folks who are truly making a difference in deserve a toast in their honor.

The first is Cleavage Creek Winery, which I discovered around the untimely death of my aunt, Sue, who was fighting breast cancer. Cleavage Creek is the story of Budge Brown, who lost Arlene, his wife of 48 years, to breast cancer. Determined to do something to help others, he started Cleavage Creek winery, which donates 10 percent of gross sales to cutting edge research to fight breast cancer. 
Is he making a difference? You bet. Budge founded the Integrative Oncology Research Center on Bastyr University’s Campus in 2007 and has raised $72,000 to support breast cancer research.  I’ve reviewed these wines and can tell you they are first class. You’ll find the stories of survivors on the label and the stories are inspiring.

Next is Charity Case Foundation, a movement put together by top winemakers from Napa Valley where all the juice, fruit and manpower are donated to make small batch, hand-made wines. Jayson Woodbridge, the cult wine maker of Hundred Acre, Layer Cake and Cherry Pie fame, was the driver of this project. One hundred percent of proceeds go to nonprofits in Napa that serve children and families including Aldea Children & Family Services, Cope Family Center, Foster Kids Receiving Center and Wolfe Center Teen Drug and Alcohol Treatment Program. 

Finally, there is a new charity wine distribution model that brings small and family-run wineries to a larger audience at a great price all while providing assistance to a select group of charities.   Cellar Angels is a free private membership program, but if you click this link, you’ll be eligible. I’ve become friends with Martin Cody, the president, and I can tell you this is a guy who is ready to change the world.  For you the consumer, there are some good wines that hit this site for a fraction of the price. Only one wine is offered each week, ensuring only the best quality wines are presented and you get to choose your charity at check out.

There are some lessons to be learned from the wine community.

  • Consumers buy brands that give back to the community.  According to the CSR User Blog, more than 88 percent of consumers think companies should try to achieve their business goals while improving society and the environment.  
  • The expectation has increased that even small companies must give back to the community. The examples above are small businesses dedicated to making a difference and consumers have positively responded.
  • One person can make a difference. Budge Brown’s Integrative Oncology Research Center will remain a tribute to his wife, Arlene, for generations to come.

I’ve never seen the food and wine community turn their backs on a cause in need. During the earthquake in Haiti and then afterward in Chile, winemakers and wine people rallied together to donate countless bottles of wine to an auction to help victims. Supporting these wineries and charity wine distribution models allow you to do your part for the community while drinking some good wines with a great story to tell.

Nov 3

Ingredients for building an engaging CSR campaign

Melanie Ofenloch

What’s the best way to engage audiences in order to elevate the brands, companies and organizations for which we work?

The Dallas chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) tackled that question last month at the Communicator’s Summit, at which I was thrilled to moderate a panel examining the intersection of cause-related marketing with corporate social responsibility.

The panelists — RadioShack communications director Eric Bruner and Susan G. Komen for the Cure manager of corporate relations Carrie Glascock — discussed how to best balance the communications needs of the cause with those of the company. 

From RadioShack’s perspective, Eric mentioned how the company navigated a high-profile charity like Lance Armstrong’s LiveStrong while maintaining its brand and engaging its customers in the process.  From a non-profit perspective, Carrie discussed ways companies can successfully partner with brands like Komen. To back up her point, she highlighted how American Airlines engaged employees and customers to help fund a Promise Grant at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson’s Cancer Center to flight inflammatory breast cancer.  

The conversation was lively and we all agreed on three key concepts in order to build an engaging campaign in this space:

•    Companies need realistic expectations of what’s achievable for the short, mid and long-term
•    It takes time, money, commitment and alignment for a successful campaign
•    Corporate citizenship is increasingly becoming a mandate from consumers and imperative to a global strategy for companies

I’m curious to hear from our readers. Do you have anything to add to that list of ingredients for an engaging CSR campaign?

May 24

Panera and the Responsibility Revolution

Melanie Ofenloch

This month, Panera launched a social experiment of sorts when it converted a former Panera-owned restaurant in an urban area of St. Louis into a non-profit restaurant named Saint Louis Bread Company Cares Café.  A sign at the front door encourages customers to “take what you need, leave your fair share” and customers who cannot pay are asked to donate their time. It didn’t surprise me that CEO Ron Shaich, Panera’s former CEO, said that sales were up 20 percent on opening day.

While this concept may be new in the restaurant industry, consumer sentiment is driving companies to give back to others or work to solve social problems.  In a September 2009 issue, Time magazine referred to this consumer sentiment as “the responsibility revolution.” In fact, the 2010 Corporate Social Responsibility Perceptions Survey from Penn Schoen Berland reports that out of a thousand customers,  70 percent thought CSR was important despite the recession and would pay as much or more for socially responsible goods.  That equates to good business for businesses to embed philanthropy into their business strategy.

On top of this, you have very highly successful technology entrepreneurs like Michael Dell from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation or Bill Gates from the Gates Foundation that are taking on huge social problems like poverty, disease, education and obesity.  They are thinking seriously about how to solve the world’s biggest problems, putting the dollars into action and adding in cutting-edge business techniques to monitor and measure their progress.

As the mom to an almost five-year-old daughter, I have also experienced this shift in thinking.  From the energy company (Green Mountain) to the organic fruits/vegetables to the energy efficient light bulbs that we use, I also choose to spend on companies that mirror my personal beliefs.   With experiments like Panera’s and the work my clients are doing to tackle big problems with new solutions, I feel heartened this revolution has reached a tipping point.