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Giving Back : 'If Communities Break Down, Our Investment Is at Risk'

November 07, 1994| JULIA CLEVERDON is chief executive of Business in the Community, a London-based organization of which Prince Charles is president. The organization aids and encourages the involvement of British businesses in job and education programs. She talked with JAMES BLAIR during the prince's visit to Southern California last week about what Britons were learning from U.S. businesses' involvement in inner cities. and

Business in the Community is the leading authority in Britain on how companies can get involved in their communities. It started in 1982 in the wake of the Toxteth and Brixton riots (inner-city riots with racial and economic overtones) when business woke up and said, this can't be the sort of society we need to build if Britain is going to be prosperous. So a small group of business leaders had a conference with American business leaders who came over to share their experience of the role of business in society.

During the Prince of Wales's visit to Boston in 1986, he found the Boston Compact (a program in which businesses offered guaranteed jobs to students who stayed in high school and did well) and was very impressed by its potential for helping to raise the achievement in inner-city schools.

He persuaded four or five top businessmen to look at it and see how it could be replicated in East London. After it had run two years the evidence was that it was really achieving results in raising attendance and getting young people motivated. At the same moment, the government set up a national program on getting compacts into every one of the main inner-city schools in Britain. Compacts are basically deals between young people, their parents, their school and local employers--that if students achieve certain attendance, literacy and numeracy standards, then the community commits itself to those students. From 1988 to 1991, local employers were asked by the government to guarantee jobs for those who had achieved their goals. As the recession hit harder in Britain it became more difficult to guarantee jobs, but many companies still guarantee interviews.

I think there are some common experiences across the United Kingdom and the States about what makes a difference when you are trying to regenerate a community. I was very struck by the Food From the 'Hood example at Crenshaw High School. One of the student owners (quoted) to the prince, "It takes a village to raise a child." And one of the most important things that we're seeing both here and in the U.K. is the ways in which you can get the whole community involved in the achievement of young people (by increasing) the adult/student ratio--not the teacher/pupil ratio--by using mentors, volunteers, university students.

I saw IBM's marvelous program at Puente where they were supplying all the equipment for about 1,200 people going through training--adult literacy and all the rest of it. Toyota's work I thought a very intelligent and impressive piece of community development, running something called the Toyota Automotive Training Center in cooperation with the Urban League.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that, in the U.K., if companies wish to be internationally competitive in a great global marketplace that can only be achieved if you have social cohesion. If communities are breaking down, skills are not there and long-term investment is at risk.

The disaster for company community involvement (is) if they go into it for short-term PR and don't see it as a long-term sustainable journey in partnership with the community. You can do untold damage just whizzing in and out.

(As) the Prince of Wales said during his visit, it's all about partnership.

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