How to Make a Difference: PwC & the Gangs of Chicago
The corporate world is on a bandwagon. It’s growing and gaining speed and
everyone seems to be jumping on board. What do we call this rolling and
sometimes rickety phenomenon? It’s known as “Corporate
Social Responsibility” and there are a few – an important few -
companies on board that have earned a moment to be recognized.
This month, we can’t stop talking about PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) USA.
PwC USA has a solid track record of significant community investment. In recent years,
under the insightful leadership of Shannon
Schuyler, they have addressed a variety of issues threatening
students living in difficult circumstances across the nation. But when a
gang fight broke out at the recent programs, some executives wondered
if things had gone too far.
But wait - let me back up….
The Five Millions Kids Initiative
Earlier this year, PwC launched a partnership with Operation HOPE to teach
financial literacy and empowerment. The Five Million Kids
Initiative (5MK) would require PwC to commit it’s 525 intern
volunteers to work on some of the toughest high school campuses across
the country. For many young students, math and money have little
connection. The 5MK initiative makes education feel relevant to students
through practical lessons in the "language of money.” It is meant to be
a key aspect in curbing soaring high school drop-out rates in some of
the most economically affected areas across the United States.
An initiative like this presents notable risks - it is not something to
jump into unprepared. Shannon explains that the partnership is an
extension of a strategic focus that PwC has been building over the
PwC’s 3-Tiered Strategy for Community Investment
1. The Right Perspective.
It takes effort to see from a perspective other than our own, but its necessary when the desire
to “make a difference” is genuine. PwC shifted their corporate view to
that of the students in low-income school districts. What are their
lives like? What difficulties do they face? Why do they struggle with
learning? One basic need became clear: they’re hungry.
2. The Right Foundation.
When they started with the right perspective, PwC was able to consider another basic issue: by the time
kids in low-income schools get to high school, they have already missed
years of essential training in the foundational concepts of math and
money. Without a strong base, the difficulty of learning financial
literacy is multiplied.
PwC decided to provide the right foundation by engaging the MIND Research Institute, which
uses innovative techniques to engage student’s visual reasoning
abilities to solve multi-step problems. By the time these kids reach
high school, they are primed to learn math for life skills.
3. The Right Partner.
The choice to focus their community investment initiatives on math and money came naturally to
PwC. Shannon Schuyler explains, “Money is the core of what we do.
Our people can teach this because we know it. ” The alignment of
business strengths and resources with community solutions makes sense
Money, however, wasn’t the only area of expertise required for the PwC’s initiative. They also needed a direct
line to the appropriate schools and students who could use their help.
The only way to find this direct line was by securing the right
partnership – which is where Operation HOPE comes
When the time came to implement 5MK, Operation HOPE found the right schools, put together the (award winning) financial
literacy curriculum Banking
on Our Future and trained the 525 PwC interns. In turn, PwC found
and hired the interns and committed the time, resources, volunteers,
financial support ($50,000 for the 2-week program) to make it all
This is a true partnership. Both organizations were able to draw on the unique expertise and resources of the other for mutual benefit.
"PwC is committed to taking a leadership role in developing the next generation of leaders who will
ensure a sustainable marketplace," Shannon explains. "We believe
the core to that effort is a focus on math proficiency and financial
literacy. Our involvement with Operation HOPE provides our interns a
unique opportunity to impact students across the US with life-lasting
skills and experience the satisfaction of making a difference in the
life of a child."
PwC & the Gangs of Chicago
Unfortunately, no amount of good planning can prevent an unexpected crisis. It can however, find
you poised to respond to it with grace and candor – which is exactly
what PwC needed one peaceful afternoon in Chicago.
The session was taking place as normal. Interns and students were working
together through the Banking on Our Future curriculum, when a crescendo
of activity began to build. In only moments, a full-fledged gang fight
broke out and needless to say, the PwC interns were scared out of their
minds. To mitigate the danger, the fire alarm was pulled and the group
was told to evacuate the school and go home.
Once outside the building, a group of interns began to protest the easy exit. “These
kids don’t have the same options we do,” they explained. “This is
their life - they don’t get to choose to walk away.” But the risks
were high for a company like PwC and the situation needed to be
The conversation found it’s way to the executive level of PwC within days. What if something happens to a
student on our watch? What about the interns? Should a company the size
and stature of PwC really take the kinds of risks this program requires?
But the words of the interns did not fade easily. “The kids in the
schools don’t get to walk away; this is their life….and they still need
In the end, canceling the program was never really an option. “Our interns wanted to continue their work
and our leadership felt that it was the right thing to do,” Shannon
told us. So, a few days later, PwC returned to the school – this time
with a long line of busses. They gathered the students and brought them
all to the Chicago office of PwC where they continued the classes. In
this space, the students were not only able to focus on their studies -
they also found the opportunity to initiate a discussion about the
effect of gangs on their lives. Both student and intern – not to
mention other PwC staff - were moved and educated.
“We created quite a buzz in the office,” Shannon says. “People began
to ask questions about the program and somehow it all became a bit more
More Than a Bandwagon
We at Realized Worth have dozens of conversations each week with companies
who want to get active in their communities. Many of them express their
desire to make a difference – and to that end, they’re willing to put
up the cash, resources and time. Rarely, however, do we speak with
companies who are willing to put real skin in the game. This is
understandable, but it’s also the reason the bandwagon is full of people
whose stories will never be told.
Since interviewing Shannon a month ago, we’ve been sharing about PwC’s 5MK initiative at
conferences and with clients as an example of a “best practice” of
community engagement. The 5MK program and PwC’s 3-tiered strategic
approach is to be commended – and their guts are to be emulated. Because
of their genuine commitment to make a difference and their willingness
to take risks, PwC under the leadership of Shannon Schuyler, has become a
leader in Corporate Social Responsibility.
About Shannon Schuyler
Shannon Schuyler has been with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) for twelve years and is
currently the Corporate Responsibility (CR) Leader and a member of the
board for the firm’s foundation. She oversees the actions, programs and
initiatives for the firm's internal strategy around PwC’s four CR
pillars: Marketplace, Community, People, and Environment.
Be sure to watch for Shannon's
own blog posts on Huffington Post. She'll be attending and writing
at the National Conference on
Volunteering and Service, the world's largest gathering of
volunteer and service leaders from the nonprofit, government and
corporate sectors. Follow NCVS on Twitter and read the NCVS Blog here.