Students Exploring Corporate Sustainability Reporting – WikiRate

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-16-41-53With the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, it is more important than ever to be able to track and assess the contributions of businesses towards the progress of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The annual Communication on Progress (COP) Report that UN Global Compact participants submit every year has information about company specific advancement. However while interesting, unless this information and data is taken out and brought together it can be of limited use.

In the second article of our month long series on student engagement, we are featuring WikiRate, part of PRME’s recently launched Student Engagement Platform. WikiRate’s mission is to spur corporations to be transparent and responsive by making data about their social and environmental impacts useful and available to all. Through a new partnership with PRME, students are invited to review company COPs and extract data from these reports for a set of metrics from leading reporting frameworks such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and others, as mapped to the SDGs in the SDG Compass. This information is used to populate the WikiRate open-source database. The data is available and comparable to analyze where company and sector improvements can be made.

 

“Teaching Corporate Governance and Sustainability can often be an abstract topic, but WikiRate enables us to bridge the gap between theory and practice and expose our students to real data from real companies. In the first half of 2016, over 300 MBA students championed the first WikiRate pilot researching and checking companies’ environmental, social and governance data via metrics based on the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines. Following this success, we’re already engaging the next cohort of 280 students to contribute company research in the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals”

– Morris Mthombeni, Lecturer at The University of Pretoria Gordon Institute of Business Science

 

How this works in practice

Students read through company reports and extract a series of data points focused on the company’s engagement in different Sustainable Development goals. The selection of companies and metrics for research is up to the professors themselves. In addition to researching the companies, students are also requested to check the values populated by fellow students through a ‘double-checking’ for metric values mechanism on WikiRate .

The Bertelsmann Stiftung has partnered to contribute suggested research questions, to facilitate class discussions and encourage further analysis of the data populated on WikiRate. The purpose here is to extend the assignment beyond the task of extracting data from reports to engaging more thoroughly in analyzing the data, including identifying its limitations. This stage includes questions such as – how well does the metrics that are selected measure contributions to the selected SDGs and what additional information in the COP would be relevant to assessing a company’s contribution to the SDGs. Many of these assignments are also complemented with research reports drafted by the students.

How WikiRate is being used in the classroom

A growing number of schools are engaged in this project, including, but not limited to, the University of Western Australia Business School, CENTRUM in Peru, Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada and the University of Pretoria-Gordon Institute of Business Sciences.

Professors are taking diverse approaches. For some institutions such as the Universidad EAFIT, in Colombia, professors will be integrating the assignment, offering the chance to coordinate internally and share ideas and takeaways among different classes. At Glasgow Caledonian University, the project is presented to the cohort in a live presentation to kick-off the assignment and field questions. A professor at Oxford Brookes University is presenting this as a voluntary exercise for students to use as a tool to supplement their research on environmental sustainability in companies for a required report.

Each school or class also has their own Project page on WikiRate where they post their research findings and analysis. All the Projects are visible to everyone, so that students and professors around the world can check in on the progress of their peers, and compare research.

The impact on students

Through this task students develop an understanding of Corporate Social Responsibility strategies, how they are applied, tracked and reported, and also consider which aspects of corporate contributions to progress on SDGs can be tracked with available metrics and data. The PRME network and UN forums are also important for making the link between students and the sometimes intangible aspects of the SDGs. This brings students’ work into the fold and connects the classroom topics directly to the bigger picture. It gives students the opportunity to engage in the complexity and diversity of CSR reporting to not only raise their awareness of the issues, but also create a body of data that will be useful in tracking and measuring business impact globally. According to projected semester participants, WikiRate has already exceeded , and are now looking to double, their target of having 500 students researching 500 companies this semester.

Moving forward

The WikiRate platform is still in beta stage – meaning that they are in the process of developing and improving structure that captures the complexity of the data and the corporate reporting landscape as well as understanding user and researcher needs. The pilot launched at the University of Pretoria Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), in South Africa, has kicked off this semester’s engagements with 280 students conducting research.

The research and analyses have the potential to fill some gaps in knowledge around what companies are doing and what they should be doing, to contribute to achieving the SDGs. Some of the outcomes will be presented at the Global Forum in July 2017.

How to get involved

A second iteration of this project will be open for schools to join in the fall 2017. For more information visit the WikiRate website or use this contact form.

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