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Building Impact: Advancing Equity Through Corporate-Community Collaboration

By Amy Nakamoto and Kari Niedfeldt-Thomas, Executive Vice President, Social Impact, Discovery Education and Chief Operating Officer, CECP

This Q&A follows a panel earlier this month featuring Amy and Kari at the State of Equity in America event from U.S. News & World Report 

Q: What does building equity through corporate-community collaboration mean for Discovery Education and how can it be achieved? 

A: At Discovery Education, we think about building equity as leveraging our influence or “superpowers” to connect students and teachers to opportunities for high quality learning experiences.  To create these connections for classrooms, Discovery Education partners with over 75 industry-leading organizations to address relevant topics impacting today’s classrooms, communities, and the workforce. We then bridge connections with educators to provide students an opportunity to make real-world connections, linking what is taught in the classroom and the world beyond. Discovery Education serves over 4.5 million educators and 45 million students worldwide.  

Achieving a successful collaboration with a partner requires understanding the value, point of view, and motivations each partner brings to each person, in each role, in each organization. 

Q: How can both the corporation and the community be held accountable for their commitments and responsibilities? 

A: Holding both a corporation and the community accountable for their commitments and responsibilities involves establishing clear mechanisms, frameworks, and practices, including regular reporting and open dialogues. 

At Discovery Education, we frequently conduct research, collect educator feedback, deploy surveys, and perform market analysis to inform key decisions about the partnership that we are building between industry and classrooms. It’s critical that the community can offer feedback through formal channels, and that shared goals and transparency are established early. This allows a partnership to be a true collaboration and not a one-sided agreement or power imbalance 

Q: Can you give an example or case study of how corporations and communities have worked together to achieve shared goals and needs? 

A: In 2019, we set out on a mission to launch the first of its kind multi-stakeholder alliance to solve critical representation gaps in STEM workforces. 

There will be an estimated 3.5 million jobs in STEM in need of fulfillment by 2025. That need fueled the creation of our STEM Careers Coalition, which is an alliance of industries and non-profit organizations that offer equitable access to STEM resources and career connections to 8.4 million students since its launch in 2019.  

The STEM Careers Coalition will continue to ignite student curiosity and influence a diverse future STEM workforce, reaching 10 million students by the end 2025. Industry-leading partners include Chevron, Stanley Black & Decker, United Airlines, DuPont, LyondellBasell, Sanofi, and many more.  

In this partnership, curriculum experts work directly with corporate and nonprofit partner leaders and staff to create engaging content aligned to learning standards and the education community’s needs.  

The strength of the STEM Careers Coalition is its diverse industry representation, united by the common mission to empower educators to teach STEM effectively in the classroom, focusing on equity and access to quality education, and building the next generation of solution-seekers at no cost to schools. Through curriculum design, user experience testing, and educator feedback sessions, the educational materials are crafted to fit the growing and evolving needs of educators and students. This exemplifies how corporations and communities can work together by aligning business practices with community interests to create a more resilient and prosperous community. The demand for a diverse STEM talent pipeline is a huge area that we as corporations continuously need to address to prepare our future workforce for success. 

Partnerships can be an amplifier and scaled method to impact beyond what any one organization can do alone. By working to provide resources free-of-charge to school districts, the STEM Careers Coalition and our broader ecosystem of mission-aligned organizations has supported over 6,000 schools, including over 650,000 students and 60,000 educators in the 2023-24 school year alone. This speaks to the necessity and further opportunity to bridge industry voices appropriately through standards-aligned, innovative methods that support teaching and learning. 

Q: How can these co-created initiatives be measured to show impact for both the corporation and community? 

A: As mentioned above, the first step is to ensure alignment in stated goals. Once established, the right metrics framework can be applied. Generally, we aim to elevate awareness, knowledge, and attitudinal changes towards a topic.  

For example, as a measurement tactic we ask questions along the lines of because of a partnership, do students feel they are aware of or could name individuals, jobs, or companies that opened their eyes to a new innovation or idea? Can they name a scientific principle that a partner used in developing a STEM-related product for consumers? Do they feel more positive in continuing to study in a STEM field for post-secondary next steps? 

From here, we explore metrics that deepen understanding of partnership, or program, efficacy and school or community-level impact. This type of measurement centers on intentional research questions that address deeper changes associated with involvement in a program or longer-term intended impacts of a partnership. This level of impact also frequently involves a third-party study, and we position results against a backdrop of other factors and solutions. 

Our advice is to think about the impact in stages over the life of a partnership or investment. If an initiative is just getting off the ground, then awareness and knowledge would be appropriate starting places. I need to note that reaching communities and ensuring that there is equitable involvement and shared goals is essential. From there, deeper study may be warranted to unlock further investment and to continue to shape strategy.