WikiRate engages students in Global Responsibility
By Theresa Heithaus
Editor’s Note: We’re pleased to share this WikiRate introduction with the GRLI community as part of our ongoing inquiry into Global Responsibility.
In the current landscape, we see how a crisis in one part of the world can severely impact another. Globally connected supply chains are being interrupted, and workers at the supply level are disproportionately affected. While this global pandemic presents significant challenges, it also creates an opportunity for urgency to improve systems that we knew were failing us before the crisis hit.
Since launching in 2013, WikiRate has strived to foster collective awareness on corporate responsibility, made possible through an open, editable, wiki platform that connects a global community. The collaborative platform enables academics, nonprofits, standard bodies, investors, companies, and the broader public to research, discuss and rate company performance.
As stakeholders — consumers, employees, investors, students, neighbors, advocates, and voters — we can guide companies to address environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns. But we are missing some key tools. Information about corporate performance is simply not available in a form we can act upon.
We developed WikiRate.org to help fix the feedback loop between companies and their stakeholders, and to create new incentives for companies to be accountable and responsible — not just to shareholders, but to the people and environments their operations touch.
Now more than ever, mapping supply chains and connecting performance data in an accurate, transparent and open way is essential to creating an environment of responsible and responsive companies.
Universities’ key role in contributing to WikiRate
Professors around the world use WikiRate research tools to engage students in understanding and generating open sustainability data. Educational modules center around sustainability and reporting frameworks like the Sustainable Development Goals, the European Commission’s Non-financial reporting directive, Dodd-Frank Act Conflict Minerals Reporting, and the UK Modern Slavery Act legislation, which WikiRate has established with the support of expert partners.
Students increase skills and awareness of real-world sustainability issues relevant to corporate leadership through data research and corporate reporting assessments. Students not only learn about and grapple with the question of what is globally responsible business, they also connect and contribute to organizations working to address this.
Here are a few examples of our work:
Leadership in SDGs reporting
A group of forty students at the University of Wollongong in Australia ran a structured research project which aimed to understand how companies were reporting to SDG indicators identified as business-relevant, as well as to serve the needs of organizations working to support corporate sustainability improvement.
The UN Global Compact and their company participants, among others, are interested in tracking and measuring the impact of corporate action in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, but often lack the tools to do so in a systematic way. This ongoing data collection effort increases the ability of these institutions to do that.
Companies were selected based on their membership in the Corporate Action Group (CAG), a business engagement and peer learning forum of the UN Global Compact and Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) Corporate Action Group platform, where members can show leadership in their SDG reporting practices by helping define and promote their business contributions to the SDGs.
Indicators were selected based on those mapped in the SDG Compass. Students collected comparable reporting data on thirty-seven of the CAG companies across two years, using 1–4 indicators per SDG. Students developed group reports based on their course objectives, while the collective effort resulted in a case study report and analysis presented in a webinar to the CAG companies.
In July 2011, the Indian Ministry of Corporate Affairs came out with the ‘National Voluntary Guidelines on Social, Environmental and Economic Responsibilities of Business’ (NVGs), in recognition of the role of businesses in improving the quality of life and the significance and long-lasting impacts they have on people and the planet.
In support of this, Oxfam India and WikiRate piloted a project to understand and rank the environmental and climate disclosures of Indian companies, comparing performance disclosure to policy data recorded according to the NVG reporting. A group of student researchers from TERI School of Advanced Studies in Delhi collected data for the assessment.
Oxfam India, the TERI professor and student representatives, alongside WikiRate presented initial results and findings to a roundtable of experts from civil society organizations in India working on improving corporate environmental impacts. Participants provided helpful feedback about how to advance and carry the project forward. The next iteration of this project is in development, and aims to provide insights for the Indian government and civil society that will help to catalyze efforts by companies to improve environmental performance.
Each year over 3,000 top MBA and undergrad students conduct research directly through WikiRate’s online platform, developing in-depth assessments of corporate reporting and sustainability. Students use critical thinking skills and gain exposure to issues of comparability in corporate reporting, materiality (company and society), social accounting, and open, transparent disclosure, all of which can be taken into their future corporate roles.
These projects have not only collected hundreds of thousands of open data points about company sustainability, they have also increased access to the topic of responsible business in higher education, and created an important basis for understanding improvements needed in current company reporting and disclosure practices.
Resources for research and engagement
See how students are conducting research on the WikiRate.org platform by exploring university research projects here, and read reports and publications from these projects, including the International Case Studies report, profiling seven university experiences using WikiRate as a classroom tool for learning about responsible business; and Beyond Compliance: The Modern Slavery Act Research Project, a collaboration between WikiRate and the Walk Free initiative of the Minderoo Foundation to assess company’s modern slavery statements produced as a result of the 2015 UK Modern Slavery Act.
We invite Deans and Professors to get their Universities and students involved. With research projects expanding and new topics in high demand, there is ample opportunity to engage students in experiential learning and real-world sustainability challenges that fit to forward-thinking classroom learning objectives. Get in touch with WikiRate to join one of our global research projects.