Image via K.W. Barrett/Flickr CC
We’re again doing something a little different with this Interesting Investments article. Instead of something that will make you money, we’re going to look at a few cases of companies investing in the future of humankind. It is a different kind of investment, to be sure, than counterfeit handbags, collectibles, or video game real estate, but is equally or more important to the future of the world’s economy. And don’t worry! We’ll be back to regular money-making investments in the next article. For now, though, let’s look at education.
Microsoft, under CEO Satya Nadella, has been making strides the past few years to improve people’s lives. From the somewhat short-lived Microsoft Band, aimed at improving users’ health, to offering Minecraft: Education Edition for schools for children to explore new worlds or make their own, Microsoft is investing in people. The game leads children to develop computational thinking skills that are becoming increasingly relevant as technology grows. It can help them communicate to build larger structures, and teach them to think about the big picture. This, in part, led to Fast Company ranking Microsoft as the leading innovative company of 2017.
Similar to Microsoft’s educational toe-dipping, Google launched Google Expeditions as a way for schools to take students on virtual field trips. From famous museums and landmarks to the International Space Station, it allows children to learn about a place while virtually being there, immersing them in learning far more effectively than a slideshow or video. They can go where they normally would not be able to, and the possibilities are endless. Instead of packing up an entire class from California to go to the Louvre, virtual reality can transport them there for an hour without ever actually leaving the school.
This entry seems almost like cheating, as Duolingo is a company that aims to teach users other languages, but they have invested in something new: flashcards. Tinycards is an app that allows users to create their own flashcards. Anything from Game of Thrones characters (what, you don’t know your Daario from your Davos?) to human anatomy is fair game. With a generation of youngsters attached to their phones, it’s the perfect way to get them to study.
LinkedIn purchased Lynda.com in 2015, though it has since been purchased by another entry in this article — Microsoft. But LinkedIn, a social media platform, saw that it could do some good in the world by linking education and social media. With a quarter of adults in the US using LinkedIn, a continued partnership could have led to more adults getting training
Note that none of of the investments these companies made is directly about employee education, which in itself is an excellent investment for the health of a company, especially if the company sponsors online learning so employees can learn at their own pace. For example, Starbucks (SBUX) sponsors employees through Arizona State University. Tutoring and guidance is available through the program, helping employees complete their bachelor’s degree. This is totally viable for a company, and, again, a worthwhile investment in people and education.
That’s not to say it has to be an entirely altruistic action, as it does have the chance of making a company money — see Microsoft and the massive sales Minecraft as a whole has brought in, even before courting schools. This is simply more about investing in the future of humankind as a whole. If one of your employees completes a degree, and then goes on to become a better manager, bringing in more leads, it’s likely worth it.
It’s also a great PR move that could produce more leads, and thus more business. Investing in libraries, for example, will not only help children learn to read and give them resources for learning, but will likely lead to a ribbon-cutting ceremony and recognition from organizations such as a local Chamber of Commerce.
These investments are also a way to ensure that future employees in the company have the education needed to be effective in their jobs. In a poll of 1,000 CEOs, about 30 percent cited talent constraints as keeping them pursuing market opportunities. By investing in people, improving their talents, companies can open up new avenues and opportunities, improving the company and adding to profit streams.