In a globalized market, corporate leaders are expected to build connections with people of all backgrounds. The ability to navigate cultural divides is a defining trait of the modern executive, which is why businesses searching for an innovative approach to leadership development should consider using corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a tool for training leaders.

One instruction method that incorporates CSR is the social sabbatical, a volunteer program tailored to provide high potential employees and executives-in-training the skills necessary for global leadership. During social sabbaticals, trainees travel outside their native country to work in small groups on short-term assignments.

The goal is to create shared value for organizations and cross-sector partners, and participants who succeed develop community-mindedness, sound ethics, and teamwork skills, as well as firsthand knowledge of emerging markets. At the same time, non-governmental organizations, local businesses, nonprofits and others partnered with corporate volunteer programs gain value in the form of talented workers who can create potentially groundbreaking solutions.  

To ensure that valuable experience is derived from social sabbaticals and other CSR-based development methods, companies should consider the following general guidelines for integrating CSR as a training tool:

  • Align CSR goals with training programs – Software company SAP sought to educate youth on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects and created a program emphasizing workforce development through STEM education. Similarly, organizations should tailor development programs to address local or global issues of concern.
  • Incorporate the big picture – Many modern employees are no longer satisfied with just a paycheck; they prefer work that has meaning. Companies can leverage their dedication to improving communities to encourage trainees’ loyalty and passion for work, while also providing opportunities for familiarization with core organizational values.
  • Allow for reflection – It’s difficult for trainees to thoroughly reflect on experiences in the moment. Receiving consistent feedback from coaches and mentors helps CSR trainees internalize subtle lessons, contextualize knowledge and integrate the right skills.
  • Start slow and start smart – To start, organizations should identify critical markets, and consider how partnerships there could be strengthened for reciprocal benefit. Beginning with a pilot program will provide results that can be analyzed to improve later efforts. Engaging high potential employees in the program development process will help cement critical analysis and self-examination skills.

Studies show that CSR-based programs are gaining recognition for their utility as training tools. By collaborating with communities to increase shared value, tomorrow’s leaders learn the skills necessary to succeed in a modern professional landscape.