'Bringing together business and education is something we're all passionate about,' says Jo Ballantine, director of development at the Royal Latin School in Buckingham. 'It's one of those commitments that all parties know to be a good idea, but which schools and businesses often feel is a complicated thing to achieve.'
In just over a decade, Jo has used her role to develop relationships with businesses that have brought huge benefits to the 1,290-pupil school. Her secret? 'We try to make it a straightforward and thoroughly rewarding experience for everyone involved. Seeing students enthused and excited to learn from businesses – and seeing how much the businesses enjoy sharing their worlds with young people – is powerful stuff. Everyone walks away from those interactions absolutely buzzing, with the sense that such experiences are essential to nurturing the employees of the future.'
Amplifying social impact is a hot topic for businesses who are increasingly looking to broaden how they measure success beyond the bottom line. The RLS hosts regular corporate networking events to enable sponsors to meet others in the school community. It also publicises and offers sponsorship opportunities through the school website.
Jo has focused her ongoing work with businesses around building support for long-term high-profile projects, most notably the 600 Campaign, which marks the school's upcoming 600th anniversary with the development of an innovation hub (the Discovery Centre) and Sports Campus.
'The school works with each company to create a partnership which provides opportunities to build mutually beneficial relationships,' says Jo. 'For companies, this often means coming into school to give talks to students or help with projects. For students, it means powerful opportunities to hear about different careers and help solve real world business problems.'
So how do these relationships work in practice? We profile three of the school's key partnerships.
School alumnus Julian Thomas is the founder of Racelogic, a highly successful Buckingham-based company which specialises in positioning data logging and video. Jo began to build the relationship with Julian a decade ago – and he has supported the RLS ever since. In 2012, he pledged £100,000 towards the 600 Campaign Discovery Centre to fund an innovation lab. He also pledged a further £100,000 in 2018 to fund a sports lab within the new Sports Campus.
Julian has also sponsored other projects and prizes, as well as providing work placements, careers advice and encouraging other companies to support the school. He was motivated to give back to the school as it had inspired his interest in physics and electronics. Plus, he was keen to raise the profile of Racelogic as a leading hi-tech company with fantastic career opportunities.
Reading the school's case for support for a proposed new Sports Campus, he says he was staggered by the volume of evidence to show that even a small amount of exercise can positively impact cognitive ability. 'My business is all about measuring and improving performance. That interests me both as an entrepreneur and a racing driver, and has convinced me that we must do everything we can to encourage young people to be more active. The Sports Campus is an innovative way to achieve this.'
Another school alumnus is Bernard Garbe, chairman of Buckingham company Vitalograph – a global leader in respiratory diagnostics and provider of clinical trials services. Vitalograph was keen to work with the RLS to create an enduring partnership. The company agreed to invest £10,000 into the 600 Campaign, and Bernard Garbe met the development team to discuss how to maximise the impact of this donation.
They devised the idea of a match-funding challenge, whereby the school could unlock the £10,000 by raising the same amount through student-led activities. The team knew that doubling the amount raised was only part of the story: engaging with students and the entire school community brings the potential for a whole new dimension of social impact, as well as enriching the curriculum. To launch the initiative, Bernard visited the school and met students who would be part of the fundraising efforts.
Despite the pandemic and economic uncertainty, students reached their target through a combination of ingenuity and sheer determination. The challenge set by Vitalograph also enhanced the company's engagement and dialogue with the local community, provided PR opportunities and inspired entrepreneurial spirit in students – one of Vitalograph’s core values.
The full extent of the impact is yet to reveal itself. The students could go on to become entrepreneurs, or possibly even join Vitalograph and help to create the next generation of life-changing respiratory diagnostic products and services. 'It's immensely satisfying to inspire young people: the ability to problem solve and think innovatively are skills the modern workplace needs,' says Bernard Garbe.
This is just the beginning of the partnership between Vitalograph and Royal Latin School. Environmental and sustainability initiatives are likely to be part of future collaborations, as the Vitalograph board, highlighting the climate emergency, looks to focus efforts on tackling the key issues facing our planet. More immediately, Vitalograph offered another match-funding gift of £10,000 to encourage local businesses to take up £1,000 pitch sponsorships (pictured opposite). The hope is that this example inspires peers in the corporate and educational worlds to engage in similar meaningful and enduring partnerships.
Specialising in automated robots and systems, ek robotics is a German family firm with a base in Buckingham. It was keen to get involved in supporting the school and developed a multi-year sponsorship package totalling £107,000 for the Sports Campus.
'When this opportunity came up to invest in the talent that comes into our industry, we leapt at it,' says the company's UK managing director Chris Price. As well as becoming lead sponsor of the ek robotics Sports Campus, the business is looking at various opportunities to bring robotics to life for students, starting with an extra-curricular robotics club.
The 600 Campaign is an example of how schools can proactively encourage businesses to invest in education. The campaign strapline – Building the Future, Together – challenges businesses to play their part in ensuring that the education system is fit for purpose, and capable of nurturing the skills employers are looking for.
Every company puts Return On Investment (ROI) high up the list when it comes to demonstrating the impact of a Corporate Social Responsibility agenda. So a mutually beneficial partnership needs to measure impact in a meaningful way. The Royal Latin School's 600 Campaign messaging gives examples of how this can be done, telling companies they can:
As a registered charity, the school can supply businesses with a formal confirmation of any gift, which can be kept as evidence for tax purposes.