Thursday, December 6, 2007

Social Responsibilty: Xerox

Can social responsibility be ingrained in a company? I think so.

Take Xerox for example. Alongside several other companies of conscious, they’re providing an invaluable community service with the “Let’s Say Thanks” program. Free to all, Americans can send a post-card to our troops overseas and remind them to come safely home.

Spreading some holiday cheer to those invested in protecting our freedom is fast & easy. Via an online portal (www.LetsSayThanks.com) you can pick one of many beautifully hand-drawn patriotic scenes that were drawn, for this purpose, by kids (6-15yrs) around the country. Then personalize your postcard, by selecting or crafting a short message and hit submit. Xerox will then print the card and send it to a member of the armed services.

Started in 2005, “Let’s Say Thanks” is supported by Premier Partners, Mercury Print Productions, ColorCentric Corporation, SouthData Inc., Quantum Direct, Xerographics and Cathedral Corp. who have partnered with Xerox to print postcards that are delivered to the troops by Give2theTroops – a nonprofit group that sends care packages overseas. (see article) The packages are sent from different state branches to randomly chosen soldiers.

Sending letters from “home” is one of the greatest things we can do in support of our troops. As far as I’m concerned, putting a smile on one face will spread the word of our love to another.

...Peace... ...Love... ...Thanks...
...to those companies of conscience...
...who help remind us to act responsibly & generously...

Friday, November 30, 2007

Cyberbullying

We need to better address the issue of cyberbullying. The media has documented enough cases to show that this type of harassment has inflicted real harm. I’m referring to such atrocities as the suicides of Ryan Halligan -- a New York teen who killed himself after a fellow 8th grader started a fake relationship online and then rejected him at school (see article); and most recently in the press, Megan Meiers – a 13-year old girl who took her life last year after her virtual (non-existent) MySpace love-interest terminated their friendship (see article) then incited peers to belittle her online.

When it comes to bullying, my generation is far luckier than the generation of my children. Before the Internet boasted a 91% penetration to youth at home, the bully most feared was an angry kid on the playground. Kids today can’t even see their tormentor. Posing online as someone else, the cyberbully spreads rumors and hurtful comments then disappears without a trace.

Cyberbullying is a growing epidemic affecting teens and reaching down to tweens. 10-15 year olds are at the highest risk of being bullied -- whether on the playground or on a social networking site. A new study by Internet Solutions for Kids indicates that 34% of surveyed children in that age bracket have experienced some form of harassment before reaching high school. And the numbers only go up from there with text-messaging and internet access via cell & smart phones. (see statistics from U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention)

Most stunning to me, is the fact that more often than not, cyberbullies are girls hurting another girl. One article I read stated that “it’s becoming common practice for such information as descriptions, addresses and daily activities to be sent to known sexual predators in the hope that the girl the bully decided needs to be taught a lesson will literally be raped.” (see article)

Worse yet, the victims have little to no criminal recourse at present. While more communities have been pushing to make online harassment a Class B misdemeanor -- punishable by a fine of up to $500-dollars and 90-days in jail –that hardly has the proverbial “teeth” to take a bite of this type of crime.

A more wide-spread approach to formulating law around cyberbullying is proving to be tricky. Lawmakers have to consider First Amendment issues, the spirit of the Internet, and the more obvious culprit – human nature itself.

Perhaps it’s not surprise that statistically speaking, 60% of bullies will be convicted of a crime by the age of 24. Let’s stop them now! Push for meaningful legislature. Get your voice out there & be heard!

It takes a village to raise a child. Parents, siblings, friends, mentors, and neighbors, need to be a support system for today’s youth. Kids need kudos which includes the investment of our time and most of all our love.

Between now and the time we toughen the penalties for those who use the Internet to prey on our children. Be aware that the emotional response your children might display as cyberbully victims may include: (i) social anxiety; (ii) loneliness; (iii) social withdrawal; (iv) physical illness; (v) low self esteem; (vi) phobias; (vii) aggressive behavior; (viii) depression; and (ix) dropping grades (see article).

Monday, November 19, 2007

Cyberspace Addiction

Please tell me I’m not alone. I want a virtuous world, not a virtual one. When I see a would-be-athlete transform into cyber-jock, I feel distressed. When I witness parents exposing their kid to cartoon caricatures versus principled characters, I feel perturbed. When did surfing the world wide web replace the exhilaration of cresting an actual wave?

Along with all the benefits the internet brings, problems of excessive use are all too apparent. Neglect of life responsibilities (academic, work, and domestic), coupled with the disruption of relationships, social isolation and financial problems, have all been identified as very real consequences of “Internet Addiction Disorder” (IAD). Debated for years now, mental health experts still can’t agree on whether to classify IAD as an addiction (in the formal sense) or just a highly engaging habit / compulsive behavior. The semantics don’t matter to me. Large numbers of people are becoming “hooked” by such online activities as complex video games, virtual alter egos, gambling and pornography, not to mention social networking sites.

My own kids, ever excited to brag about their high scores on Lego StarWars and WebKinz, seem to think what happened during their day at school is less relevant. I feel enraged.

Last month I read about the young man in China who was the first “death by internet addiction” victim. (see Reuters article) This month, I learned about a government-run bootcamp, instituted to help get South Korean youth out of the internet caf├ęs and back into life. (see New York Times article) What’s happening on the other side of the world could easily happen here.

In North America, roughly 70% of our population uses the internet. That translates to some 235-million users (see source). American teens are perhaps the most wired of that group. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 93% of all Americans between the ages of 12-and-17 enjoy cyberspace. (see report). What is troubling it that many of them suffer academically because of excessive computer use. (See Science Daily study). Just two years ago, 425 middle-school students were given a test of IAD that asked such questions as “whether you feel preoccupied with the Internet, whether you repeatedly make unsuccessful efforts to cut back on use, and whether your online travels are a means of escaping from your problems.” The study showed that about 11% of teens were “highly addicted to the Internet” – less than 1/3 were in the no-risk group. (see study).

What is causing the addiction?

As it turns out, certain online activities seem to cause a chemical reaction in the brain. Gaming sites can trigger a release of adrenaline or serotonins; pornographic web sites act as a stimulant; and social networking sites can sometimes have a tranquilizing effect on users.

According to the director of Computer Addiction Study Center and Harvard University’s McLean Hospital, between 5-10% of web surfers suffer some form of Web dependency. Interestingly, beyond the populace suffering from emotional problems, (such as depression & anxiety-related disorders), the two groups at greatest risk of becoming cyberspace junkies are (i) teenagers and (ii) people in their mid-50’s suffering from the loneliness of an “empty nest.” (see Science Daily article).

So in a nutshell, it's a form of depression that makes people more preoccupied with the internet. Of import to me is the following: Depressed people set small goals. Small goals merit small rewards. Isn't it obvious that people need to get out there and challenge themselves instead of psychologically escaping their own world for a virtual one? Imagine the rewards one can reap then!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Companies of Conscience & Kids

I was, in fact, driving my shopping cart down the middle of the aisle like a maniac. Time is money. And with three kids who love to “help,” experience dictates that when it comes to grocery shopping, if I don’t hurry it up, I’ll have a cart full of junk I don’t need.

Apologizing to the woman on aisle 8 who is witness to my frenzied tactic, I mobilize my team. “We’re looking for household favorites, household basics and household necessities,” I remind them as I stoop down to pick up a case of my husband’s favorite cola.

“You know, Mama,” my son says, as I shove the box under the cart. “we really should be buying that soda instead” , “because it’s made by a good company.”

I don’t just pause, I stop. (A miracle in of itself). “What do you mean,” I ask, “GOOD company?”

“Well,” he says with his most serious face, “they do stuff for people. They even give their money to poor kids. They worry about the earth, and they… I dunno… they … they’re good. That’s important right?” I work overtime to control the muscles in my face that are trying to alter the shape of my mouth into an oversized grin.

I can’t believe it’s happened. My son has graduated from “selfish consumer” to “selfless consumer” with a green halo over his head He is now a statistic. Part of the roughly 70% of Americans (according to a recent study by the Natural Marketing Institute), who want to purchase from a specific company because of their strong Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reputation.

“It’s very important,” I confirm.

Blind to the significance of this moment, his 4-year old sibling gleefully plucks products with ultra colorful logos off the shelves and piles them into our cart. I half wonder if any of these cherry-picked products come from a company of conscience, but my focus remains on my son. “Where’d you come up with the good company stuff?” I follow-up.

My son shrugs his shoulders, “Some kids were talking about it at school.”

First graders are now discussing aspects of CSR. Companies with a perceived conscience are making a difference to a demographic they find the most challenging to reach. CSR is clearly an investment that can lead to many long-term benefits, especially when marketed to kids (who make up a +$150-billion a year spending power – and doubling that number when factoring in their influence on mom & dad).

That evening, after I kissed my toothless son goodnight, I looked up the published CSR reports from both soda companies.

With their world-wide recognized brands, these two sizeable companies promote a positive image of their products and activities. Both firms have meaningful CSR programs with significant investments in the communities they serve. Both are capable of staying attuned to social issues relevant to their business – but it appears that one, over the other, has figured out how to communicate their efforts in a way elementary school kids can understand.

That is a diamond in the rough. The implications are life-long.

As a parent, I still have a long journey ahead of me to help my children enjoy greater discretion on consumption decisions. While I take great pride in the fact that my son -- at the tender age of 6 & ¾’s – feels that he should teach me (age deleted) about conscious consumerism, I also want to be sure he understands the difference between effective marketing and effective outcome.

Is it important to be a company of conscience? You bet your bottom dollar -- and KooDooZ™ to those who are out there, making a difference.