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The Future in Focus

Podcast: Our Planet, Our Plan - Lifelong learning at work

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LRQA recently launched 'Our Planet, Our Plan' - an internal sustainability programme that outlines our ambitious Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) commitments over the next seven years, underpinned by time-bound performance metrics.

To accompany the programme, LRQA also launched an eight-episode podcast series to explore each of the seven commitments within Our Planet, Our Plan. The eighth and final episode, ‘Lifelong learning at work', sees Luis Cunha, LRQA’s Assessment Regional Director for Asia Pacific, talk about education as a key pillar of corporate sustainability as well as wider social mobility. Luis explores the roles and responsibilities of businesses in supporting employee education, and offers practical guidance on how to start the process, ensuring education initiatives also align to a company's vision, mission and values. Listen to find out more.

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LRQA: The Future in Focus

Hi everyone, and welcome back to LRQA's Future in Focus podcast. My name is Holly Wild. I am the Global External Communications manager for LRQA, and I'm very pleased to be recording this podcast today with my colleague Luis Cunha. Hi Luis, how are you?

Hi Holly. Pleasure to be here. Great to be talking to you.

Fantastic. Now it's your first time on this podcast. So could I actually ask you to introduce yourself to our listeners, including your role within LRQA? And also, I've been asking our guests where in the world they're speaking to us from, and we're very proud to be a global brand. So whereabouts are you based as well?

I'm based in Dubai. So, I am from here, I am responsible for our assessments business, particularly in Asia Pacific. And, it's a great place to be actually to be time-wise travel. it's a great hub to be at and allows me to travel very conveniently, to all the Eastern countries around the world that where we have a fantastic business.

Absolutely. And at the time of recording today, COP28 is in full flow. So I can only imagine the atmosphere in Dubai at the moment.

Correct. It's been, you know, a week now since it started. It goes on for a few more days. And, yeah, it's been fantastic. And we at LRQA have been, have been there with a nuclear pledge and, it was great to be there with Ian and, have a bit of a bit of the action.

Absolutely. So thanks Luis and thank you for joining me today where we'll be speaking all about education. Now, why are we speaking about education? Well, some of our listeners may already be aware that we have recently launched our very own internal sustainability strategy called Our Planet, Our Plan.

Quick recap for those of you who haven't heard of it before. Our Planet, Our Plan sets out LRQA's environmental, social and governance ambitions, otherwise known as ESG. All to deliver a positive impact for our clients, our colleagues, our suppliers, our communities, our planet. The list truly goes on. The plan stretches over seven years and is organised into seven commitments.

That's safety, equity, community, environment, inclusivity, governance and education. So through our Future in Focus podcast channel, we've been interviewing a technical expert for each of those pillars with education being a topic for today. And it's actually our last podcast in this little mini-series, which we created to mark the launch of Our Planet, Our Plan, but I'm so pleased we'll be ending it on a high with Luis, who has a lot of experience in this field.

Now, down to business, Luis has kindly agreed to provide us with a bit of an introductory story or an anecdote. I asked for something that's really stuck with you or caught your attention recently. So, so let's get started. What would you like to share with our listeners, Luis?

Well, you know, education is, is really one of the main drivers of social mobility and, one of the driving forces of development of the human species.

So, it could hardly be more important, within the S in, in ESG. We all know, obviously, multiple cases where education played a major role in underprivileged communities and the notable work that so many NGOs across the world undertake day in, day out, reaching more and more people, but also in a world facing demographic pressures.

That's even more important beyond that, you know, it also opens the door for opportunities across borders and society supporting the development of more cohesive societies. So, really, really important topic, but even in the developed world, you know, it has a massive contribution to development. I always remember a start that, you know, comes to me frequently in 1970, so not that long ago.

More than a quarter of the Portuguese population, more than two million people, didn't even know how to read and two thirds, had no, no formal education. That is now low single digits. So the development of, of the, that society in particular has been exponential, like so many European countries and, and other societies haven't had the same, the same privilege.

So we all know the contribution of education to more inclusive and equitable societies and, that, you know, there's still a lot of road ahead and we have to be more ambitious. Like many others, I had particularly the opportunity through education to live and learn in other countries. First as an exchange student at university, having learned another culture and, drastically improve my social skills and knowledge and that European program called Erasmus is in itself as a great social leveller and an example of how public institutions can play their role, but that's not enough later in life. And again, a particular example of mine after starting my professional career.

I was able to find my own MBA and, that opened the door to the world to me. That's one of, probably one of the main reasons why I'm in Dubai today. I gained a lot of insight, knowledge, you know, networks. And, and that was instrumental to, to my own career growth and personal growth. Since then I've lived in the UK, Spain, Russia, Belgium, and the UAE now for, for seven years, and have the pleasure to manage businesses all across Asia Pacific.

And again, learning so much about these cultures, their markets, and in particular now, you know, the assurance business where we as LRQA play an instrumental role. So, we sort of come full circle here, you know, the fact that, you know, being part of LRQA and having the privilege to do work, we do globally around human rights, assurance, and advisory, and making sure that supply chains comply with those human rights, fairness, and equitable development.

So, that S in ESG comes back to the forum again and we do our own part of contributing to a better world all born out of education opportunities.

Absolutely. What a brilliant opening story. Thank you. And what incredible experience you've had living in and working in all those different countries. That's wonderful. So thank you for sharing some of your personal experiences there as well. Back to the topic of education, I'm going to start with some questions now, if I may, so education is clearly a lifelong process. What role can businesses play in education?

Indeed, and business opens doors to that lifelong process, right, both directly and indirectly. I think directly by investing in people through specific learning and development, programmes to on the job skills, build up and bringing opportunities to the society where businesses are established and being themselves, a promoter of social mobility, but businesses also have, and it's the indirect part as a solidarity responsibility, devising programmes around the communities where they are implemented or they serve or where they are present and provide education opportunities, promoting knowledge development skills, and again, promoting that social mobility and opening up opportunities. Some of our most notable clients at LRQA have increasingly well designed and developed educational programmes, driven by themselves or by sponsoring NGOs that achieve great results and foster that equitable opportunities.

Okay. And, and let's have a really open conversation here. I'm interested to know how would you personally assess the current state of education in the context of business?

Yeah, it's, it's ever evolving as we transition from, you know, the past very formal education programmes to much more fluid on demand and frequent ways of incorporating learning, development and knowledge.

Given the rapid development of technology and accessibility to information, like everything in the ESG domain, you know, with the fast pace of progress means that, you know, there is no single path to get the full fruits of education. But it's clearly important that there is more that needs to be done on, on two main fronts.

One is, you know, flexible programmes of learning and development within organisations. So that we maximize the generation of those opportunities and learning inside those organisations. And by doing that, you know, we're contributing to productivity enhancements that lead to social development. on the other hand, those, you know, partnerships and structured programmes with institutes, [00:09:00] universities, ENGs, associations.

They are also really, really important because the, the businesses can sponsor some of those and allow. Some of their benefits to be reinvested in the, in the communities where they are present, getting their fair share of contribution and reinvesting better back in society. There's obviously a lot more that can be done given the unequal opportunities that are prevalent across the world.

And obviously we can't rely only on governments or public or social institutions to do all the work. Hence businesses come to the fore to compliment that and really augment the needs that exist to try and satisfy them. And we'll have another challenge, actually, which is, you know, the, the, the most interesting and most recent topic, which is all this technology developments, which we are, which we are experiencing and AI being the last 1 that is in very much in folk and there's going to be a massive repurposing of skills that are going to be needed and businesses.

Together with individuals will need to do their fair share to of repurposing their skills and nurture talent. with the massive demand that's going to be to adopt embrace and formulate new technologies. Okay, so I'm getting a real sense that we're on a journey here. We've made a lot of progress, but there's more to go.

And I particularly loved a phrase you used earlier in your answer, that there is no single path when it comes to education. I think that's really important, to remember. So, back into the context of business, can you tell us what great education in business does look like? what are the benefits of investing in education of your employees?

Yeah, so like, like all good things, you know, there's not a, again, a one single path or not a mandatory path to get there, but it should be inclusive. It should include a portfolio of themes, channels and opportunities, and it'd be increasingly tailored to each individual to make sure that they're learning programmes of proven quality become accessible from my micro learning to more formal training processes that suit each person's needs at different points in time.

Again, you know, partnerships with universities, foundations, learning and recruitment firms, for example, open immense opportunities in terms of accessing that knowledge and information to then be used for training and educational purposes. Particularly as the use of technology makes that accessibility much, much, much easier.

And the content being also much better than it was in the past. From presential to online learning too. So it becomes probably easier as we move along with technology. But then again, on the reverse, the opportunities today and the information is so vast and so accessible that it needs to be curated, you know, and it needs to be focused on a cause, making it relevant to the mission or the vision or the values that an organisation has to allow to, you know, be specific on the themes and types of learning and expertise that exist within an organisation that can be shared with specific individuals, communities.

That in itself will contribute to generate, you know, increasingly better, more sophisticated and tailored learning opportunities. And then we can onboard these skills back in inside an organisation or within the community and being part of that social mobility and opportunities ladder that education brings.

So, the more we're able to, within the realm of possibilities that are focused increasingly on what organisation is more capable of doing, that is, the benefits are, are then exponential, and, individuals and societies will benefit from that.

Thanks, Luis. Another, fantastic phrase there about education being an enabler for the social mobility and opportunities ladder. Love that. That's fantastic. Now I also think it's really useful to get some practical examples for our listeners. So are there companies that you are aware of that are exemplary in the space of education? And what is it about their practices that others should look to replicate?

Yeah, I mean, apart from our passion for education as a topic, you know, we at LRQA are fortunate to often get a, an inside look into what some of our clients are up to, and there's a, you know, a lot of examples, but a couple stand out.

And for me, British Telecom and Heineken are doing some really interesting things, as part of their, you know, a part of their global presence. They have built some comprehensive programmes. I'll mention a few examples. British Telecom takes CSR really serious and education plays a role. So their SOS Children's Villages programme makes accessible online learning through the use of technology that they've got to development opportunities to young people in isolated African communities.

That is an example of contributing to opening doors, access to information and removing that barrier to education that so often exists in Africa, for example, and benefit them from, you know, the, the knowledge, the opportunity that comes with that and improving, hopefully the quality of their lives. On the other hand, has some really interesting programmes as well from a reverse mentoring program where junior employees act as mentors to more senior leaders.

So that cross generational knowledge transfer happens and including on CSR initiatives within the group and the learning from the let's so called generations, they come to the fore, and can becomes much more prepared to to anticipate trends in the market and to create opportunities for their own for their own employees.

But it also has a really well-developed global diversity and inclusion program and given again, the worldwide presence that Heineken has, here is an external focus component link to their societies, fostering opportunities for development in those communities where it is present, including on its direct supply chain.

And we at LRQA have seen a couple of those examples live. So as we can see, these programmes do not rely exclusively on, on the company, that they originated from. They take into account some of the resources and knowledge and geographical footprint that those companies have, but they go a bit beyond and they make resources available to others.

And that is really the ingredient that is needed to opening up opportunities and having a positive external effect contributing to societal development.

Wonderful examples there. I think it's so useful to, you know, bring this topic to life for our listeners and give examples like you have. So from those practical examples to practical steps, what are the first steps a company needs to make to build a first class approach to education?

Well, the first one is really to be genuine, right? And by that, what I mean is to have a genuine interest and consideration of the role of an organisation as that social enabler, right?

And education provision is going to be one of, as we saw, one of the bigger drivers of, enabling the positive effects that it brings and also making sure that by, like, we saw in some of those examples using some of the expertise that that a particular institution has together with those being suited to their mission, vision and values.

That's what brings about genuinity and then that makes it easier to have to derive real value adding. And the collaborative, approach to education and the benefits that it brings. I'd also say that, you know, choosing those sources of learning and development is pivotal. Right. and particularly as we saw that the cost of accessing that, that learning and development and information has come down.

It needs to be again suited to the goals and causes that. An institution feels empowered to promote, so genuinity and focus are really important after that. It has to be inclusive, right? So, it has to be internal and external ideally and also effective. So, how do we maximize that? Well, partnering again with institutions and taking more of that expertise and dying them with resources so that it become as efficiently as possible.

So that partnership with universities foundations. NGOs associations and, and mixing the, the resources and knowledge with external parties is really important to go just beyond the, the education per se, but to create opportunities that put that education in practice and again, promote that social mobility.

And then for companies in particular, then in the internal part is making sure that, you know, graduate and career development programmes are effective and they are really, you know, fostered internally. Again, that promotes internal social mobility and, dissemination of knowledge and exchange of roles within the organisation that also then open opportunities for people out the outside to join those organisations.

And that cross training expansion of skills, is, is essential. So this mix of not looking just internally, but externally, partnering at our institutions is really, really important. If all of these happens, and as we saw it, it's not a lot of points to take into account, but, you know, we start creating specific programmes that facilitate development of new talent that, you know, incorporate themselves back into the organisations where they were born and are socially enhancing and increase the mobility within the organisation and society.

So, in my view, those are the essential ingredients.

The essential ingredients. Love that as a final note. Thank you so much, Luis. This is all we've got time for today, but it's been a really packed episode. You've shared so much quality guidance and insights on education in the context of sustainability today. Really breaking it down for our listeners and making it clear why it should be a business priority and what it means for wider social mobility too. So I'm sure you've inspired many today. So thank you once again, Luis for joining us.

Thanks for the opportunity, Holly. Pleasure to talk to you.

And finally, just a reminder to our listeners that you can learn more about Our Planet, Our Plan on the LRQA website and see our digital dashboard, which tracks our progress against all seven pillars at You've been listening to the LRQA Future in Focus podcast. Thanks so much for giving us your time and we hope to see you soon.