As part of the 2017 Business Week slate of activities, Illinois State University students competed November 10 in a Case Competition about corporate social responsibility. Thirteen teams of two to five students each were challenged to plan a week of giving that, according to the prompt, “would allow employees to be involved with philanthropic efforts and in-turn be proud of working for a company which gives back to the communities where employees work, live and do business.” Each team had three hours to develop their proposal before making a 10 minute presentation in front of a panel of judges.

COUNTRY Financial was the sponsor for the event and, in addition to developing the case topic, donated $1,500 prize money for the first-place team, $1,000 for second, and $500 for third. Nine employees representing a wide cross-section of the company also served as judges. The first-place team’s entry was titled “PSE and a Dropout” and was composed of Ryan Robert, Allison Kostopoulos, Ashley Cassens, and Taylor Lovett.

Business Week Corporate Social Responsibility coordinator Ryan Ponton said the competition’s focus on corporate social responsibility and impacting the community was designed to help students see there is more to business than money and “hard core, concrete numbers.”

“It’s really about giving back to the community and showing that you care. Your community is supporting the business, so in turn your business should be supporting the community.”—Ryan Ponton

“It’s really about giving back to the community and showing that you care,” Ponton said. “Your community is supporting the business, so in turn your business should be supporting the community.”

Colin Burns, director of advertising and events at COUNTRY Financial, said the competition helped students understand that business isn’t just about profit and revenue: “It’s also about the impact that you can make on the community. Our employees are passionate about giving back to the community, so we want to make sure that they also have the opportunity and support to be able to do that.”

Sarah Franzen, of the COUNTRY Financial community relations team, said corporate social responsibility is about striving to be “a good, trusted community partner” and “a company that supports what employees care about.”

Ponton noted the competition also provided students with the chance to hone their public speaking, presentation, and group work skills. “Those are three really crucial things when it comes to the job world,” he said. “But more on topic of the case itself, I think it really teaches these students the importance of giving back and how to be creative and how to think outside the box when it comes to getting your employees involved.”

Carrie Corson, a member of the COUNTRY Financial community relations team, described how the company is looking to refresh its workplace giving activities and saw the competition as the opportunity to get the perspective of millennials on the topic. “We really believe that these students can push us in the right direction,” Burns said. Through the Case Competition, the company had the opportunity to get input and ideas from “the next generation of business leaders” on the topic of philanthropy, he said.

“I think today reinforces our commitment to Illinois State University and the College of Business,” Corson said. “’Ive been a longtime partner of the Katie School of Insurance and worked together on a lot of different activities and programs. It was great of the students to think of COUNTRY when they thought of corporate social responsibility. It reiterates our commitment to helping the community grow and keeping Illinois State University a great school.”