Introduction to Corporate Citizenship 101


Ortiz in the University City High School garden

Photo by Daniel R. Burke

As Christopher Ortiz (W’03) sees it, corporations have many more people to answer to than just their shareholders.

Which is why he’s high on the Urban Nutrition Initiative (UNI), among other things.

“I’m very much interested in education and community development and what businesses can do to develop the community and make it stronger,” he said.

As part of an internship, Ortiz spent the summer accompanying University City High School students participating in the YouthWorks program around West Philadelphia, as they filmed a documentary about the community gardens created as part of UNI.

UNI has several goals. The project aims to improve the nutritional habits of inner-city youth by giving them and their families access to healthier foods. It also ties real-world projects to the math and science courses taught in West Philadelphia grade and high schools. And it aims to teach students useful business skills as they run produce stands in schools and at community farmers’ markets.

As part of the film crew, Ortiz spoke with residents about community gardens, learned about the various projects that make up UNI, and established friendships with UNI director Danny Gerber (C’98) and several students at UC High, some of whom he corresponds with via instant messaging. “I walked past there recently and I felt sad because I knew I wasn’t going back there, that the summer program had ended,” he said.

As part of UNI, UC High students also raise gourmet lettuce in the school’s greenhouse and sell it to local restaurants such as the White Dog Cafe.

It’s that last part that connects to Ortiz’s vision of working with the Wharton School to emphasize corporate citizenship principles in its curriculum.

Ortiz is working along with two other Wharton undergraduates, David Levin (W’03) and Robert Smith (W’02), on a proposal to incorporate the student-run produce business at UC High into Management 100, a first-year course that takes Wharton students into the community for service and learning.

Ortiz proposes to have Management 100 students work on business plans with the high schoolers, with the ultimate goal of turning a profit on the greenhouse and using the profits to fund scholarships.

It’s a fitting interest for an alumnus of the Milton Hershey School, which was founded by the chocolate magnate to provide orphaned youth training in vocational skills. “I’m the son of a single mom — one of three kids. It was hard for her to raise them. That’s why I went to Hershey.”

Ortiz found out about the summer internship with UNI through Ira Harkavy, director of the Center for Community Partnerships, whose summer seminar on university-community partnerships he took.

In contrast to the standard theory that holds that a corporation’s sole purpose is to make profits for the shareholders who own it, the theory behind corporate citizenship argues that corporations have a responsibility to everyone with a stake in its operations, including customers, employees and neighbors.

Ortiz points out that Penn alumni are no strangers to corporate citizenship — an entire section of the textbook used in Management 100 is devoted to Merck & Co. under the leadership of former CEO and former University Trustees Chair Roy Vagelos (C’50).

In addition to the Management 100 proposal, Ortiz, Levin and Smith are also working to create a corporate-citizenship sub-concentration that Wharton undergraduates can select along with their major. They have already lined up a professor who is willing to teach a foundation course on the subject.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to incorporate corporate citizenship into the Wharton curriculum,” he said.

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Originally published on September 13, 2001