Thursday, December 14, 2017

Public Affairs in China: A Practical Approach, Mini-Course taught by Beth Keck

On December 1-3, the Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC) offered an exciting mini-course, Public Affairs in China: A Practical Approach, taught by Johns Hopkins SAIS’s own Practitioner-in-Residence for China Studies, Beth Keck, SAIS ‘85. The course, taught over three days, covered topics ranging from the history of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to identifying stakeholders and partners in business, the practice of Government Relations (GR), and crisis management. Professor Keck took an active approach by having students work through complex case studies based on actual events.

SAIS Practitioner-in-Residence Beth Keck at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center
In her role as SAIS Practitioner-in-Residence, Beth Keck brings vast experience in international business, global public affairs, and corporate social responsibility. She implemented Walmart’s Women’s Economic Empowerment initiative to train one million women and the company’s environmental sustainability initiative. She is also the vice chair of Agribusiness Systems International Board of Directors and a board member of ACDI/VOCA, nonprofit organizations providing development expertise in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Professor Keck enjoys teaching at Johns Hopkins SAIS and sees it as a good way to transition from her tenure in Walmart as well as to utilize the knowledge and the contacts that she has made throughout her career. This is Keck’s second visit to the HNC and she admires the HNC students’ ability to do graduate work in their target language of Chinese or English and their level of academic rigor. She believes that a SAIS education is directly relevant to government relations work, where understanding a particular country is critical for communicating with a foreign government and working with different systems of governance.

The course started with an overview of public affairs and government relations. We covered topics such as the role of a company in society as well as some basic communications theory and principles. Professor Keck was always ready to engage with students and have us think through the answers ourselves. As a class we had a chance to see how government can play a huge role in the way companies do business, illustrated through case studies involving Walmart and other companies. The case demonstrated how government priorities and the values of a given business may be at odds and that businesses need to understand how to navigate such a complex policy environment. On day one, I already felt I was learning something important for my future work.

Students engaged in a group activity
On the second day, we learned about the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility and how it fits in the business ecosystem. There are many different types of corporate outreach ranging from philanthropy to creating shared value. As a class we worked through case studies to analyze potential outreach strategies for medium to large companies with a variety of constraints and resources. This part of the course really taught us how different companies can make a positive impact on the countries they do business in.

On the final day of the course, we worked on crisis management and examined cross cultural contexts as well as the wide range of actors that one must contend with when it comes to corporate crisis management. We worked through a business case about a pork mislabeling scandal involving Walmart. We were divided into several “expert” teams to specifically identify plans of action for addressing different stake-holders. We were then further divided to come up with pre-crisis, crisis, and post-crisis recovery strategies. Finishing up the course, my team and I really felt a sense of accomplishment and I was amazed at how much I had learned in such a short time.

Written by Benjamin Miles, MAIS '19