Vendors find appeal in philanthropy with educational institutions

With governments slashing budgets for education, schools and universities are forced to find creative ways to provide cutting edge technologies for their students. One of these methods is to form partnerships with vendors, and while these partnerships are beneficial in very tangible ways for students from the kindergarten level all the way to graduate school, they are also beneficial on a number of levels for the vendors that provide the technology. It can mean students who are educated on a particular product might tend to choose it when it comes time to making their own purchasing decisions.

According to its Canadian national education technology specialist, Sun Microsystems Inc. has very strong ties to the education field, and philanthropic efforts have not been limited to post-secondary institutions.

“We’ve been involved for decades from our inception 20 years ago,” Regina Beach, Sask.-based Ted Jawniak said. “Of course, Sun actually started at Stanford University by a group of students, so education is really at its core. We realize that much of the innovation that takes place occurs at universities, and that it is beneficial to us to reinvest in education to support these inspired learners. It’s part of what keeps us going as a company.”

Wayne Doyle, manager of public and media relations at Canon Canada in Mississauga, Ont., said that forming partnerships with educational institutions is a part of the company’s core mission.

“Canon’s philosophy is Kyosei, which means ‘companies and individuals living and working together for the common good,'” he said, adding that Canon Canada recently donated 1,000 scanners to Computers for Schools – Ontario.

Doyle explained that the donation of the scanners will enable educational institutions to create new archives with digital images of the sort of information that makes up the character of a school, as well as encourage students to create original artwork using this new medium.

While all of these reasons for making a donation of this sort are admirable, Doyle admitted that there are other benefits of participating in philanthropy of this sort. One of these benefits is – whether intentionally or not – creating loyal potential customers at a very young age.

“It’s not the reason for donating products en masse to school children, but it is a logical by-product,” he said. “If you achieve a certain comfort level with a piece of technology as a student, you will want to keep that same level of comfort in your home life. If this sort of thing happens, we’re thrilled, but if it doesn’t, that’s okay too. We’re just happy to be a part of a cool way of letting school-aged children experiment with technology.”

Jawniak denies that creating potential customers from students has ever been a consideration for Sun in its philanthropic efforts.

“To be honest, I’ve never been privy to a conversation like that within Sun. When we look at whether to raise the bar in terms of partnering with education, I think we all have a selfish interest in mind – to create a better educated population,” Jawniak said.

Sun’s contribution to the University of Alberta’s Sun Centre of Excellence for E-Learning has proven to be beneficial for both parties involved. The U of A’s director of computing and network services, Michael Byrne, said that his institution is comfortable with its relationship with Sun because of their philosophy of open systems.

“We see our partnership with Sun as a strategic value to our organization, and Sun sees this as a good vehicle for their organization as well. There’s a mutual benefit, and it’s as simple and as complicated as that,” he said.

He doubts that the majority of the university’s students know or care what sort of hardware their e-learning environment is based on.

“Our students are paying customers. If they’re interested in that sort of thing, then fine; if not, that’s fine too,” he said.

“I don’t think that we do all of this stuff for eyeballs or recognition. We understand the paradigm that schools are in – they just never have enough money,” Jawniak said.

Computers for Schools

Computers for Schools – Ontario is part of a national program that refurbishes used computers and distributes them to elementary and secondary schools. By the end of the last fiscal year, the Ontario branch of the organization distributed 26,100 computers. Companies that participate in donating used or new computers and peripherals to the organization receive a tax receipt for the value of the contribution. The organization also accepts true end of life equipment, as it disassembles these computers, sorts the components and tenders them to credited recycling firms. The mandate of Computers for Schools is to give as much computer access as possible to children. Visit the Computers for Schools Web site at