Paper co-authored by communications professor and alumna named a finalist for research prize 

Associate Professor Barbara Miller Gaither collaborated with Elon graduate MaryClaire Schulz ’17 and University of North Carolina faculty member Lucinda Austin to examine the relationship between corporate social responsibility and social change. 

A paper co-authored by Barbara Miller Gaither, associate professor of communications, and Elon alumna MaryClaire Schulz ’17 was recently named a first-round finalist for the 2018 frank Prize for Research in Public Interest Communications. An annual conference for individuals involved in social change, frank bills itself as “a community of movement builders and changemakers” who use strategic, science-based communication to foster social transformation.

Miller Gaither and Schulz collaborated with former Elon faculty member Lucinda Austin, now an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Together the trio authored "Delineating CSR and social change: Querying corporations as actors for social good,” a paper that explores the relationship between corporate social responsibility and social change and asks the important question of if and how corporations may serve as agents of social change.

The authors performed a case evaluation of Coca-Cola’s “3Ws” social initiatives, which focus on well-being, water and women’s empowerment. According to the paper’s abstract, “research on Coca-Cola’s three-pronged sustainability commitment provides a unique opportunity to highlight aspects of the conceptual model through the lens of a single corporation. These 3Ws, all of which involve social causes of generalizable interest, demonstrate distinctions between CSR and social change initiatives, as well as the fundamental role of stakeholder engagement in a corporation’s capacity to serve as an agent of social change.”

The trio’s conceptual model suggests corporations with the greatest capacity for social change are those that:

  • focus most on conferring benefits to society, rather than removing organizational harms
  • work toward creating social value as a key driver of business, rather than profits
  • focus on an area of generalizable interest to larger society
  • demonstrate genuine, authentic engagement with stakeholders and the public

The paper is set for publication in Public Relations Inquiry journal.

All 20 first-round finalists are academic research papers published in the past two years that further the growing discipline of public interest communications. Ultimately, three finalists will be selected this month, with the $10,000 prize recipient announced at the frank 2018 gathering, scheduled for Feb. 6-9 in Gainesville, Florida.  

This isn’t Schulz’s first experience with published research or Coca-Cola initiatives. The strategic communications major presented at the 2017 International Public Relations Conference, sharing her honors thesis, “Corporate Social Responsibility and Female Entrepreneurship: The Case of Coca-Cola’s 5by20 Initiative.” Her thesis focused on a corporate social responsibility initiative developed by the world's largest beverage company to empower five million women by 2020.