GRI Research: Certified Training a Success

GRI’s certified training program had a slow start in 2008 in Brazil. Despite of major initial delays, GRI deserves kudos for a remarkable scale-up, standardization and successful intermediation of its training program. Time to celebrate GANGNAM STYLE!

Looking back, I recall that this long gestation period along with major (for a small NGO, anyway) and upfront ‘franchise costs’ were weighing on my mind when I proposed to LEAD Canada, a sustainability-leadership-training oriented NGO and member program of LEAD International, to consider jumping on the GRI training bandwagon. However, I also felt that, if we applied an entrepreneurial approach, it would be possible to leverage the LEAD network and move through the chain of proposal --> MOU --> certification --> training much more quickly. Did I mention generate positive cash flows to recover development costs and generate a profit?

LEAD International liked the idea. This resulted in seed funding being provided to LEAD Canada to gain GRI Training Partner status and develop/deliver GRI-certified training. I should also acknowledge generous in-kind and cash contributions provided by groups like CGA-Canada, Deloitte, Intertek and others who helped make all of this get off the ground.

Through this support, I was able to take this on as a ‘real project’. This means that I was able to dedicate the required ‘horse power’ through my consulting practice (Prima LLC). This way, breaking the ‘GRI speed records’ to develop a GRI-certified program for Canada was not very demanding. That new speed record was broken once again when Prizma developed GRI-certified training for the US region. And this became LEAD Canada’s first profit-making venture.

Support and training was also provided by others associated with the LEAD network, particularly Hugh Maynard, Qu'anglo Communications & Consulting, and Julien Lee and Marc Paquin at Unisféra/Planetair. (See also a blog/article summarizing my experience: Sustainability Reporting – Misperceptions & Barriers). LEAD Canada's GRI-certified training program has now been outsourced to SustainAlytics. Since that time, I also had an opportunity to co-deliver GRI-certified training courses offered through the ISOS Group in the US.

Now let’s take a look at GRI’s latest Research Report: Impact Analysis for GRI’s Certified Training Program (CTP-GRI Training Impact Research Report-27sep12). Some of the statistics are truly amazing and its fun to page through the many diagrams provided in the (secured!) PDF report.

Within about five years, GRI successfully applied its intermediated training model to cover over 70 countries. Wow! This model allowed GRI to introduce 8,000 course participants to GRI's sustainability n framework. Many are perhaps still wondering what title to add to their business cards and CVs after receiving their GRI certificates: GRI Certified Consultant, Reporter or Trainer? Other training organizations struggle to achieve this sort of scale-up within such a short period of time.

GRI’s latest research report is silent about the financial aspects associated with this training model. It started with generous support from donors like the Dutch Government. GRI’s latest available financial report (2010/2011) shows an income of EUR 442,645 from Training Partner Certification (presumably, the ‘franchise fees’). And email exchanges with GRI indicate that the training program has been self-sustaining since the 2011/2012 period.

From a training partner perspective, I recall that offering GRI training quickly tripled (or so) the size of LEAD Canada’s (modest) balance sheet. More importantly, it made the organization much more visible and provided a demand driven product to its menu of training activities. And I should not leave out that it put a few pennies in the pockets of the trainers (yes, including yours truly).

Although engaged in GRI-certified training since 2009, I am somewhat surprised to see that LEAD Canada has yet to adopt GRI-type reporting . However, this may require LEAD Canada to disclose its annual/financial reports first, something any NGO should be doing routinely. In my experience, GRI reporting for a small NGO is not very complicated (see also this example: Fulbright Academy joins NGO GRI Reporting Pioneers).

At a personal level, the best part of being involved in the GRI training are the many interesting conversations and case studies emerging during the courses. It was inspiring to see course participants (and trainers, guest presenters) sharing how and why they were engaging with internal and external stakeholders, implementing projects and systems, and pursuing reporting in an effort to drive the sustainability performance (and, yes, PR benefits) of their organizations (or organizations they were advising). Thanks for allowing me to be a part of this!

Did you attend GRI certified training courses or perhaps delivered such training? What is your take from GRI’s latest research report about its certified training program?

About the author: Mehrdad Nazari (MSc, MBA, LEAD Fellow) is the CSR and ESIA Practice Leader at Prizma LLC. He developed the first GRI-certified sustainability reporting training program in North America. He co-delivered numerous training courses focused on GRI, IFC Performance Standards and Equator Principles (see 20+ endorsements on his LinkedIn profile). Mehrdad has also been assisting organizations with the development of their GRI-G3 reporting (ScottsMiracle-Gro, the Fulbright Association (NGO), Lundin Mining, Red Back Mining, Tasiast Mining and Gold Reserve). Mehrdad has also assisted IFC’s Compliance/Advisory Ombudsman office, provided expert witness services for a case before the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and contributed to various aspects of baselines studies, ESIA, resettlement planning, stakeholder engagement and related trouble shooting in places ranging from Armenia to Tibet. Please see also Prizma’s newsletters posted here.