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If Civic Education Fails, the Business Community Will Suffer

The business community is rallying around civic education. It’s partly a matter of civic duty and partly a matter of survival — and maybe economic prosperity.

Civics Summit Event 6 Business Panel.jpeg
Sarah Bonk (left) moderates a panel of Indiana business leaders at an April civics summit organized by the Indiana Bar Foundation.
(Indiana Bar Foundation)
This article is a companion to the feature, Boosting Civics Education in Indiana for Democracy’s Sake.

Sarah Bonk, the founder and CEO of the nonprofit Business for America, earned a degree in public policy. But after interning on Capitol Hill, she decided she wanted nothing to do with government and politics, becoming an “accidental” businesswoman.

In her business career, she gravitated toward organizational and process development. This attention to creating systems that could yield better results resonated with her ongoing interest in public policy. She was working as a senior design manager for Apple in 2016, watching polarization emerge that could be bad for both business and the country.

“I kept coming back to the fact that we’re not getting good outcomes in our policy processes, that lawmakers are not delivering for the American people and that business has to be part of the solution,” she says. She left Apple to found her nonprofit, convinced of the power of the business community to “set a positive example for civic engagement, help overcome political divides and preserve our country’s democratic institutions.”

Bonk believes this will also be good for business, and she’s not alone. In 2019, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce published a white paper in the Harvard Business Review that put forward a business case for civic education.

“Polarization and incivility are driving wedges between people at a time when the benefits of a quality civics education, which gives young people the knowledge, skills and disposition to be successful citizens, have never been more valued by employers,” the authors said.
Business for America founder Sarah Bonk: “I kept coming back to the fact that we’re not getting good outcomes in our policy processes, that lawmakers are not delivering for the American people and that business has to be part of the solution.”
(Business for America)
Harvard professor Rebecca Henderson argues that bolstering democracy is essential to the very existence of American business in her own piece in the Harvard Business Review.

“I believe that strengthening democracy is the only way to ensure the widespread survival of free market capitalism, and with it the prosperity and opportunity that has changed the lives of billions of people,” she wrote. “It’s also the only way to tackle the world’s biggest threats, from global warming to inequality.”

Business for America is working with businesses in Indiana to bring them into collaboration with state efforts to advance civic education. It’s opened a branch in Indiana to lead the formation of an Indiana Business Alliance for Civics, building on commitments from Cummins, Elanco and Salesforce, among others.

Bonk was a panelist at a civics summit the Indiana Bar Foundation hosted in April 2023. She recalls a panel in which a question was raised about improving civic awareness outside of the educational system.

“Someone said that those folks are lost, there’s no mechanism for change, and we need to focus on the kids,” says Bonk. “But Shawn Healy from CivXNow pointed to Business for America. Adults are often on their best behavior in the workplace; they’re a captive audience of sorts and there’s a chance for us to get in front of them.”
Carl Smith is a senior staff writer for Governing and covers a broad range of issues affecting states and localities. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @governingwriter.
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