Starbucks will invest $3 million to develop leadership and educational opportunities for young people in China, where the coffeehouse chain operates more than 1,200 units in 68 cities, the company said Thursday.

About $1.5 million of the investment will go to the China Soong Ching Ling Foundation, or CSCLF, continuing what has been an eight-year partnership with the organization. The commitment will be administered by Give2Asia, an international nonprofit organization that promotes philanthropic investment in Asia.

One goal is to support the Youth Leadership Development Program, a program that helps students build skills and assigns them Starbucks mentors. Students can then apply for training courses under the Starbucks China University or for corporate internship opportunities with the coffeehouse chain there. The program is expected to reach 1,500 university students over the next three years.

The announcement comes after Howard Schultz, Starbucks chairman, president and chief executive hosted the Starbucks China Family Forum in Guangzhou earlier this week, which included about 1,200 employees and members of their family, in some cases parents of employees who had never left their village or flown on a plane.

John Culver, who heads Starbucks’ China and Asia Pacific division, told the Seattle Times, “It’s important that we include those family members in the conversation of who we are as a company.”

Starbucks is positioning itself as an employer of choice in the region, which, by the end of 2014, will be the largest market outside the U.S. The coffeehouse chain expects to reach 1,500 units in China by 2015.

The forum was the third such event hosted in China and is designed to recognize the importance of family in Chinese culture.

Jeff Miller, vice president of operations for Starbucks China, said in a statement that many parents in China don’t view service industry jobs as desirable careers, but Starbucks hopes to change that perception.

Employees there want their parents to know Starbucks “is not just another foreign corporation operating in China,” said Miller.

“We’re a company with deep culture and values,” he said. “We’re a part of the communities where we do business and we realized there was an opportunity to share this with the parents, so they could learn about Starbucks.”

A similar family forum is scheduled for the U.S. for the first time this year. Three such events are scheduled this month, the first to be hosted June 16 in New York, followed by Washington, D.C., on June 18 and Seattle on June 20.

Contact Lisa Jennings at lisa.jennings@penton.com.
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout