If, like me, you network amongst your local business community, you have probably encountered brokerage agencies that match socially responsible businesses with the voluntary sector. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is moving up the business agenda and a greater number of smaller businesses want to give back to their communities. How to give back in a meaningful and effective way where it has greatest impact is not always obvious hence the emergence of brokers. The ones I have met are genuinely interested in sourcing and distributing funding and manpower to support community ventures and local charities, and are themselves not-for-profit.
In areas where business has been devastated, high streets boarded up, and local charities struggling to survive, there is a greater need for helping hands. Sometimes these helping hands take the form of local businesses that have simply had enough and start to work together towards a better future for their community.
In August 2013 Burnley in Lancashire was named the most enterprising town in UK in the Enterprise Award Scheme run by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills. The idea that gained Burnley this accolade was simple: bond 100 local business and organisations to actively promote the town as a good place to work, live, visit and invest. “What is good for Burnley is good for business”. The Burnley Bond holder scheme has reinvigorated the local economy and boosted its core industries of aerospace and engineering, while creating more local jobs.
It doesn’t always take a group of businesses, or a third sector brokerage to direct investment and help on the ground where it is most needed. Coincidentally, also from Burnley, entrepreneur Dave Fishwick famously challenged the banks for failing small businesses. He formed Burnley’s Savings and Loans to meet the needs of individuals and businesses with loans and a preferable interest of 5%AER on savings. All profits (ex overheads) he has distributed to charities.
Though less high profile, there are examples of towns and individuals who have their community at heart. Through co-operative enterprise communities are being rebuilt. You can probably tell that I support the idea of third sector brokerages because they are able to connect businesses of all sizes with a single mission to walk the CSR walk, as well as talking the talk. It’s not simply about sponsoring events and charities. Companies are being encouraged to help with the development of environmental initiatives, become active in local government forums, offer pro bono services, mentor other businesses, and run staff volunteering schemes as just an example of the scope of what can be achieved, in the name of community action and social responsibility.
It may not be the stated mission of many of the schemes but Burnley has proven that what is good for the town is good for business. Getting involved, by investing funds or action in kind, creates a positive impression of your business, it motivates staff and has the potential to make you the employer of choice. It is also sends a positive message to prospective clients.
Call it the Dunkirk Spirit or what you will, the length and depth of this recession has created a resolve in securing the future for business, by business. Where high street banks have failed to recognise the needs of their customers, the resourcefulness of the community is capable of stepping in with support.
Sadly, for communities without forward thinking individuals, there is no template for turning fortune around and for some communities responsibility is about improving the social or eco-environment, not turnover. Either way businesses must want to get involved and be committed for the long run.
Margot Grantham is a regular contributor to the3rdimagazine.