Responsible business can make you eat less chocolate or improve your love life!
The Heart of the City’s senior leadership breakfast kicked off with a call to action by its Co-President, the Rt Hon. Lord Mayor of the City of London in the magnificent surroundings of Mansion house. “Business thrives in healthy vibrant societies” he said, welcoming the assemblage of 89 business leaders. Continuing on, Carolyn Housman, Director of Heart of the City outlined the focus for the breakfast as exploring the needs and opportunities for responsible businesses and how London’s leading responsibility network, Heart of the City (HotC) can assist.
“This is a tale of two cities” stressed Eithne Rynne, the CEO of the London Voluntary Service Council (LVSC), highlighting London’s disparity. This is a city with the largest number of billionaires in the world, whose GDP is comparable to Saudi Arabia’s and where 32,000 businesses were created in two years in the EC1V postcode alone. On the other hand, 28% of its population live in poverty, 4 in 10 children live below the poverty line and there has been a 394% increase in the use of food banks in 2 years. With London’s population set to rise to 10 million by 2030, businesses not only have a moral mandate to take action but a need to mitigate the risks that this will present.
Sir Stuart Etherington, CEO of the National Council of Voluntary Organisations noted that the charity sector, traditionally associated with tackling these issues, has shrunk over time as Government funding has been withdrawn. This now presents opportunities and indeed a need for businesses to partner with charities to positively impact their own operating environment. According to the panel, by engaging with responsibility issues facing their stakeholders, companies can achieve multiple benefits and improve their bottom line by:
- Enabling companies to distinguish themselves from their competitors through their social or environmental causes.
- Enhancing staff skills by exposing volunteers to a wide range of issues at relatively young ages that will serve them in their careers.
- Improving the health, wellbeing and confidence of employees which in turn leads to improved recruitment and retention of skilled people and therefore cost savings.
Indeed, according to one survey, volunteering is the second greatest source of joy after country dancing. Another one found that over 70% of employers believe that those who volunteer have a better chance of earning a higher salary or gaining a promotion, whilst some volunteers disclosed that it even helped them to cut down on chocolate or improve their love lives.
To achieve these gains, it was stressed that one size doesn’t fit all! Sir Stuart explained how businesses have transitioned from a ‘Chairman led’ approach, through to aligning their responsibility programmes with company goals and many are now settling on more thoughtful engagement systems that focus on what employees do well and how they can use that to do good. Each company should decide on its path using its own skill base and creativity.
Examples of this were provided by Nigel Peters (Alium partners) and Lord Tim Clement-Jones (partner at DLA Piper) who highlighted their own firm’s work to provide skills training and work experience to underprivileged students. This helps young people gain interest in and access to city jobs that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to, providing staff satisfaction and personal development opportunities as well as helping London to address its shortage of skilled recruits.
“So, how do you go about identifying where to start?”, one participant asked. Sir Harvey McGrath (HotC Chair) provided a top tip in his summarisation of the morning. HotC helps their partners to develop their own vision of responsible business through peer to peer learning and by sharing tools and information through its partnership network of 800 companies. This starts through the organisation’s free Newcomers programme.
Read delegates comments on twitter using #HOTCleaders.
This article was written by Nick Wicks, Heart of the City.