With all the negativity attached to corporate greed from Madoff through to bankers’ bonuses, it was refreshing to attend yesterday an event to mark the 25th anniversary of Business in the Community, an umbrella organisation various charitable bodies that the Prince of Wales supports.
One by one the chairman or CEO of major companies got up and spoke about what they do to engage with local communities and people. One branch of Sainsbury’s in the north east, for example, hosts a free breakfast for schoolchildren so they start their day properly nourished. One company announced that it had convinced 40 firms within its supply chain to reduce its carbon emissions.
There’s a campaign to work with schools with an aim to have a businessperson on the board of governors of every school in Britain. In July there’s a day when businesses are being asked to volunteer staff to go and work in local charitable organisations for a day.
I know from our own activities at Roast that whilst at first these kinds of initiatives can be seen as draining valuable management time, by the end of it we all get a great sense of satisfaction from seeing the difference these small interventions can make.
Corporate Social Responsibility activity is easily ditched by companies facing the brunt of the downturn and who need to priorities shareholder value above all else. What I saw yesterday was organisations not viewing this work as charity or philanthropy, but more of an enlightened investment in a future that seeks to be widely encompassing than the more narrow business perspectives of the past.