Another of our esteemed speakers at this year’s Naked Leader annual Conference, Dawn Austwick, gives us an insight into what she will be sharing with delegates in October.
I’M very pleased to be able to speak at the Naked Leader Conference later this year, and to offer my perspective on its theme of ‘business as a force for good’. That perspective will be very much founded in a broader conversation we at the Big Lottery Fund have been having about the future of doing good in the UK, exploring who plays what role in enabling people and communities to thrive.
People using business as a force for good isn’t particularly new. But just as with the changing shape of the state and debates around the role of charities, there does seem to be gathering momentum. Take for example the B Corp movement which reached the UK in September last year, launching with 62 founding for-profit businesses committed to putting social purpose at the heart of how they understand success. Globally, the B Corp movement is sufficiently compelling that the likes of UniLever (which turned over more than €50bn last year) are considering joining.
There are no doubt some great Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) success stories out there. But the appetite for a more integrated, B Corp style model highlights a growing recognition that social purpose needs to be encoded into the DNA of a business, rather than existing as a specialist CSR add-on.
And isn’t that a much more exciting leadership challenge? To build not just a successful business but one that creates a positive footprint on the world. Here in the UK, Timpson work with more than 80 prisons and around 400 offenders to train and create employment opportunities. Around 8% of their workforce are ex-offenders or serving prisoners, and their retention rate is 80% after 12 months – the same rate as those recruited from the general population. They say that in 12 years of running the scheme, only three people have re-offended. They are clear that working in this way is good for business, not a form of charity.
Similarly, Generation Investment Management, set up by David Blood and Al Gore in 2004, re-imagines social investing by marrying long-term investment plans with long-term social research into global sustainability and renewable energy. This is less about simply screening out ‘bad’ investments or even investing in a few high performing ‘good’ companies. It’s about understanding that acting with social purpose is increasingly essential for businesses to make money over the long term – not dissimilar from the ‘Quaker-nomics’ tradition of business which sustains the community in which it operates.
What these examples have in common is a spirit of generosity that comes from a leader appreciating the bigger picture. Whether that’s the openness of mind shown by John Timpson in investing time and effort in ex-offenders, or David Blood foregoing shorter term (and probably easier!) returns on investment, it’s all about seeking and finding deeper meaning in what business achieves.
I think that’s as much as I should proffer by way of a teaser for October’s conference. The ‘future of doing good’ is very much a live debate which I hope will prove unpredictable and surprising! You can find out more and get involved via www.futureofdoinggood.org.uk.