Doing business is about doing good for communities

Picture: Contributed
Picture: Contributed
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IT’S NOT hard to help people out, writes Jane Wood

There’s never been a better time to talk about better business for a better Scotland. At Scottish Business in the Community (SBC), we recently hosted our annual Awards celebrating responsible businesses of all sizes, across all sectors. For the first time we opened our Awards up to all businesses in Scotland, not just our member companies, and we were hugely impressed. From SMEs to large companies, every winner was a great example of how business can make a direct and tangible difference to people’s lives.

There are children who now read confidently because employees of our member companies have given their time to help through our Paired Reading programme. There are previously homeless people who have been supported into work, remaining there through the support of businesses signed up to our Ready for Work programme. There are individuals with previous convictions who will not return to prison because businesses judged them on their merits. Virgin Trains, amongst others are leading the way in this work.

At SBC, we witness changes in lives every day. Our Ready for Work programme, supported by our member Marks & Spencer, gives businesses a structured means to support some of society’s most disadvantaged, socially isolated and vulnerable people back on their feet and into work whilst making solid business sense. Employers receive committed, enthusiastic and dedicated people, keen to change their lives for the good. Last year 25 participants successfully completed the programme and 14 individuals made the move into employment, with others seeking further support or moving into education or training.

So much has changed over the past 32 years since SBC was established. Despite giving less to charities, corporations are increasingly seeking the opportunity to play a more important role in solving social problems as an integral part of sustainable profits. This change encompasses an opportunity for the way we consume, the way we do business and the way we manage and respect our natural resources.

Our work to unlock the ambitions for a more responsible business community is in keeping with the culture aspired to in CBI Scotland’s Great Business Debate campaign of which CBI Scotland director, Hugh Aitken, says: “All over Scotland successful, growing businesses support jobs, training, schools and communities – doing good by doing good business. But businesses can only realise their full potential when they command the confidence of the public.”

SBC is working closely with the Scottish Government to support its recent Scottish Business Pledge initiative which aims for a fairer Scotland through more equality, opportunity and innovation in business.

The urgent need for action is underlined by the fact that in Scotland people working long, hard hours are living in such poverty that we at SBC have been asked to offer food and nutrition advice to families who cannot afford to pay their energy bill and have no means of heating food at home. We have growing youth unemployment at a time of the greatest availability of tertiary education. Scottish life expectancy lags 15 years behind that of England and across the UK it remains the case that our grandfathers’ employment is still the greatest indicator of social mobility.

The solutions to this social need no longer rest solely within the domain or responsibility of the charity sector or government, we must increase investment in social change through new models. At SBC, and our sister organisation, Business in the Community, we respond to social needs and markets. We listen to business.

When asked recently about how the business social model needs to change Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, said categorically that we need more collaborative efforts.

He added: “We need the collective efforts of countries and companies to step up and play their part – setting strong goals, having clear plans, and openly demonstrating progress.”

That is what Scottish Business in the Community is committed to doing for our members – unlocking the corporate ambition and vision for a responsible Scotland – and we invite you to join us.

• Jane Wood is chief executive of Scottish Business in the Community, www.sbcscot.com