Sarah Stone: If government is failing, business can lead in making the world a better place

Developments at ­Westminster in recent weeks have shocked the nation and affected the markets. ­Resignations. Lies. Obfuscation. Failing leadership. It's no wonder people's faith in government has ­collapsed.

Plastic pollution is one of the issues that businesses could help tackle
Plastic pollution is one of the issues that businesses could help tackle

This year’s Edelman Trust Barometer – an influential gauge of how ­people feel about institutions in 28 countries around the world – shows business overtaking government in the global credibility stakes.

In the UK, only 36 per cent of ­people trust in government – 2 per cent down on last year – and most feel their views aren’t represented.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Despite continuing chaos in ­Downing Street, the biggest political casualty globally is still the US, which showed a record 37 per cent collapse in trust and “staggering lack of faith” in government since ­President Trump took office.

Sarah Stone is Founder and Director of social value agency Samtaler

At the same time, trust in business and employers is rising around the world. In the UK, 14 per cent more people than last year trust in their employers to do the right thing.

Across the 28-country report, which surveys more than 33,000 respondents, 64 per cent believe that chief executives should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it.

“There are new expectations of ­corporate leaders,” Edelman says. “Nearly two-thirds say they want CEOs to take the lead on policy change instead of waiting for ­government, which now ranks significantly below [business trust] in most markets.”

The message from consumers is clear: our governments are failing us, so we need our businesses to take action. This includes having an impact on some of the world’s biggest challenges, from climate change and plastic pollution to poverty and ­inequality.

Many of the world’s biggest brands are already acting as change agents. Amazon is leading the charge by pioneering on fair pay, announcing it will pay all its workers above ­minimum wage – and encouraging the US Congress and other businesses to do the same.

At Google, ‘social impact’ teams are using technology to address global challenges and make a lasting impact. Projects include the Human Trafficking Hotline Network, designed to improve data collection on international human trafficking and make it easier for aid organisations to share information. In the UK, entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson now spends most of his time working with Virgin Unite, the ­non-profit foundation with the vision of uniting people and entrepreneurial ideas to create a better world.

Its projects include the Carbon War Room, which aims to speed up the adoption of market-based solutions to climate change. Another initiative is The Elders, a group of independent global leaders – originally brought together by Nelson Mandela – who are working together for peace and human rights.

Doing social good doesn’t just help the world – it’s also good for business.

Most consumers now identify themselves as ‘belief-driven buyers’, who will choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on where it stands on the political or social issues they care about. This is according to another Edelman study, the 2018 Earned Brand report. In the UK, this ‘belief-driven buying’ has climbed by 20 per cent over the last year, with businesses ranked ahead of government as the world’s global fixers.

Governments themselves are ­driving some of this greater focus on making a difference by asking ­suppliers to create social value as well as delivering their core product or service. For example, in Scotland, community benefit clauses in public sector contracts ask bidders to ­commit to projects that will create additional social, environmental or economic benefits for the community or sector they’re working in.

Business looking to create social value can start by identifying the socio-economic need amongst the community they want to benefit. Then the key is to partner with third sector organisations who are already offering effective support to this ­community.

There are thousands of fabulous social enterprises, charities and grassroots organisations that are working hard and actively making a significant impact in communities all over Scotland. Organisations like Social Enterprise Scotland, the School for Social Entrepreneurs and Social Firms Scotland are all great sources of enterprise and inspiration. ​

Think creatively about how you could work with groups like these and align yourselves with those that most fit the purpose and value of your organisation. If your business is heating or energy, offer support to organisations that deal with fuel poverty. Recruitment agencies can help charities that support people into employment. Financial services companies could partner with debt advisory charities.

In partnerships like these, creating social value is closely aligned with commercial value – so business and the community most benefit.

The bottom line is that everybody wins.

Sarah Stone is founder and director of social value agency Samtaler