Two co-operative chief executives have been appointed as Business in the Community’s (BitC) Responsible Business Ambassadors by HRH The Prince of Wales.
Mark Smith from the Southern Co-operative and Minnie Moll, joint chief executive for the East of England Co-op will represent the responsible business movement in their regions and lead other local businesses to take action.
The Prince appoints inspirational business figures in 12 UK regions for two-year terms. As South East Ambassador, Mr Smith will continue to focus on using responsible business to engage with young people from challenging backgrounds, to encourage aspiration and the achievement of personal potential irrespective of their circumstances.
“It is a great honour to be chosen by His Royal Highness to champion responsible business in the South East,” he said. “We know that responsible businesses contribute towards more resilient communities, stimulate local economies, help to create skilled and healthy workforces, and tackle environmental challenges.
“There is also a real benefit for those businesses and the people in them. I am therefore looking forward to using my time as Ambassador to help grow the responsible business network in the region.”
A member of the BitC Advisory Board for the South East, Mr Smith has been actively involved in driving the agenda for companies to engage with education in the region. He will now also work with BitC to strengthen the responsible business network on the south coast.
Ms Moll believes that while it is now accepted that businesses have an obligation to help build resilient communities alongside local economic growth, co-operatives have a special role in this.
“As a co-op it is in our DNA to be a responsible business and support communities, so I look forward to spreading the message across the region, building on our support of local producers, and engaging the business community in this important agenda,” she said.
Ms Moll, who sits on the BitC East of England Advisory Board and the boards of Ipswich Central (a business improvement district) and Suffolk Businesswomen, has three main ambitions for the East of England region, which will pick up on things the society is already doing well.
The first centres around dementia awareness. Working with the Alzheimer Society and the Norfolk & Suffolk Dementia Alliance, East of England created its own training scheme for colleagues which includes an e-learning module that has so far been completed by over 3,000 staff. Ms Moll will be making this award-winning training available free of charge to other businesses in the region. “Dementia is such a huge health and social care challenge,” she said. “It is one area we should be hugely generous and co-operative about.”
We want to join things up and be a connector and supporter of small businesses who want to do the right thing
The society also has big plans around education. A few days after her appointment, Ms Moll launched the society’s Employability For All programme, which will explore how businesses need to work closely to build bridges between education and employment, and how to fill skills gaps.
Thirdly, Ms Moll plans to build on East of England’s Sourced Locally programme, which she believes is “the leading initiative of its kind in both co-ops and non-co-ops”. The society works with over 100 suppliers in the region and is already helping them become members of the Carbon Charter.
“We want to join things up,” she says, “and be a connector and supporter of small businesses who want to do the right thing but may not have the time.”
Having two co-op representatives as ambassadors is hugely exciting, she says. “Mark and I will share the journey. We will be able to share ideas, raise the co-operative profile in our regions, and represent the co-op difference at ambassador meetings.”
Of the 12 ambassadors, four are now women – including Jayne-Anne Gadhia. “I’m really pleased about this. It would be better if it was more, but it’s really important to see women in these roles, where other women can see things as being possible.”
She adds: “As co-operatives, one thing we have to be aware of is that there are lots of organisations doing really good stuff. Co-ops haven’t cornered the market. We have to constantly push and stretch ourselves to be thinking about the ways we can help communities thrive and communicate the co-op difference.”