Many would argue that corporate responsibility (CR) was pretty much invented by the co-operative sector. But, since the term came into general use in the 1960s, businesses have increasingly realised the importance of good CR, which has raised the bar overall. This makes it all the more important for co-operatives to lead the way on CR issues – and the current economic climate means there has never been a more pressing time to do it.
One of the biggest changes we are seeing in the sector is a move away from the philanthropic approach, typical of the last few decades, towards a more collaborative one. Far more impact can be achieved by working in partnership and playing to an organisation’s strengths than by working alone – and it is about being in it for the long haul rather than looking for quick wins. Today’s approach really needs to be more about creating networks or communities of business partners which can have a significant and sustainable impact. This makes good business sense, too, as has been well documented by Business in the Community which points to a direct relationship between good CR practices and commercial business success.
It is not just about chucking money at it either, which is great news for smaller co-operatives. All organisations, large or small, can offer expertise, time and resources, and this is extremely effective providing it is properly focused. The Saffron Acres project, which Central England is working with, is a great example that demonstrates some of these points and is covered as a case study in this edition of Co-operative News (see p14). It shows how an organisation can work in partnership, using its unique set of business resources to empower vulnerable groups in a truly sustainable way.
Another benefit of focused CR is increased employee engagement. With Saffron Acres, colleagues involved got huge satisfaction and pride, but it also demonstrated more widely how business expertise can be used for the great benefit of local communities. This in turn helps to grow advocates for both societies and the co-operative brand.
I think food poverty is one of the key issues for our society moving forward and we will be looking at how we can work with others to maximise our resources and expertise so we can make a genuine and lasting impact.