Feeding a diverse economy

The economy must promote a diversity of values, says Peter Kelly, director of business development at Unity Trust Bank.


The economy must promote a diversity of values, says Peter Kelly, director of business development at Unity Trust Bank

The principle of promoting and protecting diversity in ecosystems also applies to economies. Like our environment, the more diverse an economy, the more it will be geared up to delivering positive benefits for those who contribute to it.

This is why Ed Mayo’s assertion that there is an onus on co-operatives to embrace new forms of participation is so true. Participation is crucial for any organisation looking to build shared value with its stakeholders – whether members, customers, staff or investors. If connections are not created, or if interests are ignored, organisations are inevitably reduced to the values of a few.

In an era in which businesses are increasingly judged on their values, co-operatives, with their participatory frameworks in place, must recognise their potential to secure a competitive advantage. For others, as Ed Mayo argued, the job at hand might be to modernise, refresh and enhance the ways in which they converse.

Unity Trust’s own sector, banking, is a good case in hand. The banking crisis can be seen to demonstrate what happens when an industry fails to connect. The industry was both unable to serve the needs of its customers and nor demonstrate the shared value that a properly functioning financial system was able to deliver. Corporate social responsibility, too often reduced to a one-directional dialogue, was only ever going to protect the industry for so long.

Few people were able to forge the relationships with banks they required. As a result, banks were unable to unlock the latent ideas for innovation and enterprise that existed across society.

Like many of its customers, Unity Trust bank might be small in comparison to its competitors, but it is part of a powerful ecosystem that is driven and measured by values other than just profit. Our portfolio of dynamic, innovative and perhaps “unconventional” social businesses, demonstrate that the UK economy can provide the conditions in which diversity can flourish.

Credit unions, the supporters trust that own FC United of Manchester and Community Development Finance Institutions are all examples of our ecosystem that can truly be said to be innovating.

It is this ecosystem that enables Unity Trust (a bank of all things!) to pay its staff the Living Wage, help pioneer the Fair Tax mark and champion laws to compel banks to prove their social impact. The pursuit of these values has been great for business, Unity was voted first out of 10 banks in four different categories of the Charity Finance Magazine Annual Banking Survey 2014 and second in the remainder!.

Public policy and regulators have a huge role to play in creating the rich, fertile and level breeding grounds that our ecosystem needs. But this ecosystem has relied on co-dependence, cooperation and participation in order to survive and flourish. The more we demonstrate our collective impact the more we will thrive.

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