Members of LBG, the global standard in measuring and managing corporate community investment, met in Manchester earlier this month to discuss how high-impact community investment initiatives increasingly require an element of political advocacy. Panellists from Freshfields, Linklaters, Rolls-Royce and Siemens gathered to lead the debate.
While business doesn’t necessarily set out to be political with a “capital P”, it increasingly finds itself at the forefront of political discussion, due to the social nature of community investment initiatives. Good community investment initiatives respond to pertinent issues, which undoubtedly cross over with interests of local MPs, politicians and other government officials. If businesses want to make a systemic difference with their community investment programmes, it is necessary to engage in conversations with government. For example, promoting the STEM agenda within schools goes beyond the promotion of scientific subjects, and very often leads the way to broader conversations about the school’s culture, social mobility and gender diversity.
By addressing key socio-economic problems, companies are well placed to be part of important national and international conversations on these matters, and act as key government stakeholders. Speakers discussed being invited to partake in advisory boards at schools, sector-level organisations and roundtables, for example the Social Mobility Commission and the Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network. The opportunity to share their stories at government level strengthens relations between business and important government stakeholders, and allows businesses to shape the agenda of their chosen causes.
The panellists also discussed the business benefits associated with supporting politically related initiatives; for example, promoting STEM is often aimed at addressing a key skills shortage. These initiatives create a pipeline of talent for their industries, which undoubtedly has a material business impact. This business benefit increases internal buy-in, when it starts to swing from a discretionary cost, to being seen as an investment.
Throughout the discussion, an important distinction was made between taking a political stance with a big “P”, universally associated with partisanship, and taking a political stance with a small “p”, the preferred level of engagement for business. Companies are reluctant to align themselves with a charity partnership that is overtly Political, for fear of damaging business reputation. For community investment to be successful, the speaker’s noted initiatives must be authentic and aligned with business purpose. Business purpose must be central to a business’ decision when choosing what issues to support. Authenticity comes naturally, if a programme is focused on the business mission.
LBG (the global standard in measuring and managing corporate community investment) is uniquely positioned to act as a convener and facilitator in this space, allowing businesses to engage with one another and other stakeholders in society. LBG provides companies with a platform from which to be more transparent and open about their community investment programmes, helping businesses shape the narrative around their potentially political initiatives. At the end of the day, it is about businesses having a voice, standing up and saying something.