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Businesses on the frontline

Corporate Citizenship

Expectations of businesses and their role in society are shifting. In times of growing social unrest, widening economic disparity and declining mental health, companies are increasingly being called to step up and go beyond their typical corporate responsibility scope. As states continue to roll back around the world, opportunities are arising for businesses to step in where government and institutions are fading. We show below a few inspiring ways in which companies are filling in the void, by tackling larger sensitive social issues that aren’t currently getting the investment needed.

  1. Expanding community programmes to tackle non-business-related social issues

In total some 170,000 people are now believed to be homeless in London. Despite the enormity of the challenge, the Evening Standard in partnership with The Independent has committed to tackling the homelessness epidemic in the city in two years, with focus on women in the streets. They have been working with frontline charities on how to best collaborate to address the crisis, and have set up the Homeless Fund to support vital services. Similarly, as one of our news stories in this monthly briefing highlights, Apple is joining tech giants Facebook and Google in trying to make housing more affordable in California. Apple has committed $2.5 billion to ease the Californian housing crunch, including $1 billion directed to affordable housing, as well as an effort to help first-time buyers. Also tackling a prominent social issue in the US, Walmart has put the health and safety of its patients as a critical priority, by setting strict policies to prevent opioid abuse and prescription fraud. Through tackling either homelessness or drug addiction, corporate are finding ways to expand their existing community programmes into less-attended areas.

  1. Applying core business resources for social good

 With governments’ limited public spending capacity and banks’ risk averseness enhanced by the recent crisis, companies are figuring alternative ways to financially empower their communities. Micro-loan initiatives and start-up investing are a couple of ways in which corporates are incentivising new and small businesses. Uber has partnered with JUMO, a financial technology company, to offer a unique digital vehicle finance product, which is easing barriers to car ownership for existing Uber driver-partners across Sub-Saharan Africa. Mondelez International is among a number of corporations – including Nike, Microsoft, American Express and PepsiCo – to set up investment funds aimed at start-ups. This offers simultaneously a strategic plan for corporates to stay ahead of the game, and new funding possibilities for small innovative businesses previously unattended by banks and governments. This initiative both helps boost community investing while attending to corporates’ needs.

  1. Tackling workforce well-being

The modern age of long office hours, technology and globalisation is being linked to increased anxiety and depression. To address mental health in the workplace, Unilever has set up a global Well-Being Steering Committee and worldwide programme based on a four-pillars approach, to address the physical, mental, emotional and purposeful well-being of employees. Initiatives include access to counselling services, training of employees to become “mental health first aiders”, and a yearly World Mental Health Day to promote communication and tackle stigmas. The company estimates that for every €1 spent on its Well-Being programme, it gets a return of €2.44 – indicating that good health really is good for business.

With plenty of companies starting to put themselves on the frontline to tackle societal issues, this is becoming more mainstream and expected by the day. Practical questions to ask if putting your business on the frontline is something for your business to consider, include:

  1. What are the societal issues that speak to your corporate purpose and what key capabilities and resources could genuinely make a difference in unattended social areas?
  2. How can you support small suppliers who contribute to your greater business and social needs? Which are the businesses disrupting your sector, that offer positive partnership prospects and a social angle to their services?
  3. How is your workplace impacting the mental well-being of your employees?
  4. Which unusual alliances could help amplify your positive societal impact (eg NGOs, local councils, socially orientated start-ups)?
  5. What could a competitor do that would make you wish you’d thought of it, and actioned it, first?

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