Is your organisation a Company Citizen?

In the face of political turbulence and years of austerity, and at a time when public trust in business, government, NGOs, and the media is at an all-time low, there is a growing recognition that organisations need to do more to contribute to society. 

Companies are increasingly called upon to have a social purpose linked to their objectives that underpins everything they do, replacing standard, bolt-on corporate social responsibility programmes.

I recently read The Company Citizen: Good for Business, Planet, Nation and Community by Tom Levitt, which is based on the premise that business doing good is doing good business.

Here are ten of my favourite, most thought-provoking quotes, that set out a strong case for change.

1.     A company citizen is a body corporate, owned and run by people…[it] respects and engages with others and plans for the long-term. Aware of its environment, fiscal, market and physical, it responds to changing circumstances as guided by its judgement and values and as allowed by its resources.

2.     Ultimately only conventional business drivers will drive large scale change: existing businesses need conventional business motives to make the idea of Company Citizenship sustainable.

3.     Citizens care, vote and interact through cooperating, volunteering, creating and maintaining communities […] companies do all of those things. Thousands of social enterprises use the tools of business to deliver a social or environmental object, not ignoring the need to be financially sustainable but not being dictated to by any perceived need to maximise dividends.

4.     Those who exercise power should do so responsibly, not simply to mitigate the negative impacts of their activity on society or the environment, but in socially constructive ways…Businesses which behave outside accepted moral frameworks cannot be true Company Citizens.

5.     How a company uses its profit tells us about its values.

6.     It’s no surprise that our poorest communities are often, literally, hopeless. Those least able to afford it have borne the brunt of spending cuts. […] The economic case for being involved in the relief of poverty is that poor people are poor consumers.

7.     Decent citizens care for the welfare of their neighbours; they work with them to address common issues in the community; are generous with their time, skills and other resources. The Company Citizen is actively engaged, not in Party politics but in lobbying for what’s right and helping mitigate what’s wrong.

8.     Ask community organisations and small charities what they need most and they’ll probably say money, but they’re wrong. They need skills to plan their operations, to strategise, to lobby. These are essentially business skills that can be donated by a company at little cost in the course of an ongoing and committed relationship with a community. Get these skills right, and whilst the money won’t necessarily look after itself, at least it will go further. Better still, skills transfer is a two-way street and workers will become better employees, better people, through such involvement.

9.     Philanthropy can undoubtedly enhance reputations but this falls apart when a company acts in ways which undermine the values associated with their philanthropic gestures. This is ‘greenwashing.’

10.  Many ways for business to engage with a community are more sustainable than simply writing cheques:

-       Employer-supported volunteering can transfer, boost and extend employee skills;

-       A business with a sense of purpose better engages its employees, thus boosting productivity;

-       A values-led, ethical and sustainable value chain enhances reputation and can drive sales, while making sourcing practices more efficient and legally compliant.