Harnessing the Power of Business for Good

By leveraging the collective talent and power of the business world, we can build a better economy for all, argues Amanda Mackenzie.

Much has been written about a CEO’s first 100 days in post. 100 days is both no time at all and a truly unique time characterised by a heady mixture of rapid learning, many hours of conversation and the reinforcing of truths.

My first 100 days as chief executive of Business in the Community has cemented my belief in the passion, power and potential of business to transform society. From the founders of innovative start-ups, to some of our most well recognised household names – I have encountered an astonishing network of people, bound together by a desire to practice responsible business and to make work fair and just, all the while remembering that finite resources demand that we all use much less and reuse far more.

The first months in a job provide a chance to reflect on the mission, purpose and values of an organisation and look back, even as you look forward. In 1985, the original invitation to HRH the Prince of Wales to become Business in the Community’s President set out a mission focused on encouraging all companies to be more dedicated to improving life in local communities and act as an umbrella between the private sector and civil society.

Today, as we consider the events that prompted the Brexit vote and the dislocation that it highlighted in communities, it strikes me that the mission that launched the organisation 30 years ago has never been more relevant than it is today.

Yet, even as the Government considers legislation to moderate corporate excess and build trust in capitalism, I have also been inspired by the eagerness of business leaders to want to make a difference and do something significant.

Businesses recognise that no one group alone can tackle the nation’s significant issues. I feel a genuine sense of urgency and will from businesses to collaborate with civil society, trade unions, Government and not for profits to play a transformative role.

In the last year alone, Business in the Community has recruited over 30,000 volunteers from business, seconded 115 people from business and the civil service into local communities, and been part of the turnaround on 100 deprived high streets. In our schools, young people are getting invaluable access to business role models thanks to a programme that has partnered 500 businesses with schools, benefiting 26,000 young people.

25 new companies with a combined workforce of 100,000 have committed to making their jobs accessible to ex-offenders by signing up to our Ban the Box campaign, making employment more likely and in turn reducing the £19bn annual cost of offending.

Looking ahead to the future – it is clear that the consequences of digital transformation will present business with both huge opportunities and consequences. What is important is that society must actively ensure that striving for equality and fairness is at the heart of transformation.

We cannot deny that this technological advancement is inexorable and has many benefits, but we can transition to a digital economy in a way that is responsible, principled, courageous and most importantly human. When a high-street store closes as commerce moves online, what could replace it? When a role is effectively redundant as technology replaces it, how can the people in those roles be reskilled? When we consider opening a technology hub, how this could be done outside of the London bubble?

No one yet has all the answers, but if we work together and leverage the collective talent and innovation that I have seen first-hand from the business world, there is a real opportunity to build the future we all want to see.

Furthermore, there is a new generation of leaders coming up who have every opportunity to make responsible business something the country is famous for. Yes, let’s be great at free trade, but let’s be greater still at business invigorating our communities and leading the way on responsible business.