WIG CEO Blog December 2021 - A match made in heaven – social purpose and business acumen
Just as many would suggest there is no shortage of misunderstanding between the public and private sectors, there may be a similar lack of appreciation of what the private and charity sector can provide each other. There was a time when the transfer of skills and experience between these sectors took the form of those from the private sector reaching a point in their careers when ‘giving something back’ led them to trusteeships or other roles in support of charities. However, the times, 'they are a changing'. There are at least two pressures that may contribute to a freer flow in both directions.
Firstly, Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) is no longer discretionary. Not surprisingly, the threat to biodiversity and the race to reduce carbon emissions has started to dominate private sector strategy. It’s the right thing to be doing – not least because of the risk of a backlash in public perceptions of the role of business. But the social element in ESG, although harder to measure, cannot be far behind and received a boost in understanding because of the pandemic. Secondly, there are internal pressures too. Employees aren’t prepared to shut down their consciences when they come to work. The whole atmosphere and culture of business are becoming much more attuned to ethics, ideals, and defensible purpose.
Together these set up a compelling backdrop against which the private and charity sectors might exchange people more readily. Society and shareholders are demanding positive environmental and social impact from business, and it’s clear that the commercial world has much it can learn.
A charity will often have a depth of perspective on their area of focus that can only come from long experience. That institutional memory of working at the coalface of an issue means that their insights are excellent. They have a rounded situational awareness, particularly about impacts on vulnerable or marginalised communities, which few businesses possess. And they frequently have a better intrinsic understanding of consumers’ priorities and behaviours. It is why WIG encourages our Charity members to the table and join both the public and private sectors in discussion. At a broader cultural level, large companies are always trying to solve the problem of how to get dynamism and team ethos working across many thousands of employees. That’s been a driving factor behind the introduction of ‘corporate purpose’ initiatives, but clearly, charities are way ahead in the purpose game.
A charity that is not delivering on its purpose is going to be in trouble. Whether what is happening in the organisation right now is in pursuit of its purpose is not an issue for a charity. Regardless of corporate rhetoric, the ‘purpose question’ often doesn’t have that same central position in the private sector.
Our Charity Next programme at WIG, which seconds early career civil servants into charities, offers one model for partnership. We operate around 100 of these secondments each year, and the idea of replicating this between business and charities is one we’re very keen to pursue. At every level of seniority and experience, the injection of purpose and social impact from the charity sector and, going the other way, business, and organisational acumen from the private sector, might be a match made in heaven.
Alternatively, if your business is interested in discussing opportunities for your talent to gain experience in the charity sector, please get in touch.