Last week Chuka Umunna, the Shadow Business Secretary, called for the UK to adopt a US initiative ‘Small Business Saturday’, which once a year urges consumers to shop at local independent stores. And in a poll taken by the Guardian last week (January 2nd), an overwhelming majority of respondents (83%) thought it was a good idea.
I agree with them, it’s a very good idea. It offers a small but simple and effective way to celebrate local businesses and the hugely important role they play in our communities. From local communities to the more ambiguous ‘shared interest’ communities, there are inspiring examples of people encouraging local enterprise and social action: from London currency Brixton Pound to the GoodGym’s ‘runners that do good’
But here at Nesta we’re looking to go much further. Soon, we are going to launch a programme which will bring businesses and civil society groups together in new ways; exploring new modes of giving and exchanging time, resources and skills and celebrating partnerships where acting together, locally, is business-as-usual.
We want to encourage businesses to support their community in new ways, as well as asking communities to support their local businesses.
In researching and scoping the programme we’ve discovered an extremely crowded landscape. There is considerable work going on across all sectors to understand the levels and modes of SMEs contributing to their local communities, to structure the thinking around effective engagement policy and practice. There are a lot of dedicated people out there.
But what is apparent is that the brokerage system between sectors is fragmented into myriad organisations that are difficult to navigate and understand, and that employee contribution to their local communities is unknown or under-recognised by employers, particularly if it is inconsistent with the core giving agenda of the business.
What we need to do to have real impact is to make business giving and its relationship to the development of flourishing communities much more accessible, visible, relevant to and aligned with local needs and aspirations.
Digital technologies and new approaches to business giving are beginning to address this brokerage gap, and I’m privileged and excited to have recently met, and now be involved with, a collection of inspiring innovations that have emerged from the IIG second call for ideas. C, Give What You’re Good At, GoodPeople, Women Like Us and Young Philanthropy represent a diverse portfolio of projects with one common ambition: make it easier for businesses and their employees to connect with impact to the causes that they care about.
Nesta is delighted to be working with Young Philanthropy. Its model introduces young professionals between the ages of 21 and 35 to a career of giving and develops their potential as leading philanthropists. The foremost initiative is the YP Syndicate that enables these young professionals to pool their money, time and skills and invest in compelling charity projects, with the matched funding of experienced philanthropists.
Give What You’re Good At is an online platform gaining significant traction from all quarters. It matches professionals who want to give and share their skills with ambitious non-profit organisations that need them for less than five hours a week. Likewise, GoodPeople is an operating system upon which pro-bono and skills-based volunteering programmes can be run. It is a website and mobile technology that will closely match talented people with exciting opportunities to work with civil society organisations based on their skills, causes and location.
Women Like Us is a multi-award winning social enterprise that provides support to women in finding work that they are able to fit into family life. Its career swapshop will enable a sharing network and build social connections between mothers in London who need family-friendly careers. And most recently C, an online social marketplace for giving and volunteering, made possible by individual giving accounts which are funded in innovative ways. Individuals can give time and money to the charities and initiatives of their choice, using a personal ‘C account’ funded by money from government, employers and commercial product and service providers.
These platforms highlight a need and an appetite for new mechanisms and solutions to bridge the gap between the private and third sectors. We can learn a great deal from them, and we will assess their impact on addressing barriers to increased giving; stimulate their adoption and adaptation in different contexts, expand the variety of models and mechanisms that might bring closer working partnerships, as well as gaining deeper insights into giving practices by a younger generation of business professionals.
One immediate reflection is that all of these innovations enable a bottom-up approach: an opening up of the giving framework whereby employees are more empowered and rewarded for giving to the causes that they care about. This is an important development if on the one hand we want to coordinate the exchange of business capacity with community need, and catalyse increased and new forms of business giving on the other. Watch this space.
Through supporting the projects in the business giving portfolio and delivering a wider programme of activity (details to follow), one of the key questions that I will address is what effective infrastructure models can be identified that mobilise and sustain charitable giving by businesses at a local level? Our programme will endeavour to uncover innovations that answer that question, or at least propose new possibilities for a world in which businesses are energised and recognised for their contribution to the economic and social development of communities through transformational new approaches and cross-sector initiatives.