SMEs focus corporate citizenship on social mobility

Finalists for the Santander Corporate Citizenship Award recently came together to debate the business case for social impact at a roundtable chaired by Allister Heath, Deputy Editor of The meeting

Representatives of Samsung Electronics, Experian, Telefónica UK, KPMG, Appt Corporation (t/a McDonald’s), UBS and The Job Show™ shared insights into their approach to corporate citizenship, their impact, and why it was worthy of national recognition.

Sharon Squire, Head of CSR for Santander UK, explained its support for the award by saying that corporate citizenship is now integrated within the business’ main objectives. “CSR is part of Santander’s overall business strategy thanks to our balanced scorecard which sets goals for People, Customers, Shareholders and Communities. This is part of our senior leaders’ personal objectives and the whole company is engaged in our core CSR programmes as a result, supporting our priorities of Education, Employment and Enterprise.”

Staff engagement was identified by all finalists as a major driver for corporate citizenship.

“Experian carries out a regular Global People Survey and one of the most strongly endorsed areas is the importance our people place on the role we play in our communities as a responsible business,” said James Russell, Director of Corporate Communications & CR at Experian. “Since its launch 12 months ago, Experian’s social innovation programme has helped pioneer and fund 12 new products that use our data and analytical skills to address some of the biggest barriers to financial inclusion. Our people are encouraged to bid for funding for new projects with each of our regions’ leadership teams short-listing their finalists and then a global group, made up of operators from right across our business, choosing each regional winner.”

Experian is working with Big Issue Invest to tackle the financial, digital and social exclusion challenges faced by rental tenants in the UK compared to homeowners.  By including rental payment data in the partnership’s Rental Exchange system, people living in rented housing can see their credit reports improved by paying their rent on time. Experian also launched an online debt negotiation portal in Brazil to help people renegotiate their repayments direct with their lender to prevent unnecessary delinquencies.  “More than 2m people have enrolled, registering an average of two debts each. Pilot studies show that 70% of users successfully negotiate debt settlements,” added James.

Picking up on shared value, Allister Heath asked finalists how they balance doing good socially with doing well commercially.

“For Telefónica, creating shared value – social, environmental and commercial – is part of being a successful business,” said Bill Eyres, Head of Sustainability at Telefonica UK. “Businesses need to be connected to both their customers and their own people – sustainability propositions are crucial to achieving this connection. Increasingly young millennials are seeing brands like friends and differentiating between “givers” and “takers.”

Telefónica customers advised the company to focus on young people and this led to the creation GoThinkBig – which has offered 20,000 work experience placements in the past 2 years. “Often these experiences aren’t fully accessible to all young people, and the process is not democratised,” added Bill. “By digitising the process with GoThinkBig, we have made sure that any young person can get that work experience.”

Social mobility and youth unemployment were common areas of focus for this year’s finalists who have identified talent as a challenge to all businesses.

“Competition for talented employees is often characterised as a ‘war for talent’ – but it needn’t be a zero sum game where one company can only win at the expense of another,” said Ian Roe, Director of Corporate Responsibility at KPMG. “Professions must work together to grow the talent pool rather than simply compete for the same limited talent so we work with other businesses, government, educators and the third sector to move forward.

“We know collaborations work; in 2006 KPMG partnered with City of London to set up a new school. The expectation then was that 35% of school leavers would achieve at least 5 A*-C grade GCSEs, including English & Maths – the benchmark of success. The first intake from 2009 took their GCSEs this year and 82% of students achieved these grades.”

Samsung is also making an impact by working with schools. “Samsung faces an industry wide issue -mass youth unemployment at a time when there are many tech jobs available – so we decided to help people aged 5 to 30 to develop the skills needed to take these jobs by setting up Digital Classrooms,” said Aleyne Johnson, Head of Government Relations and Citizenship at Samsung Electronics UK.

Samsung has selected primary schools and colleges around the country to train students and teachers and provide the necessary equipment to help children learn core subjects with new technology. It also runs Digital Academies for young people over 16 that are more job-focused and centred around providing workforce skills. “We have targeted the most deprived areas for this project, and are closely monitoring how the children and young people, as well as teachers, are benefiting from the work,” added Aleyne. “This is a long-term problem to solve and we are investing for long-term benefit.”

Demonstrating that small to medium-sized companies can have a big impact, several finalists for the Santander Corporate Citizenship Award are punching above their weight.

Appt Corp is one of the largest McDonald’s franchises in the UK, with 26 restaurants across North London employing over 2,000 people. Its CEO, Atul Pathak has taken an entrepreneurial approach to CSR – with many of his initiatives being adopted by the wider organisation.

“In order to do business in a community you must give something back to that community,” said Atul. “McDonald’s recognises this and encourages franchisees to develop their own CSR projects.”

Atul has partnered with six local charities to provide not only financial support but access to HR, marketing and accountancy services; he is also working with Ealing Police to rehabilitate young offenders by offering them jobs in his restaurants. He also recruits young staff from his customer base, supporting them during GCSEs or offering apprenticeships, which he believes increases loyalty and enhances customer service.

Highlighting an unforeseen benefit of his approach to CSR that can have a personal, local and even a global impact, Atul shared an example of several young members of staff who took it upon themselves to personally deliver a usual order of an apple pie and coffee to an elderly customer who became unwell and could no longer visit the branch. “They visited her on her 100th birthday this year to deliver her order and she was more excited by this than her letter from the Queen. The story wasn’t only picked up by the local press, it went viral and generated some great recognition for the branch, and ended up being shared amongst all 14,000 US McDonald’s branches as an example of best practice.”

The Job Show™ was co-founded by Caroline Connaughton to break down barriers between candidates and employers in a digital world. It helps big corporate exhibitors including Building Society, Sports Direct, IKEA, Jaguar Landrover and BUPA to name a few to connect face to face with local talent by exhibiting at a growing number of regional events.

“The idea for The Job Show™ came about after my business partner’s husband was made redundant and struggled to find new work despite being highly qualified; the fault was with his CV which he was sending out digitally,” said Caroline. “The Job Show™ is a way for job seekers to get themselves in front of key decision-makers instead of remaining stuck behind words on a page. Our mantra is ‘people buy people’ and this appeals to all age groups and social demographics.”

Concluding with a comment on the growing importance of corporate citizenship to organisations of all sizes, Caroline added: “It’s all about how companies engage. As the landscape becomes increasingly digital face to face interactions are even more important.”

All finalists for this year’s National Business Awards have now been revealed, showcasing over 140 of Britain’s leading businesses, business leaders and social enterprises. The finalists represent categories including the Market Gravity Innovation Award, the UKTI Digital Business of the Year and the QBE FTSE 100 Business of the Year.

Visit for a full list of all finalists and to book a table at the event.

The National Business Awards supports The Prince’s Trust, a charity that offers practical and financial support to young people who need it.

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