There is a core of belief that runs through the veins of Relocon – entrepreneurship can and ought to do good. That is not that every organisation should pursue the Social Enterprise (SE) mark or register as a Community Interest Company (CIC) or any other mark under the SE umbrella. That choice is down to the specific needs of each company, a decision based upon what that mark can do in opening doors and establishing trust. What we ‘ought to do’ is about how all businesses should hold themselves accountable to a higher aspiration.
I came across Daniel Priestley when I was finishing my degree back in 2014. I was producing a piece of work that explored ‘entrepreneurism’ as an opportunity for those within the workforce, who had experience, a mass of skills and talent but were being denied access to employment for whatever reason. Having read Entrepreneur Revolution I was inspired to read his books as he wrote them. In July 18 I was fortunate to attend an event in London where Daniel spoke about his journey, the work that Dent (a business he co-founded) does and their driving purpose.
I have always believed that the skills that entrepreneurs have, creativity, problem solving and an ability to be self-aware, are traits that cross boundaries not just in socially driven business but in all business. These characteristics are also deeply embedded in those of the system thinker, someone who can see interdependencies, interconnections and ascribe common purpose to the whole.
Corporate Social Responsibility is the way that big business tends to manage its social footprint. Often established with good intentions it can though get mired in the world of PR and brand crisis management. For some organisations, a poorly considered piece of CSR can do more harm than good as it breeds cynicism amongst employees (enforced participation), becomes burdensome to manage (ever tried to explain CSR outcomes when they contradict your client’s behaviour) and can be at odds within a hierarchical structure (the CEO who you never see gets dressed up as a mascot – awkward or what?).
If we are to accept social good through profit sharing we need to know we live this stuff and that it is not just ticking a box to be rolled out once a year for the stakeholders in a report. For many small businesses there is no time for CSR, no time to raise funds for charity, no time to see themselves as the creators of good not just a provider or product or service. Their CSR comes from writing a cheque or not-at-all. The failing here is that they are missing the clarity that is established when you surround the value proposition with purpose. They miss out on qualified conversations, partnership working and the ability to think beyond the scope of the mundane.
As an example of how this works. I was due in London for an event and I arrived a little earlier than planned so wandered off to find a café. I came across a venue, an attractive café called ‘Redemption Roasters”. At the front there was a little space taken from the pavement for sitting. In its large windows were Edison bulbs hanging like ideas from a sepia past, it felt a little trendy, perhaps industrial but certainly welcoming. As I walked in two young men stood behind a counter. In front of them was a fine array of sandwiches and cakes and an attractive bowl of couscous salad. At the tables people chatted about ‘what is’ and ‘what might be’, a photographer was taking close-ups of individually wrapped packets of beans on wooden shelves and the aroma of coffee filled the small room. I ordered an ice latte, was told in a polite manner that they had run out of ice but they would take a look, it was no trouble but wholly understandable with temperature in the high 30’s. I settled on a latte and a toasted ham and cheese, found a small table and perched on a chair.
On the wall I saw the following:
What intrigued me was the how the social cause was so under-played, this was a café first, like any normal café in London, it took me five minutes to see it and a Nano-second to recognise how powerful this mission was in its understated form. It didn’t matter that I loved the logo, the name or admired the fact that everyone working there was a beneficiary. Two things stood out, its educational credentials, what it aims to deliver by “raising the bar” and “reducing re-offending through coffee” as well as the professionalism by which it was doing this. As I admired the pattern embossed into the froth of the latte and savoured the tastiest of expresso’s, it hit me like the caffeine rush I was experiencing, this was a business with real purpose.
I came home, and posted on LinkedIn a brief thank-you note, a post that very quickly rose to 700 views and 7 likes. Next I spoke about the experience at a workshop I was running and finally I felt as though I wanted to write this blog.
Would I have done all that if it had been just a really nice cup of coffee? I think not.
Maybe it is just me, you may have reacted differently? But for every one who does not react there is someone like me, a person who does, and in doing so raises the profile of the business and the cause.
Is it not a marketing ploy? If it does real good, is authentic then we must dismiss that notion since the more coffee sold equals greater social return, more young offenders rehabilitated. Writing a cheque to a prisoner’s charity then talking about it or even worse, writing the check but refusing to work with ex-offenders then that would be marketing.
Is it a charity? No – it’s a purely commercial business but stands by the mantra of ‘profit for purpose’ principles and do not consider commercial motivation to be contradictory to their social commitment.
So taking all of this on board can you do the same?
Pick a Number
Daniel Priestley, in “24 Assets”, ascribes to selecting one of the 17 Global goals to hang your hat on. At Relocon we chose number 8, “Decent work and economic growth” because we believe, by helping local businesses to scale we create ‘quality’ jobs, those jobs which lift people up, pay a decent wage and do more for the people in those roles, and in doing so we raise the economic bar, provide vibrancy, creativity and general good will in the region we chose to live.
Which number do you pick?
Relocon is dedicated to growing an entrepreneurial ecosystem in NE Essex and Suffolk. We deliver bi-monthly masterclasses to help business scale, provide entrepreneurial education and a mentoring programme that helps aspirational entrepreneurs achieve their dreams. If you are interested in talking to us then email firstname.lastname@example.org and I will give you a call.