Business, Sustainability

A Journey Begun

There was a time when doing good was left to those who ran charities, but in recent years we see a growing number of businesses taking on social and environmental issues as a core part of who they are.

Businesses can play their part in building sustainable communities through sensible strategic and operational processes. Having seen how a business can operate in a commercial market while contributing to a greater good, I want to see more business practices that make good sense from an organisations perspective but also help the communities in which they operate.

You don’t have to run a large corporation to make a difference in the world, nor do you have a registered charity to make a meaningful contribution toward social change. Small business owners can easily incorporate social and environmental activities into their daily business and create an impressive public image in the process.

Sustainability ‘experts’ have been telling us for years how we should operate to make the world a better place – according to them. This approach continues to see a level of disconnect between the worlds of commerce and sustainability. Turning this around, I always start with looking at how businesses operate so they can play their part in making this a better world.

Sustainability is gaining significant momentum and will increasingly become a major focus for customers, suppliers and shareholders.


Some of the terminology being used to discuss sustainability may appear a bit foreign in the mainstream business world but fundamentally I have a very simple and optimistic view, whatever the current fad, ultimately most of us want to see a better world.

This story began for me when I attended a Masterclass in Advanced Strategic Governance held by Steve Bowman from ConsciousGovernance. I didn’t know it at the time but one simple question was to start me off on a whole new adventure.

The simple question that led to my light bulb moment was “What difference does your organisation make to the communities you serve?”

Enthused by the answer that the question produced, I explored how the company I was working for interacted with its communities and the many ways it made a difference to people’s lives.

money-2810338__340.pngLooking back, it was interesting that profits were never explicitly part of the thinking process, however they were always there as an assumption. From a business owner who wants to get rich simply to buy nice things, through to full on charities who are attempting to alleviate poverty in the third world, money coming in (profit) is a necessary tool.

Having started on this journey, I now realise that there is a growing acceptance of the importance for ‘human’ issues within the business sector. It really feels like now is the time for businesses to full-heartedly embrace community sustainability and the impact they can make.

Talking to inspiring business and social entrepreneurs has made me really take note of the need to build on this enthusiasm; to grow and develop social enterprises that operate as businesses but with multiple methods of achieving their social goals.

Why do we need to limit this to social enterprise though? We need to remember that people in business are ultimately…people first and foremost. There are a lot of great people in business who want to make a difference. These people need to be encouraged and supported because when their businesses do well, others can also benefit.

An efficient business is a tool that can be used to achieve many different outcomes. Both the business world and the Not-for-profit sector should be embracing the possibilities that successful business can bring.

Everything a business does will have some impact on the communities in which it operates or interacts with.

  • Where you operate from
  •  What you produce
  • How you manage your operations
  • Who you employ
  • Your supply chain and procurement practices
  • Where you sell to
  •  Your corporate social responsibility activity

The concept of community sustainability goes well beyond complying with the law and giving money to your local rugby club. It’s about the impact from all aspects of your operation.

Ask yourself: Is your business making the world a better place for the communities it impacts?




Business, For Purpose, Sustainability

Growing The New Wave

How we can grow and develop our social sector

A white paper from The Optimistic Cynic


End Fragmentation

We need genuine collaboration towards shared goals.

  • Organisational interests need to take a back seat in our drive to achieve these goals.
  • We need to look for partners outside of our specific sector to broaden our skills and resource base
  • Collaborate bravely to break down barriers and change systems


We need to stop fighting over funding

  • Accept that there will only ever be discrete levels of funding available to our NFP sector. Duplicating our services and resources simply dilutes that amount.
  • We need to recognise the place of business (both ‘social enterprise’ and ‘for profit’) in supporting shared goals. This relies on meaningful partnerships, not simply expecting donations.
  • Working with other organisations allows services to be delivered with economy of scale.


Scalability and Infrastructure

  • There is a place for mergers and joint ventures. We need to look past our own brands and ‘local solutions’ if we wish to make significant differences beyond our own backyards.
  • Local service solutions are also a valid option but we need to identify opportunities to share or leverage infrastructure. Duplicated infrastructure dilutes funding and diverts our focus from achieving our shared goals.


Listen, engage and disrupt

Forget just listening to those similar to ourselves

  • Get out and about, listen to those who we look to support, and those doing the work. We don’t learn the real issues and solutions if we restrict ourselves to hearing what managers, policy makers and politicians have to say.
  • Experts can tell you what they think is happening. Those on the ground can tell you what it’s actually like.


Group think holds us back

  • When a sector has consensus about the issues and the way forward, it’s likely that they have limited their conversations to between themselves.
  • We must be brave enough to argue and challenge existing consensus. We need outliers, people who are heading in different directions. At the very least, this will test whether the majority are on the right path.


Challenge ourselves

  • We need to disrupt our thinking and to do this we must challenge and argue. Ask the questions and don’t be afraid of the answers.
  • We need people to point out where we are wrong so that we can improve. We also need to provide that opportunity to others


Balance our priorities

Strategic Focus

  • We need to have clear long term goals with a planned strategy for how we will get there. Our vision should be bold and challenging, a story to bind us to a united future.


Responsive and flexible

  • We need to balance this long term strategy with the ability to be flexible to meet urgent and changing immediate need. Organisational bureaucracy cannot prevent us reacting quickly when need dictates.
  • We need to accept that our environment will continually change quickly and in ways that we will not expect. Embrace this challenge.


It’s all about the impact

Charity restricts us

  • The term “charity” is tarred with connotations of benevolent benefactors bestowing their grace and knowledge upon others, saving them from their burdens. This is not the story we want to tell and is a barrier to achieving buy-in from those we wish to support and those who wish to support us.
  • Reliance on social service funding restricts our innovation and flexibility. Our organisations become focussed on processes and risk minimisation, not risk taking and achieving our true objectives.
  • Doing good should never be assumed to be the sole realm of those with charity recorded in their constitution.


Focus on impact

  • We need to be brave enough to rip up our rule books. Organisations develop rules and systems that they operate by. Further rules and requirements are implemented to meet the needs of funders. This stifles innovation and risk taking.
  • Transparency is vital to ensure investment is impact not organisationally focussed.
  • Celebrate successful impact more than simply rewarding effort.
  • Maximum impact comes from addressing the root cause of an issue.


Make use of great resources

  • Invest in good infrastructure that supports you to develop significant impact. It’s about efficiency not blindly following the tradition of charities “making do” or buying cheap.
  • Reward those that make a difference. Staff, management and boards should be made up of people with the best possible skills and the passion to make a difference. Remuneration should reflect a high performance culture. Recruit for impact not ‘cheapness’.


It’s up to you

  • Never forget the why – why you are doing this!
  • Talk with passion and inspire others
  • Be brave enough to take risks
  • Stand up for what you believe in
  • Your actions should prove your words
  • Let your values guide all you do
  • Celebrate your successes


New Wave