In a world of social good, is it possible to be ‘good’ in business?
With so many businesses operating as social enterprises, it’s reasonable to wonder whether they can all make enough money to sustain themselves. For many, profit is no longer king but is there enough capital in the economy to do all this good and put back into society?
Harry Enfield’s ‘Loadsamoney’ character was a product of the 80s. But now it’s not quite so cool to make loads of money at any cost.
The big post-Brexit question is how do businesses, particularly small ones, survive and grow, especially when so many were launched with the objective of achieving positive things for people across society or to improve our environment?
That got me thinking: is doing social good in business sustainable?
After the Great Depression of the 1920s, the London School of Economic Science (not to be confused with the LSE) was established to examine whether it was possible to have a fairer, more equal economy. The founders of this school of thought proposed that the depression had been caused by greed and inequality of economic opportunity.
They were right, but their task was to prove that it was possible for the country to still be economically buoyant while also being fairer. They therefore formed a left-leaning early version of a think tank.
Today, governments and business leaders still grapple with the same question: can all be fair in business?
Thwaites sets itself apart from other agencies by dedicating itself to helping businesses that do things for the benefit of society as a whole. But is that a niche part of the market, or will social good be the aim of most agency work by the next decade?
By choosing to support businesses that do social good, we’ve grown from being a one-woman band, seven years ago, to employing half a dozen staff with an array of associates and we have ambitious plans for the next few years. So, is the growing market for social good going to be there to need our help?
The founder of Change Please, a coffee company set up to employ homeless people and help them into employment, recently set out why the business case for social enterprise works. Unlike many major high street coffee vendors, Change Please pays their employees more than the minimum wage while giving them the confidence to work again. Yet, they remain competitive and they keep growing. They realised that if the coffee was of high enough quality, people were happy to buy it… and feel good about helping others while they drank it.
If you understand your market, you will survive and prosper. And the market for products and services that offer benefits to society and to the environment is booming. As millennials become powerhouse purchasers and business leaders, the market for social good will continue to grow, and it will soon be essential to be a force for good for businesses to survive.
But what is a truly good business?
A truly good business may not have been set up with the express purpose of helping less fortunate people into jobs, for example, but it will be offering a benefit to society. Some of our clients provide valuable data which can show anomalies in access to services by some sections of the community, helping to change policy or create new applications to help people who are struggling. We helped the Future Cities Catapult (now the Connected Places Catapult) to promote the forward-thinking experiments it is catalysing to get more small businesses in the UK helping to create better cities of the future. And we’re helping to promote businesses who commit to having 5 per cent of their workforce in learn-to-earn schemes through our client The 5% Club.So when the next person asks me whether it’s sustainable to support businesses which do social good, I’ll say “It would be anti-social not to”.