Last week (31 March to 4 April) was responsible business week. This is a great new initiative, which has been set up by Business In The Community (BITC) and aims to inspire and equip businesses to unlock innovation and demonstrate the positive impact of business in society. On the Wednesday (2 April) there was a focus on responsible entrepreneurship and this is what I am basing this piece on.
To me responsible entrepreneurship is both a concept and a process that sees companies integrating social and environmental concerns in their business operations and interactions with all their stakeholders. It has to be driven from the top down and stakeholders must include both internal and external, customers and supply chain.
I like to think of responsible entrepreneurs as social innovators, not least because it kind of conjures up images of strangely dressed social super hero’s! However a responsible entrepreneur can create solutions to tough local and national social issues, whilst also ensuring commercial viability, thus increasing long term survivability and impact.
During the event there were three main speakers who I met and I wanted to share some of their thoughts and insights along with my own comments. First was Marcelino Castrillo, who is the Managing Director of SME banking at Santander. So why is one of the largest high street banks at a responsible business week event? They were a key sponsor, but their involvement seemed to be a lot more than that. Marcelion spoke passionately about his belief, and that of Santander’s, in the importance for all business to focus on education, enterprise and employment and the important business growth opportunities for SMEs that can be gained through responsible business practices. He also talked about the role that his bank can, and needs to play, in getting larger business supporting small business to create mutual benefit and growth, as well as the challenges that we all face in getting everyone, businesses and consumers, to think about sustainability and responsibility in all aspects of our lives. Finally Marcelino mentioned the wider positive impact that embedding responsibility at the core of your business can have, quoting that circa 80% of young people want to work for a company that has a positive impact on society.
The second person was Mary Portas who lead the independent review into the future of Britain’s high streets. Mary highlighted the impact that responsible business and responsible entrepreneurial enterprises can have on the high street. At a time when the high street in the UK is suffering and there is a continuing movement to out of town shopping centers, the high street needs to reinvent itself and create its own USP. She went on to cover the importance that popup hubs can play on the high street to highlight local traders, designers, artists, manufactures etc. If there is empty space on the high street, why not try and use it for a popup hub highlighting local trade talent? When I spoke to her briefly I was struck by her enthusiasm and passion for creating environments of kindness, how you should only employ happy people and the importance of living and giving – how you live your life and what you give back to society.
The third person was Chuka Umunna MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Business. It is not only positive to see a senior politician taking part and supporting such an event, but to also see him talk about the importance of responsible business and responsible entrepreneurship from the heart. Chuka is the MP for Brixton and there are some great examples there of responsible businesses and entrepreneurs and the positive effect they can have on the local community. He also recently chaired a Labour Next Generation event on the importance of responsible entrepreneurship. It was at that event and again last week, that he highlighted the need for entrepreneurship to be ‘in the hearts of the many not in the hands of few’, and the creation of/ belief in a ‘British Dream’ with more people setting up businesses, leading business, and working in businesses. It was good to hear about the emphasis he and the Labour party are putting on the power of entrepreneurship and its social value. Chuka also touched on the need for government to empower responsible entrepreneurs to do what they want to do, creating businesses that have shared values, bottom line and society.
Both Chuka and Mary touched on the importance of consumer behavior and the need to change this, increasing awareness of the impact purchasing decisions can make. They both highlighted the important role that the media could play in championing responsible enterprises, as well as the need for those in positions of influence to create a ground swell within consumers to change their purchasing habits towards one that supports responsible businesses.
I strongly feel that sustainability and responsibility in all enterprises, large and small, new and old, will be a major competitive advantage moving forward. Customers will want to buy into brands that believe in something more than just profit.
It is great to see BITC leading the charge; they have a strong network of businesses large and small across the UK and in sectors from manufacturing to tech and catering to housing. Responsible small startups and entrepreneurs will need all the help they can get to ensure they can be the change makers society needs. I think and hope that BITC will act as an informal incubator and catalyst for them by utilising their network and their influence.
I will leave you with a key aspect of what responsible entrepreneurship is to me.
A responsible entrepreneur does not focus on short-term profits to the exclusion of all else, and they actually go on to make more money. This is going to only increase and will create real change within the business landscape. Why? Because as the power shifts to the consumer, if a business doesn’t become responsible, customers and stakeholders will ultimately vote with their feet.