BNZ’s Senior Sustainability and Community Manager Bonar Vossen-Chong will be speaking at SBN’s upcoming Doing Good by Doing Good Business event. He gives us his take on how big businesses can make a big difference to their communities.
What does Doing Good by Doing Good Business mean to you?
I am proud to work at BNZ. We help people into homes and help expand businesses. We have a purpose element within this business. We have a goal of enabling a high achieving New Zealand by helping Kiwis be good with money. And we also have a commitment to the natural environment.
In what other ways does BNZ demonstrate this approach?
We have a long running relationship with Plunket. We have committed $60m in capital to the Community Finance project. This is a partnership between the government, Good Shepherd microfinance and us. This offers a No Interest Loan Scheme (NILS) and other support to people who would otherwise not have access to credit.
We have had an eight year journey to promote volunteering as part of our business culture. We enable our staff to volunteer two days a year. One of those days is the Closed for Good day. That’s when we close all our stores and have 5,000 staff available to volunteer.
How positive is New Zealand’s culture right now to support initiatives like these?
A 2013 study found three quarters of New Zealanders no longer see this as an altruistic and egalitarian society. It used to be that more of us believed that.
But New Zealanders are becoming more aware of different ways of doing things. There are some great examples from overseas that we can learn from.
What are some of the barriers to making further improvements?
Philanthropy is good but it only goes so far.
In New Zealand we have a tendency to want to do all the work ourselves or reinvent it. In that sense the Number 8 wire can sometimes get in the way.
There is also the idea that if you are doing good you shouldn’t make a profit. That gets in the way of scaling ideas. It can restrict the scale or change the intention of the original idea.
What are some of the next steps for your work?
We can do a lot more work on how we measure collective impact.
For example, let’s look at the calculations for the value of volunteering in New Zealand. The number is something like $980 million if we assume people are doing low-skilled volunteering. But it’s nearly $2 billion if they are using their professional skills. I am interested in looking how our staff can share more of their high value skills.
What are the main themes of your talk at the event?
Most people involved in sustainability in New Zealand are well-meaning. The challenge is to meet the scale and difficulty of the problems we are facing. It requires people to focus on the skills and resources available within organisations.
I am interested in moving sustainability and corporate social responsibility on. There’s stuff we can do that aligns internally, but there’s a lot more we can do in our goods and services. That way we can make more of a measurable impact on the things that really matter.