Investing in your community: why and how with Julia Jackson

9 June 2015

We chat with our very own Julia Jackson about why it is important to invest in your community and how businesses can go about it strategically.

Social sustainability is the oft overlooked aspect of the quadruple bottom line – environmental, economic, social and cultural sustainability. However, Julia Jackson, the Sustainable Business Network’s Community programme leader, insists it is an integral part of any sustainability strategy within businesses.

“For me it’s implicit. At the end of the day, the solutions to the environmental challenges a lot of businesses are trying to solve will fail if they don’t have people working on them as well. It all comes down to how we are creating better, more resilient, more educated communities who can work together and support each other.”

Businesses are also operating in a world where it’s becoming more and more important for them to practise what they preach. According to Colmar Brunton’s Better Business Better Future report, 70 per cent of New Zealanders want to work for a sustainable company, and one corporate social responsibility survey in the US found that 49 per cent of 18 to 24 year old employees would take a pay cut to work at a socially responsible firm.

So how can businesses do their bit socially? Julia says it is most common practice to give money or time, e.g. by providing your staff paid leave to go volunteering, which can either be used as a team building exercise or as a way of valuing the individual causes or charities that your staff are passionate about.   

Social investment can also be done strategically. This is particularly useful for small businesses that are interested in ‘doing their bit’ but are limited by size or ability to donate a lot of money. This is where finding a ‘win-win space’ can be beneficial, says Julia: donating time, funds or resources to a cause that also aligns with your business.

The partnership between Kiwibank and Nga Tangata Microfinance Trust, which was named overall winner at the NZI Sustainable Business Network Awards in 2013, is a microfinance initiative that provides small loans to South Auckland households. The loans allow recipients to secure basic needs or reduce debt with zero interest.  “It doesn’t cost Kiwibank a lot of money, it’s helping solve a critical problem and in the future, these people will see Kiwibank as a more favourable option in which to invest their money,” says Julia.

Another example is SBN member Passion PR, a small PR firm that aligns itself with brands meeting the company values. Even when it is pitching for business, it makes sure to work with companies that strive to make a positive difference to the world. “It is a brave business decision,” says Julia, “but it also means that as a services company it is amplifying the impact it can have by aligning itself with companies whose messages it wants to spread.”

Then there are fundraising initiatives from member organisations including Munch Cooking and ecostore, who offer reusable, non-plastic lunch wraps and organisation-branded soap, respectively, at a cheaper price to non-profit organisations as a replacement to ‘chocolate bar fundraisers’. This allows both businesses to extend their market reach, while helping non-profit organisations raise their own funds: innovative solutions which lift up brand recognition and still result in sales.

In New Zealand, there is no widely recognised accreditation system that assesses how organisations are creating social value. However, B Corporation has a free assessment tool that you can use to take stock of what you’re currently doing to create a social impact looking at customers, staff, community and governance as well as environmental impact.  Many businesses will already be creating lots of positive social impact so this tool is a good way to identify existing good practices to be able to shout about them, and also identify where you can improve. 

Julia’s top tips for investing in community

Know your community

Every business has its own community and exists within a community. This includes stakeholders, suppliers, staff, families of staff, neighbours and clients or customers. Social sustainability should be looking to benefit or create behaviour change within that network.

Identify the issues in your community

Start with some initial ‘desk’ research (try Salvation Army’s annual State of the Nation report), then go out and talk to your community. This could mean asking your clients, your staff and your stakeholders what they feel are the critical issues that New Zealand is facing at the moment. This will allow you to justify where you focus your efforts.

Work out how to invest
Limited resources? Work out the ‘win-win’ space for your business.

investing in your community_EMBED win-win image

You could try investing time, for example using your marketing expertise to help a small NGO get its brand out there, sharing office space or spare resources or finding a small project that aligns with your business’ operational strategy.

Consider embedding social value by becoming a purpose-led organisation
A purpose-led organisation is one that has a purpose as part of the company’s mission statement. This means its sole focus is not just maximising returns on profit.  Blacksmith NZ is a good example of a small company committed to using its business to create change.  Its purpose is to make the world a better workplace.  This embodies its core business as well as providing direction for which projects to get involved in.

Tell your stories
Since community investment is difficult to quantify, stories can be the best way to tell people about what you are doing. They are powerful tools because they show the whole journey, the issue, what your company is doing, the output and the outcome. Shout about it on social media, publish articles on your work’s intranet and make sure people know what you are doing.