As the government begins to share plans for our emergence from lockdown, we are likely to experience the worst recession since records began. The case for commercial, public and the charity sector working together to help society recover is now more apparent than ever before. Government will facilitate, but the commercial and charity sector will be doing the baulk of heavy lifting to bring the economy and society back to life.
Never has the co-dependence of the commercial and charity sector been so timely. We will see a very different working relationship between the two, based on mutual interest.
This is a moment of ‘convergence’.
For nearly 25 years, we’ve worked with charities to help fundraise for important causes, and with commercial brands to define and activate their purpose to have a positive impact in the world beyond transaction.
But the commercial sector has been slow to help tackle the massive societal and environmental problems we face with the urgency or commitment needed. They have never really felt it was their job. Now, every business faces some level of threat from social and environmental issues. There is an urgent requirement to change.
Charities have always been closer to understanding humanity’s needs and whilst great progress has been made, it is generally accepted that they don’t have the resources or skills necessary to tackle many of the world problems we face.
This was reflected in Edelman’s Trust Barometer results in January 2020. This showed that people believed charities were ethical, but not as competent as businesses. The reverse was true for businesses — regarded as competent, but with little trust that they behaved ethically.
A distinct lack of trust in both sectors has perpetuated the existing charity-business partnership model, primarily based on a commercial partner making a donation and providing volunteering support, and the charity tackling the social or environmental problem. This approach doesn’t play to their individual strengths, however. Nor does it reflect the trust people have in them.
Everything changes with COVID-19.
The seismic shifts taking place in society and the economy has shocked the two sectors into converging around a common cause. In the short term, this is focused on rescue and revival. In the longer term, creating a thriving economy — as well as a healthy society and sustainable environment.
The convergence of interests and co-dependency will define a new era of cooperation and collaboration between the commercial and charity sectors at a time when society needs it the most.
As people seek answers and leadership out of the COVID-19 crisis in search of a better future, it’s clear we need a brave, new approach.
The role of charities in tackling the social and environmental challenges we face is likely to change radically. Pressure will be applied to businesses to step in and to take urgent action.
We’ve already seen how businesses have adapted their production processes to produce equipment and products needed to tackle coronavirus. William Grant & Sons, Diageo, Bacardi and The British Honey Company have all started producing hand sanitiser. Many have made money from this ‘opportunity’ whilst others have not. It is not sustainable for those not making a profit to carry on indefinitely. If businesses are to be encouraged to step in, people must accept that there must be a profit motive and outcome. Otherwise that business is unsustainable.
Businesses will also continue to adapt their processes to change the way they source, manufacture and market their products and services to eliminate risks of environmental or social damage. Kingfisher’s new corporate strategy to be a truly sustainable business reflects this, for example.
Businesses will use their influence and resources to help make society more inclusive and equal. Inequality is driving the greatest societal unrest and will bite into those businesses that are seen to be exploitative, unethical and greedy— as some of the largest social media and digital businesses have demonstrated.
This new era of convergence will produce more collaborative ways of working between charities and businesses; defined by a shared mission-related goal.
Charities will define the right approach to solving the social and environmental problems, and the commercial sector will use its expertise, resources and influence to help. Charities — closest to the cause, are best placed to hold businesses to account. People, themselves, will hold both accountable.
The funding for this sort of collaborative partnership will come from a combination of charity fundraising, consumer contribution through purchase, corporate investment (for a return) and government funding.
We will also see a much greater level of co-operation between the private sector and public sector, a case made powerfully by Ed Milliband in the Observer, last weekend.
These are extraordinary times.
Convergence has kick-started a new era in corporate involvement in solving the massive social and environmental challenges we all face. This is a good thing.
Convergence will deliver true benefit, at the scale and speed we need, to individuals and to wider society— as well as to the bottom line.