How could Guernsey gain recognition as a centre of excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility?

January 29th, 2011 by Shelaine Green

Companies should be considering sustainability and responsibility in absolutely everything they do. But to date without doubt one of the most visible representations of corporate responsibility in Guernsey comes in the form of support for charities. The media celebrates examples almost every day.

Just to illustrate how important that corporate support is, before returning to my home island a few years ago to get Headway Guernsey off the ground (after over 20 years away – States of Guernsey Population Policy Group take note), I had been a trustee of Headway East London four years. Now, in London 70% of our funding came from local authorities. Less than 5% came from corporates even though we were based right next to the City.

In Guernsey, by contrast, Headway gets 0% financial support from the States and 50% from our corporate supporters.

So since we seem to be starting from such a high base in this particular aspect of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), I am going to take as my theme the question “How could Guernsey gain recognition as a centre of excellence in CSR?”

First, some context.

There will always be a point in any society where government support runs out and the community has to take care of itself. Government cannot and should not do everything.

As I am sure you cannot help but have noticed, in the UK that balance point between government and community is currently shifting. The whole point of Big Society is that the Tories believe that government is doing too much and they are trying shift some of the load back onto the community.

Here in Guernsey, government has always been much less involved in social welfare provision than in the UK. Our health system is semi-private, some benefits you could claim in the UK don’t even exist over here, social services are much more limited. But does that mean, as our Chief Minister claimed during the IoD debate last October, that Guernsey already has Big Society?

Yes. And No. Yes we already have Big Society in that there is without doubt a hugely generous community spirit in Guernsey.

The problem is that our Big Society just isn’t big enough. In Guernsey there is certainly no ‘seamless transition’ between where government support runs out and the community takes over. Civil servants are doing their level best with limited budgets, the voluntary sector is achieving minor miracles every day. But in between the two is a great big gap. And ordinary Guernsey people are falling into that gap every day.

I’m sure you’ve read recently about a mum called Riven Vincent who told David Cameron that because her six hours of respite per week had been withdrawn she was going to be forced to put her disabled daughter in residential care.

However did you know that in Guernsey, if your child has a physical disability, or a high IQ but severe behavioural problems, you have no right to respite provision at all in this island. Only children with a learning disability are eligible for the limited respite provision there is. The rest fall into Guernsey’s Social Welfare Gap.

If you are still finding it hard to believe there could possibly be a Social Welfare Gap in Guernsey, answer me this. How is it possible that in this small, wealthy, tight-knit community, with a thriving finance industry and literally hundreds of charities, how is it possible for a survey to show that 16% of islanders live in relative poverty, unable to afford the things most Guernsey people take for granted – like heating, a winter coat, at least two meals a day? Now before the sceptics amongst you tell me that they wouldn’t have a problem affording a winter coat if they didn’t have the latest mobile phone and a big flat screen TV, let me tell you that the biggest group in poverty were identified as single… female… pensioners.

So my contention is that to become “a CSR centre of excellence” we need to work together – businesses, voluntary organisations and the States – to close the Guernsey Social Welfare Gap.

So how are we going to do that then? Well here’s a few suggestions for first steps:

First suggestion: steal ideas from others

I highly recommend the Business in the Community website and in particular, the study they’ve just published of their members ideas on how businesses could engage batter with their local community.  It’s called “Transforming Business, Transforming Communities” and although it is UK-based, a lot of the ideas are just as relevant here.

(click on image to visit the BITC "Transforming Business, Transforming Communities" report download page)

Second suggestion: if you aren’t doing so already, get strategic with a charity or two.

Companies in Guernsey support various charities in a multiplicity of ways from mufti days, to donations from charity committees, to sending in teams to renovate buildings, to pro bono professional services.  This is all fantastic and long may it continue.

But I’m talking to IoD members here.  Yes, charities very much need your cheques and your paint brushes but if we are to step up and truly fill Guernsey’s Social Welfare Gap charities need your brains.

Now at this point you probably think I’m touting for more trustees for the island’s charities.  Well if you are thinking of doing that in a personal capacity, fantastic, we can talk about that over questions.

But actually I’m talking about a partnership between your business and a charity, focused on strategic help to get that charity to the next level.  I’m talking about making your employees available as either consultants for particular management projects or actually seconding them to the charity as a management volunteer for a period of time.  I know some of you already do this for fund raising projects like organising a ball, but I’m talking way beyond just fund raising.  I’m talking about helping the charity recruit their first staff member, or tighten up their business planning, or review their risk management or helping them restructure for the future.

The key additional benefit to you of this kind of approach is in the extra development opportunities it gives your employees.  Yes, someone may well have done the Diploma in Company Direction or an MBA but if after that they are then doing one particular focused job they are only going to be practising some of the skills they’ve learned.

I can promise you, having gone though it myself, there is nothing like throwing a corporate animal into what is effectively a small business environment to send them up the management skills learning curve at a rate of knots.

Suggestion three – switch your social policy antennae on

It’s all too easy to think that looking after the welfare of the people of Guernsey is the States problem.  But it’s your problem too.

It’s your employees and colleagues who are caring for elderly relatives or disabled children.  It’s your employees who are suffering domestic abuse.  It’s your employees who are in debt. It your employees whose kids are disaffected youths.  It’s your employees who have mental health problems.

So next time you read a story in The Guernsey Press that makes you think “Guernsey shouldn’t be this way” don’t just tut and turn the page.  Have a think about what your company could do about that issue in however big or small a way and who you could partner with to do it.

After all, a better functioning society means a better functioning workforce.  A better functioning workforce means more profit.

Finally, connect with some like-minded people.

I appreciate that for many of you talk of filling Guernsey’s Social Welfare Gap is way beyond the scope of what you are trying to achieve with your CSR. But is anything I’ve said today has really strikes a chord, there are two people in this room you should definitely talk to.

The first is Dave Warr from the Guernsey Community Foundation. The Foundation was set up recently to promote philanthropy in Guernsey and is currently conducting a research project to evaluate how the role that the voluntary sectors plays in social welfare provision might be improved.

The second is Sarah Harvey who is the Co-ordinator for the States of Guernsey Social Policy Group and has a vast, encyclopedic knowledge of the development of social policy in Guernsey – though unfortunately not the vast budget to go with it.

So, steal ideas from others, get strategic with a charity, switch on your antennae and connect with some like-minded people. And together we can start on the path of making Guernsey that centre of excellence – for everyone who lives here.

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