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Joshua Newton

Corporate Client Advisor
Charities Aid Foundation

T: +44 (0) 3000 123 231

 LinkedIn logo  Joshua Newton


Daniel Ferrell-Schweppenstedde

Policy Manager
Charities Aid Foundation

T: +44 (0) 3000 123 206

 LinkedIn logo  Daniel Ferrell-Schweppenstedde

A community-centric view to rebuilding – where does business fit in?


“As businesses in the UK have helped lead the immediate response, so too must they realise their role going forwards in the recovery, in driving resilience and striving to be truly regenerative.”

We find ourselves engulfed in a global crisis that has reached into every corner of our lives; strained societies, exacerbated inequalities, stretched healthcare systems and, for many, curbed freedoms.

The immediate actions of governments, business and civil society will be remembered for decades to come and many decisions made quickly in the heart of crisis will no doubt face criticism with the value of hindsight.

The response of civil society has been astonishing

While large parts of the economy have halted, the immediate response from many has been impressive. Cool heads have largely prevailed as continuity plans were adapted overnight and a binding community spirit that many felt was in decline has emerged.

Neighbourhood mutual aid groups have sprung up, the NHS volunteer scheme has taken off and the funding chasm for charities has resulted in homebound innovators finding new ways to raise money for charity from their lounges and back gardens. Scrambling UK funders have so far provided at least £500m of additional funding for charitable organisations (many of them drawing down endowments and capital to do so).

Business has also been there. Responsible retailers rapidly introduced a raft of measures to mitigate panic buying and manufacturers repurposed their operations to make hand sanitiser, ventilators and equipment for essential workers. CAF’s corporate clients have committed millions of additional funds to those on the front line of the coronavirus response as well as to their existing charity partners.

More broadly, the companies that are backing their words with practical actions are being celebrated, while those falling short with colleagues, suppliers and customers are finding themselves at the sharp end of criticism.

Looking into the middle distance

But while individual donors and companies have shown resilience in this immediate response phase, what happens next will be very telling. What the new normal might be is the great unknown.

Worryingly, however, we do know that many countries in areas such as sub-Saharan Africa have yet to see the worst of the pandemic. We also know any fallout (an economic recession) lead to a devastating double whammy for the most vulnerable, hitting them hardest while heaping further pressure on charities already struggling to meet demand.

Transforming purpose into practice

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What is clear is that support for those worst affected will need to be sustained long after lockdowns phases end. Preparing properly for this ‘recovery and resilience’ phase is as critical. Many businesses recognise this and are rightly reviewing their strategies and preparedness for a post-pandemic world.

Crucial for CSR teams will be to make a renewed case for community, alongside public health, to be at the centre of strategies. Business must ensure they walk the talk on their stated purpose and consider how their services will directly support their communities. In essence, they must ensure that they sufficiently give back to the stakeholders - and society - which make their continued existence and success possible.

The idea of stakeholder value is not new, but increasing momentum and shifting expectations are making companies seek a new high water mark for community giving, which takes an all encompassing, ‘all assets’ approach: donating goods & services, protecting staff pay and reducing company profit. The limited reopening of several takeaway chains, including Pret and KFC was announced alongside commitments for meal donations and discounts for NHS workers. Banks and asset managers, including Barclays and Schroders have committed large additional funds for charities and deferred portions of executive salaries. Decisions like these show that businesses are not faceless entities but – when properly understood - are run by and for people.

Towards community re-building: how and where to focus

Rebuilding must embrace a community-centric approach. That means trying new things quickly and with partners not only in the charity space, but across industry- both up and downstream - in an open and collaborative spirit.

To be high impact, businesses must note the social needs of stakeholders and pivot towards them. Following the need will help maximise their value to recovering communities. It will also help them remain relevant and resilient in future crises. Four social areas affected by the pandemic are considered below.

  • Health and welfare – investments in enhancing public health will be crucial, as will efforts to minimise the underlying health conditions which increase COVID-19 vulnerability. The lockdown has also illustrated access to housing and green spaces is important for safety, physical and mental well-being, but is not shared equally. How can business support their communities to be safe and healthy?
  • Jobs and livelihoods – although many businesses will be able to pick up where they left off, inevitably some will not. Alongside reskilling workers for a more resilient economy, there will be need for continued support to vulnerable groups whose livelihoods have been exposed. Many essential jobs rightly warrant fairer remuneration. How do businesses ensure fairness in opportunity and income?
  • Childcare and education – schools will return but the impacts of home-schooling and missed exams may not be fully understood for a long time. There has been no shortage of learning resources available but wider questions exist around managing these and supporting schools to invest in technology, help teachers to make use of digital opportunities and ensure all children are properly supported. How can businesses improve access and quality of education for their future customers and colleagues?
  • Nature – evidence indicates that the crisis originated from the wildlife trade. While a global movement to raise awareness already exists, there is a need to shift attitudes and close loopholes. Furthermore, what are the implications of the pandemic for the climate emergency and the case for a green stimulus. How can business shift from minimising environmental impacts to becoming truly regenerative?

The immediate response to the coronavirus has demonstrated a resolve within communities and motivated many to reprioritise what they value most. As we prepare to move into the recovery phase and start to grapple fully with the aftershocks, businesses will need to adapt to these shifting attitudes and put community giving at the heart of their purpose.