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Sumeet Randhawa

Corporate Client Manager
Charities Aid Foundation

T: +44 (0) 3000 123 272
E: corporate@cafonline.org

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8 STEPS TOWARDS LOCALISM

HOW BUSINESSES CAN BUILD STRONGER CONNECTIONS WITH COMMUNITIES THEY OPERATE IN 

Earlier this month I chaired the Charities Aid Foundation’s regular roundtable at the Crowd; a forum for business, advisors and NGOs to share thinking around solutions for market failures with a view to creating a better society. This month’s Crowd focused on the theme ‘Going Local’ and explored the increasing cultural shift towards localism and the ways in which businesses can help build a stronger and more sustainable connection with the communities they operate in and serve. Our roundtable discussed the role business has in building sustainable communities.

LOCAL MISCONCEPTIONS

We started by exploring what we mean by the term ‘local’? There was a feeling that we, as consumers, can often have a misperception of what defines local. For example a grocery item might feel local because the packaging names a local farmer but the reality is the farm he or she works on is a thousand miles away from the point of sale. There was sense that this misconception was fuelled by a positive moral desire to do good and in return feel good, whether supporting outcomes in the local community where you work, helping improve infrastructure etc.

CAN LOCALISM BE A COMMERCIAL STRENGTH?

Localism is increasingly at the centre of corporate brand values and our table discussed why businesses were investing resource into strengthening their ‘local’ credentials. One of the drivers identified was that localism was seen to build consumer loyalty and trust in a brand. There was a sense that brands that had a clear moral purpose alongside their commercial activity were becoming more attractive to consumers as the market evolves. Companies are appealing to new generations, consumers and employees, with new sets of expectations that want to see how they are positively impacting the local communities in which they operate.

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TAKING STEPS TOWARDS LOCALISM

Companies can’t just become ‘local’ overnight. Creating and implementing a commercial strategy and culture that integrates the principles underpinning localism takes time. Our table identified some of the key steps a company would need to take:

  1. Recognise the skill sets of people and identify your core commercial skills
  2. Find the right partners that fit your local and commercial goals
  3. Explore potential for sourcing local commodities
  4. Evaluate current level of transparency and manage expectations over what you can and can't do
  5. Show commitment and demonstrate you value and be prepared to invest in key aspects of localism such as community volunteering
  6. Prioritise the role of education: apprenticeships, project funding, skill development through business training and commercial awareness 
  7. Understand the difference and relationship between consumers viewing your brand as good and your business being inherently good
  8. Find a champion for change to make it happen

WHAT COULD HOLD US BACK?

Inevitably there are barriers to fully embracing localism and we felt it was important to address them in order to understand the scale of the task. One of the key obstacles we discussed was the tension between striving to be local whilst also driving impact at scale. Other tensions can and will occur between the community and company.

Communities must retain autonomy and companies need to be sensitive to the needs of the community and not impose solutions. The sheer scale and complexity of implementing local can be daunting without the leadership of key influencers and change makers e.g. Transparency for a global company is an ever increasing issue when it comes to supply chains at a local level and this will require persuasion and strong leadership to address. Eventually we came back to the original discussion on perceptions on what it means to be local.

We ended the roundtable, not with a conclusive answer but a series of questions that would enable us to extend our thinking and look for further solutions. What are the potential repercussions to localising part of the big, global system that we are collectively part of? Is it possible to go local without causing damage elsewhere? Maybe those questions are for a future Crowd event or maybe you can answer them? Please connect with me on LinkedIn to share your comments, we’d like to keep the debate going!


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