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Picture yourself in a corporate boardroom…

You’re in a corporate boardroom in Australia. It’s the offices of a large multinational, publicly listed company that generates billions of dollars a year, provides a place of work for tens of thousands of employees and develops widely used products and services.

While likely pretty quiet at the moment as we live through a global pandemic, this same space has hosted thousands of meetings. From the important shareholder board meetings, to the more mundane budget and operations meetings and unfortunately for some companies even the more difficult meetings that question the company’s decisions and even its business conduct. If these walls could talk, they would describe the remarkable contrast between the positive impacts of these giant organisations but also the often-flawed nature of their businesses and mistakes they have made. Like human beings, corporations are not perfect, they do make mistakes but also like human beings they have the potential to have an amazing impact in the community we live in.

Incidentally the same can be said for the corporate leaders in these offices. Despite the common perceptions of the C-suite that meet in these boardrooms, these individuals are, for the most part just like you and I. They find meaning in their careers, work hard to succeed and spend time on projects they are passionate about. They have loving families at home, go to after work drinks and probably even love binge watching Netflix in the evenings.

Now imagine one of today’s meeting is about the company’s community contribution. The head of sustainability and her team are presenting an update. She starts talking about a remarkable non-profit organisation they are partnering with to help reduce homelessness, she describes a current campaign where hundreds of their their employees are being paid to volunteer their time at a local community centre. They move on to discuss a recent international emergency, the potential impact it may have on their employees, customers and the communities in which they operate. They even promptly agree on actions to secure funds from other parts of the business in order to provide relief in around this crisis.

What is amazing about this meeting is you can feel the engagement and passion in the room. Not just from the sustainability team that spend their time focussed on community impact, on partnering with charities and community groups. It’s not just their engagement that you feel but also the leaders at the table that are intently listening and seem highly engaged. They are energised and clearly passionate about the cause areas and the corporate’s ability to make meaningful impact. This shouldn’t surprise you, but it does. It sits in contrast to what we sometimes hear or perceive of our corporations and its leaders, but the energy and enthusiasm is as clear as day in this meeting.

” Like human beings, corporations are not perfect, they do make mistakes, but also like human beings, they have the potential to have an amazing impact in the community we live in. ” 

It would be easy at this point to dismiss this engagement as interest that is derived from a type of greenwashing. We unfortunately hear this all the time, that organisations are just interested in looking for a way to cleanse their corporate mistakes with community support. But the engagement you feel in this room is more than that. You can see clear passion and interest in the causes that are being described. The corporate leaders ask questions of other stakeholders in the room looking for opportunities to shift money towards areas in need. They are enthusiastic about employee involvement in relief efforts and even look at what product or services they can offer and consider whether providing these free of charge will help in any way. The passion in the room should not excuse any corporate misbehaviour but it is apparent in this meeting that it’s certainly not a result of it. The passion feels quite natural and independent.

” What is amazing about this meeting is you can feel the engagement and passion in the room. They are energised and clearly passionate about the cause areas and the corporate’s ability to make meaningful impact. This shouldn’t surprise you, but it does. It sits in contrast to what we sometimes hear or perceive of our corporations and its leaders, but the energy and enthusiasm is as clear as day in this meeting. “

You ponder on where this engagement comes from? Is it around the clearly emerging business and social trends you’ve seen come to the forefront of business:

  • An emergence of conscious corporations committed to ESG
  • a ground swell of conscious consumers
  • purpose engaged employees
  • and even impact minded shareholders who want a social return on their investment.

The planets have certainly aligned with these social trends which are likely leading to some interest in the value that this may bring to the business, but what you’re seeing in this room seems more instinctive. They seem to have a unconscious desire to make decisions at this table that lead to community impact, irrelevant of the business trends. An interest to be social changemakers as well as business leaders. Perhaps an interest in the legacy they will leave during their time at the helm. These individuals have worked hard to rise to prominence in these companies, this idealistically feels like a channel for them to use that power to create memorable impact and legacy. Again, this contrasts with what we hear and see in the media and quite fascinatingly conflicts with the very different conversations that can also take place at this same board room table.

The conversation turns to what other companies are doing in this space? And how they compare? What are other ASX companies doing? What are companies doing internationally? Do they give cash or product? Do they give time volunteering? For these senior executives, personally invested in their company and their own legacy, knowing what their peers are doing in the community is an important yardstick.

As the meeting comes to a close the C-suite agrees to take on board the yardstick analysis, delegates extra resources to the sustainability team to ensure their leadership in this area, tasking them with working to increase the company’s community investment just the same as they would if they were hearing a Sales and Profit presentation or a brand overview.

I spent time on this board room visualisation to set the scene for what companies go through. To break the perception on what we often hear to day to day and to describe the quite remarkable contrast between the significant community efforts on one hand and the potential corporate misconduct on the other. This conflict can feel uncomfortable at times as we see the significant philanthropy and impact that corporates Australia can make. However uncomfortable this may be – as a community we do have a remarkable opportunity to monitor the stand-out community efforts that these leading companies are delivering and embrace it in order to drive best practice and increased contributions. We are not suggesting we turn a blind eye on misconduct, quite the contrary. Corporate mis-behaviour must be monitored and called out with the aim to eradicate these issues but at the same time we have a significant opportunity to continue to highlight and showcase best practice community efforts and embed a healthy environment of philanthropic competition.

To learn more about our research and some of the analysis of corporate giving please see our latest report. It uncovers answers to some of the key questions above, that as described may just help drive important decision making at the board room table.

  • How much are companies giving in Australia and internationally?
  • What do they give?
  • Who do they give to?
  • Which companies are leading in this area?

View latest Research Here.

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