Why are leading-edge companies casting aside the Milton Friedman-esque vision of business that puts short-term profit front and centre? Employees of all ages and backgrounds – not just millennials – want their work to be meaningful. Customers are seeking brands that inspire them.
While NGOs are traditionally expected to be the institutions righting societal wrongs, calling out bad practices, and building a sense of community – this position of ‘moral authority’ is ripe for businesses to embrace. And this is a good thing.
The World Bank reports that one third of the working age population in low- and middle-income countries lack the basic skills required to get quality jobs, leaving them unable to achieve their full productive potential and limiting their economic and social development. Unskilled workers are forced into unemployment or are stuck in unstable low-wage jobs that offer little career mobility or growth, hence perpetuating inequality. Furthermore, as they age, they become increasingly vulnerable to job losses, labour market shocks and poverty.
Many companies are now stepping in to fill the void and addressing the triple bottom line – economic, environmental and social factors – as core to their organisation strategies. They invest in skills development for local communities most in need, whether it is by improving people’s hard and soft skills, facilitating their access to the labour market or fighting cultural and gender schemes. Providing training and entrepreneurship is one of the most enduring ways businesses can make a positive impact. At an individual level, it empowers groups facing social disadvantage by opening up the range of job opportunities – better and more diversified jobs, stabilising income sources and improving social standing. At a collective level, skills development in emerging markets supports local communities’ prosperity and reduces inequalities.
And while training and skill development for disadvantaged communities are crucial, it is equally pivotal to consider ways to fuel their economic growth and create job opportunities from a consumer’s standpoint. Justin Smith, President of the Evolved Traveler points out the necessity of keeping the money in local communities: “buying from local business during our travels is an often overlooked or unknown aspect of Sustainable Tourism.”
“Far too often a significant amount of money spent on our holidays does not stay at our travel destinations benefitting the locals or the local economy. […] For example, it is estimated that in many Caribbean islands, for every USD or GBP spent by tourists, 80% leaves the island.”
“By ensuring we are purchasing from a locally-owned business, we help to put more money directly into the hands of the locals, the people who need it the most, and not big companies. When we buy locally made goods or eat at locally-owned restaurants we aid in creating jobs, subsequently helping to build a stronger local economy whereas the local owners then become empowered to better support their own communities by buying more from other local business, supporting charities, youth sports teams and the like.”
Here are some businesses who put social responsibility, skill development and support to local economy at the top of their agendas:
Rilievi defines itself as a craft company that applies innovation, technology and a global approach to the handmade embroidery art. Dated back to the early 90s are the first collaborations with some companies in India, which is considered the native country of the high-end hand embroidery. These first partnerships with different Indian companies led soon to a continuing cooperation with one Indian partner and finally turned into a direct management of a factory in Mumbai, Rilievi India Pvt Ltd.
And while the Italian Group’s embroidery adorns A-list celebrities on red carpets, high-fashion editorial shoots and the latest collections of Haute Couture houses, what makes the “Made in Rilievi” label truly signature is the story behind-the-scenes.
“Being a conscious entrepreneur is not so much a choice as an attitude, and one that’s far stronger than any legal commitment,” states the Group on their website.
The Rilievi Group strives to generate a positive impact for people and community. Artisans from the factory in Mumbai are supported by the company’s rigorous commitment to ethical supply chain standards. Rilievi Group’ Indian subsidiary obtained Social Accountability certification to international standard SA8000:2014, with effective policies to improve worker rights and guarantee safe working conditions. The Group is one of the first Italian companies in the luxury sector to hold such important accreditation.
Recognising that women are on easy target of inequality and limited employment opportunities in emerging markets, Rilievi works hand in hand with the NGO Community Outreach Program (CORP) to empower disadvantaged Indian women and provide them with technical training, materials and vocational courses in tailoring. CORP also gives shelter to homeless children.
The Italian Group also supports I WAS A SARI, an income generation, and the ZERO DIVIDEND initiative which offers a premium line of upcycled products made from and inspired by the sari. Rilievi’s involvement in the project – that engages 100 women – lies in funding an increase in production capacity and professionalising the approach to manufacturing; it includes cooperating in purchase and maintenance of sewing machines, providing technical and administrative training through the “Rilievi For Them” volunteering programme and supplying prototype designs/drawings.
“[…] funding our projects, training our artisans, sharing industrial materials and support our product development, are just a few examples of how the CSR activities of Rilievi contributes daily to scale our impact,” says Stefano Funari, founder of I WAS A SARI.
Gender equality is at the centre of Rilievi’s initiatives: over 60% of managerial and executive positions are held by women and men and women enjoy equal salaries.
Rilievi was also invested in CUDDLES FOUNDATION nutritional programme for underprivileged children fighting cancer by providing nutrition supplements to 100 children.
“Is this not what freedom is about? Closing the door against moral ambiguity, opportunism, speculation and industrial accidents to make way for fair management of people, business that’s responsible and genuine […], even in a challenging environment like fashion.”
Sana Jardin’s founder, Amy Christiansen Si-Ahmed, worked in the non-profit sector for more than 20 years and all her degrees are in social work. She inherited her work ethic from her grandmother, who worked to support economic and social development for those in need. Amy Christiansen Si-Ahmed believes in powering tangible and measurable social change through commerce, not charity. “I felt that the next stage of solving these problems was through commerce,” she says. The entrepreneur uses her brand Sana Jardin to empower illiterate women from the indigenous Amazigh community in North West Morocco. Through its Beyond Sustainability™ Movement, Sana Jardin teaches these women the skills to create by-products from the floral ingredients harvest and essential oil distillation used to make the brand’s fragrances. Using this upcycling concept, Moroccan women are able to sell nationally and all year round candles that comes from the scented wax waste and the Orange Blossom water which is used in the region for baking and tea.
Sana Jardin also harnesses the power of business to support female entrepreneurship, by teaching literacy, business, marketing and leadership skills. Participating women farmers received expert mentorship and training on product pricing, brand development, and market analysis to ensure they launched a competitive product range.
The women are the sole shareholders of the cooperative and retain 100% of the proceeds from the products they sell, under their own brand called Annamaa.
“We have opportunities in every industry to create meaningful change, if we are creative about our use of waste.”
Crewe, North-West England, has been the home of Bentley since 1946, making the automotive company an integral part of the local community. The Crewe site employs more than 4,000 people and is the town’s largest single employer; representing a significant driver of the wider North West economy and leader in UK luxury car manufacturing. In addition to its direct investment in Crewe, Bentley supports and advocates a number of educational, training and volunteer programmes for the local community from improving technical expertise to personal skills and self management. Through their range of trainee programs and even their own Rotary Club, Bentley supports and develops talent for the future within their own community.
Bentley believes in giving their staff the opportunity to grow both professionally and personally. Each employee is encouraged to take control of their own development and to request participation in courses they feel are relevant and important to their individual situation. Bentley’s embrace of the importance of personal growth and fulfillment for employees is key to retaining the millennial mindset generation. Bentley has been offering apprenticeships for more than four decades, not only for manufacturing and engineering disciplines, but also for those seeking careers across a broad spectrum of the business, such as Sales & Marketing, HR, Purchasing and Finance. Many of those who are training today’s Bentley apprentices began as apprentices at the company themselves. By passing on their skills and experience, an appetite for innovation, a desire to explore new materials, a drive to develop new technologies and by instilling a flawless eye for quality, they are ensuring Bentley has a pipeline of passionate, highly skilled young people committed to powering the world’s leading luxury car brand into the future.
Belvedere Vodka has an established history of supporting the Polish community with sustainability initiatives. It co-founded the Foundation for Local Environmental Protection, and only sources its Polska Rye grains locally, working to nurture long-term relationships with Polish agricultural partners. It also started the Raw Spirit Program, launched in partnership with agricultural producers to promote the sustainable growth of Polska Rye, and a partnership with the Lodz University of Technology, which ensures that the agricultural partners are kept up-to-date with the latest developments in grain cultivation.
Clase Azul recognises the power of education to enhance personal and professional growth, and supports initiatives to preserve and encourage talent.
Through its charitable arm – Fundación Con Causa Azul – the tequila brand supports artisanal communities by providing training, education, resources and guidance with the aim of keeping Mexican cultural heritage alive and thriving. Through the sale of various products, including the México a Traves del Tiempo bottle collection, Clase Azul create opportunities to improve the development of artisans who may not have the resources to survive on their own. Benefits include equipment for their studios, raw materials needed to produce their art, the necessary planning needed to exhibit their art, and training in the marketing of their creations.
Clase Azul also works with the INROADS programme to support talent among university students with low economic resources. In practical terms, the brand provides students with the opportunity to follow an internship, with a possibility of being hired as full-time employee once the programme is completed.