Giving back or sharing for common goals?

Business that’s good for Oxfordshire is good for your business. Although I recognise and commend the focus this issue has on “Giving Back”, I’d like to be a little controversial about the subject…

In issue 52 I shared “The problem I have with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)”. I referred to the use of the word “corporate”, pointing out that almost all of the circa 30,000 registered businesses in Oxfordshire are SME’s or micro’s, so often don’t relate to the phrase yet many are doing so many great things in this regards. I also set out my view that the term is often misunderstood and underutilised.

Similarly, “giving back” suggests to me a repayment or having taken something. What could that be? Is it about businesses offsetting “bad stuff” they are doing? Perhaps individuals clearing their conscience? Or philanthropy? The sort of “giving back” I see pretty much on daily basis is often far more than this.

Business as a force for good

I was recently invited to a meeting of companies and other public and voluntary sector organisations to discuss the issue of homelessness and begging, including the impact it has on business and to the wider Oxford community and economy. There, I witnessed an acceptance that this is a complex challenge touching us all and a shared responsibility to do something to help develop collaborative and creative solutions, which the group is now committed to work together on. One of these threads is raising awareness of the true, underlying elements causing the problem. A new Myth Busting Fact Sheet has since been created by Homeless Oxfordshire following that meeting and an earlier visit by Richard Venables of B4 member, VSL in his capacity of High Sheriff.

It was unsurprising that many of the businesses at the meeting were B4 members, reinforcing the ethos of the B4 network and the way it attracts like-minded people and companies – something that will be supported by B4 Values, currently being developed.

There is absolutely no doubt that people and companies truly to do give very generously of their time, money and resources. But the point I make is that we need to embed within our organisations a shared responsibility and use business as a force for good. Increasingly, more businesses are being formed specifically to help address social and environmental issues. Existing businesses too are embedding a greater purpose and an ethical approach into the heart of what they do.

Business partnerships, but not as you know it

As vital as it is for the charities and social enterprise to access new forms of funding, partnerships between companies and these organisations have evolved to go far beyond simply fundraising. Businesses like B4 member, Hedges Law and Homeless Oxfordshire are good examples of how partnerships are developing strategies that grow both organisations because of a synergetic and aligned approach.

Hedges Law MD, Nikki Poole explains “At Hedges we place “purpose” at the very heart of what we do and see this is a key ingredient to our vibrant and thriving working environment. We are therefore delighted to have such a strong partnership with Homeless Oxfordshire and are very proud of the wide range of fundraising we are achieving, which has also been great fun. But the relationship has been really insightful resulting in the development of some creative ways to work together for common goals that we didn’t initially imagine”.

Claire Dowan, Chief Exec of Homeless Oxfordshire describes their perspective; “Companies across the county are feeling the affects of the significant increase in homelessness. This includes the direct impact on business and the fact that more employees are at threat of becoming homeless. Here at Homeless Oxfordshire, we have been developing strong, mutually beneficial partnerships with companies like Hedges, who we are delighted to be working with, to help create a whole-society approach to addressing this crisis.”

A joined up and collective approach

These individual partnerships are extremely effective and valuable, but more needs to be done, to take this to another level. In Oxfordshire, we have some great examples through networks like Reciprocate ( and ROBIN ( that bring businesses together to support and help them share their skills and resources with others across sectors and develop the relationships and partnerships referred to above.

But also on a strategic level, OxLEP, local councils and the universities are also working on ways to ensure this very strong local economy is leveraged to help address the many challenging social and environmental issues before us at a time of reduced public spending and cuts in public services. As an example, the Oxford Strategic partnership, Economic Growth Steering Board is working with a group of leading local employers on ways in which Oxford can be a more Inclusive Economy..

B4 Values

I am delighted to be working with the team at B4 on developing B4 Values. B4 is for business people who understand that success isn’t achieved by a ‘quick win’ or with a hard-sell approach. The B4 community encourages authentic ethos, collaboration and reciprocation and the B4 Value statement will underline the importance of trust, integrity and honesty to the B4 community. The ways in which members trade, look after their workforce, the environment and local communities are fundamental to their success as well as all stakeholders.

So to sum up, I am certainly not suggesting anyone shouldn’t “give”, but no matter what size your business and whether you are already engaged in some of these opportunities, my firm believe is that a truly symbiotic and collaborative approach is far more powerful. This is at the heart of my work and voluntary activities, which I hope can help make Oxfordshire an even more successful economy and place to live and work – for everyone.

If you have an interesting and related example, or would just like to know more or connect, please contact me at

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