B4 has been a great window through which to view the continued and growing shift businesses are making to embed more positive social and environmental purpose at the heart of what they do, and I have been proud to support B4 in this direction too. However, the extraordinary circumstances we are all experiencing, have significantly influenced an amplification of this with some truly impressive examples of Business as a Force for Good across Oxfordshire.
So, I’d like highlight just a few examples with the aim of praising all such companies and the people within them that really have been going above and beyond. But mainly I hope to inspire others to generate ideas about the ways they, their staff and their supply chains can work collaboratively within communities to tackle some of the heightened challenges it seems we will continue to face for some time yet.
But first, the moral maze
For more than 10 years now I have been helping businesses to understand the much deeper and wider opportunities and benefits of making this shift to embed purpose, as opposed to what are often simple, modest gestures and sometimes even just for PR purposes. Yet I still constantly battle with the quandary around motivation and benefit. My nirvana is for all involved to be acting because it’s the right thing to do and because this benefits others, although ultimately deriving benefit for themselves and their organisations in some way.
Optimising networks and supply chains
When the government restrictions first hit, B4 member, Blenheim, was keen to find a way to utilise their extensive catering facilities, which were lying dormant. Working with supplier, Searcys and its furloughed staff, they set about developing a collaboration to prepare and deliver chilled meals to those in need. Oxfordshire’s B4 network at its very best soon enabled connections with SOFEA in Didcot, Oxford Together, Oxford Food Bank and Cuckoo Lane Fruit and Veg to launch a service delivering 48 meals to the Barton Community Association volunteers. Searcys also added VE Day afternoon tea cakes as an extra for people to enjoy, which is claimed to be Winston Churchill’s favourite fruit cake!
Blenheim’s furloughed staff deliver twice each week to Barton Community Association volunteers, who in turn take the meals out into the community for the elderly and vulnerable. Jenny Howard, one of these volunteers, is pictured ready to deliver the meals. There are also plans to extend this with additional drop offs to other communities. Heather Carter, Operations Director at Blenheim said “We are extremely proud of the Blenheim team who have contributed their time and energy to make this food production and delivery scheme happen. It was wonderful to the happy smiles of the people in the Barton community when they received their first meal pack”.
The power of the crowd
Rob Bailey works for global recruitment consultants Korn Ferry and is also a keen 3D printing hobbyist. When the full implications of COVID-19 became apparent, he felt compelled to use his skills in some way to help. So, using a design that had been shared online, he began making PPE face masks. Only able to produce 7 masks per day he was keen to ramp this up and using the power of social media and again, local networks, has since helped to grow a burgeoning local collective; Covid Print Oxford, of 90 people across the county manufacturing and distributing protective visors, with supporting admin and publicity.
Local companies and furloughed staff have been involved – couriers, printers (some usually printing parts for F1 teams), technical experts, 3D designers, medics, fundraising and PR experts – all giving their time and expertise freely. Companies include Diamond Light Source and Electrospinning on Harwell Campus, but also small companies and self-employed. The collective is now producing more than 450 visors a day and by early May had distributed 2,580 visors to local hospitals, care homes, surgeries and other medical centres including Cogges Surgery, Witney, pictured wearing the masks.
Rob, who is Registered Occupational Psychologist, specialising in recruitment for business explained, “One of the most rewarding things is that we’re not just protecting people’s lives and health; we’re protecting their psychological well-being as well. Lots of doctors and nurses were really frightened about going to work. Now they’re going to work more calm, more reassured”.
Although time and resources are being provided for free, the cost of materials and fuel for distribution needs to be covered, so they have launched a fundraising campaign: https://opencollective.com/covid-print-oxford
So much more….
It’s been painful putting this article together knowing it’s not possible to cover all the great stuff going on within the B4 network and generally across the Oxfordshire business community. So please forgive me easing my pain just a tad by mentioning just a few more to give a sprinkling of other vital support:
www.salutethenhs.org – a not for profit initiative, driven by the private sector in Bicester
Aston & James – donating products and services
Lucinda Whiteley of Novel Entertainment, supporting local children and families
University College providing one of its venues as emergency accommodation
And of course, let’s not forget how Richard and the team have also stepped up to help, including the 90 day free membership to provide access to this powerful and supportive network for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to have access.
As the role of business in society continues to shift and perhaps lines blur a little with the roles of charities and Social Enterprises, it’s important to highlight how the latter are also rising to the challenge. Many might say that’s what they are there for, but just like so many businesses, most if not all are rising to the challenge and going above and beyond, despite, just like businesses, significantly reduced income. Again, far too many to mention, but the likes of SOFEA in Didcot, Maymessy CIC, Arts At The Old Fire Station, partners in the Oxfordshire Homeless Movement.
So, what can you do?
So many of you are doing so much already. But in my experience helping companies to engage more deeply and in more creative ways, I constantly find that most aren’t fully aware of the resources and skills they have and how these can help. Rob Bailey’s reflection on what he has achieved is a great example of this….
“I owned a lab coat because I’d done some performance work and had played a scientist on stage. I owned sterilizing equipment because I like to brew my own beer at home. I’d been a trained PR spokesperson in a previous job, so I knew how to prepare for media interviews. I’ve been a manager for many years, so I knew what it was like to form a new team very quickly. I had a 3D printer, and now I know how to maintain it. I’m not the most talented person in any one of these things, but I’ve persisted enough to try all of these things”. And look what he has achieved.
What Rob and his associates have done is fulfilled a need and filled a void, but as more and more businesses are considering what they can do, a common mistake is to try establishing something that already exists. So, one of my strongest appeals is not to reinvent the wheel. A lot of people have been working for many years to address the social and environmental challenges we face – locally and nationally. Networks and initiatives are already in place that could really do with the additional skills, resources and funding where possible, that business can provide.
Jayne Woodley, Chief Exec at Oxfordshire Community Foundation believes “Collaboration always wins over competition every time and the more we work on coming together in support of our common good the greater our purpose and achievements will be”.
Oxfordshire All In (www.oxfordshireallin.org) and Oxford Together (https://oxfordtogether.org) are initiatives bringing people and organisations together across sectors to help address the challenges faced caused by the pandemic, both would welcome more involvement from local businesses.
A relatively new, Lottery funded initiative, Team Oxford, hosted by Aspire Oxfordshire, is running a Furlough Exchange Scheme, seeking professionals on furlough with opportunities to support charities, community groups and Social Enterprises. They are actively looking for people with skills in graphic design, marketing, content writing, fundraising, research, video animation and client support. For more information contact email@example.com
The Oxfordshire Homeless Movement (https://www.oxfordhomelessmovement.org.uk) has been established to bring together all the agencies working on this long-standing local issue and something an increasing number of businesses would like to support. They are particularly keen to hear from Landlords and private to help in their planning around transition from the current emergency accommodation arrangements.
In the city, Oxford Together – https://oxfordtogether.org is empowering communities to support one another through the Covid-19 situation and have placed over 1,300 volunteers, so you can encourage your employees to sign up with them and also offer donations of all sorts of items.
You can also join the ROBIN Network (www.robinoxford.org.uk), which, for the past 10 years has been bringing people and organisations together across sectors to share skills and resources. Last but far from least, you can engage with B4’s very own Nexus programme and partners a local charity or Social Enterprise – https://nexus.b4-business.com
What difference will this make as we emerge from this?
Despite the terrible consequences of this awful situation, I have seen the very best of our business community across the county Oxfordshire. For some time now, many companies have been doing incredible work transitioning to place wider stakeholders and not just shareholders at the heart of what they do. Blenheim, for example has a myriad of initiatives running right through their organisation that they don’t shout about and I have had the privilege of supporting in small ways. They are truly are changing lives. And it’s my belief that these troubled times have also accelerated this shift for others and will inspire many more to realise what can be achieved, why and how all businesses really can be a Force for Good.
Rob Bailey explains; “many of the people in the collective are forming friendships that are going to last for life. it was like they were meeting their soulmates. It felt very special for me as well, like a number of elements in my life had all come together in this one moment. I wouldn’t be surprised if businesses form from this”.
200 masks have also been sent by the collective for trial in Africa and if accepted, major funding is likely to enable the collective to scale up and supply hospitals throughout sub-Saharan Africa. This is vital, as they are behind us in terms of COVID-19 infections so once it spreads, it’s likely to be far worse than other areas around the world.
BIO2020 also provides us the opportunity to explore many related topics under the them Business for Good. I look forward to seeing you there, but in the meantime, if you would like to share your experiences or just connect, do please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org