Innovation That Matters

Understanding and Implementing a Community-Driven Approach to Business

Better Business

Exploring the relationship between businesses and communities, and why this should not be overlooked.

Throughout March 2021, Springwise will be exploring the five themes of B Corp Month. This week, the focus is on how to be a better steward of communities. Springwise, and our partners at Re_Setare both proud Certified B Corporations.

As we continue to live through the COVID-19 pandemic, we are constantly reminded of our actions in relation to the wider community. “We are in this together,” says UN Secretary-General António Guterres, “and we will get through this, together.” 

With phrases like “global community” and “community spirit” being bandied around on social media, the sense of collectivism and solidarity is palpable. 

And yet, in a March 2020 global survey conducted by Edelman, only 65 per cent of German respondents asserted that businesses have a responsibility to the community to prevent the spread of COVID-19, while almost a quarter of the UK population who took part believed that business should not be held responsible for ensuring that employees and the wider community are protected.

This directly opposes the views of Certified B Corporations like Milk & Honey PR. Businesses “have a responsibility to the community around us, globally and locally,” Fiona Gildea, the company’s strategy and purpose partner, tells Springwise.

Whether you think that business should be seen as protectors of the community or not, what is striking about this survey is the perception that “community” and “business” are two distinctly separate entities.

The problem with this perspective is that businesses run the risk of viewing the community as unassociated with their business practice, and therefore any interaction with the community is superfluous – a nice thing to do, but non-essential.

Managing director of Three Hands, Jan Levy, sums this up well: “Despite the fact that many companies have poured more resource into volunteering – often for employee engagement and reputational purposes – community engagement is still not associated enough with core business concerns.”

From the perspective of B Corps like Springwise and our partners at Re_Set, the tendency to view community and business as discrete players is unhealthy and altogether misguided.

When we consider the derivations of words like “corporation” (stemming from the Latin corporare, meaning “to combine in one body”) or “company” (originally companio or “one who eats bread with you”), surely business is the epitome of community. It is the coming together of people, albeit in a structured and regulated way, with a shared set of values, a strong social identity and a collective mission.

Indeed, it is becoming increasingly evident to companies that they may fail to thrive if they continue to operate in a bubble. According to a Springwise survey conducted last summer with nearly 400 industry leaders and entrepreneurs, three out of four believe their organisation needs to focus more on societal and community impact to thrive in a post-COVID world.

With this in mind, we’ve come up with three key points to help companies better understand and implement a community-driven approach.

1. Define your community

Community means different things to different types of businesses.

“The communities which spring to mind are those we work with in precious environments — villages in Patagonia, for instance,” Tom Power, the co-founder of the B Corp Certified travel company Pura Aventura, tells Springwise. “By working directly with micro-businesses in these communities, we make sure they have a sustainable future.”

What constitutes a community is evolving as well, especially in the COVID era. As people have moved their lives indoors over the past year, many communities, including workforces, have become almost if not entirely virtual. Without the reassurance of human contact, it can be difficult to forge a coherent picture of the community as a whole.

“As a remote company with employees in three states, ‘community’ is something that we define uniquely,” CEO of the B Corp Certified website developer Equalize Digital, Amber Hinds, tells us. “Our community is not always the people around us physically, but are other developers, accessibility professionals, and freelancers in our industry.”

As a business, you should first aim to identify your immediate community, in particular the employees and stakeholders who physically make up your business. Who are they? What do they care about? How do they perceive their role within your company? Surveys, virtual events and one-to-ones are effective methods to achieve this level of engagement.

Once you have established this, you can better envision where your business sits in terms of a wider community. Do these individuals also belong to other communities? And do these communities overlap? Suddenly you find that your business is not just a floating island but part of an interconnected and expanding network.

2. Distinguish your levels of influence

It is important to consider the different ways you can support your community by considering your different levels of influence. 

First, there is direct giving. This may constitute pro bono work, your volunteering policy and the financial pledges your company has made or will make. As part of your operating model, you may actively endorse or even stipulate that employees devote two days a year to volunteering.

Or perhaps your company offers a mentorship scheme to directly support those wishing to enter your industry. Your company might even pledge to donate a certain percentage of your gross sales to environmental nonprofits through the amazing organisation 1% For The Planet, of which Springwise and Re_Set are members.

The second level of influence relates to your local ecosystem. This is a valuable way of thinking about where your business fits within its surrounding environment. For example, your company may privilege local suppliers and vendors for specific facilities. Maybe you have written preference when it comes to hiring and recruiting local managers. If your company works in a multi-business office environment, you could consider creating working groups with other companies to discuss positive-impact initiatives and, in doing so, strengthen your local ecosystem. 

The third level of influence refers to your wider reach. You might actively seek out partnerships with companies across the world who share your mission, to collaborate and raise one another’s profiles. You could join the global coalition, Business for Nature, which brings together business and conservation organizations to place collective pressure on governments to adopt policies to reverse devastating nature loss in the next ten years.

You might even consider applying to be a Certified B Corp, which would allow you to connect with the most purpose-driven and community-centred businesses worldwide.

3. Stay Flexible

Remember, communities are continually evolving. People come and go, so naturally, your community will also shrink and expand. In order for your business to survive, it is important to keep an open mind to this.

In fact, we would go as far as saying that businesses should be proactive about encouraging this evolution: your company should set specific and measurable diversity improvement goals, such as conducting anonymous or “blind” reviews of applications or analysing job description language and requirements to ensure that they are inclusive and equitable. And this extends to your supply chain as well. This may be in the form of a policy to give preferences to suppliers with ownership from underrepresented populations or majority-owned by women.

As Re_Set’s Laura Galdi rightly points out: “Diversity and inclusion should not just be buzzwords to attract talent, but a mindset to encourage every day in the workplace. Seeking diversity and encouraging the inclusion of race, gender, of personality too in a company are actions to becoming a better employer in the new decade.”

Our Better Business series aims to provide actionable takeaways for companies and entrepreneurs looking to bring more purpose to their work and create positive change within and beyond their sectors.