Helping Business Lead the Change
20 April 2016 at 11:26 am
Corporate Australia has a growing social conscience, but not every company knows where to start. In this month’s Executive Insight, Scott Matyus-Flynn explains how Republic of Everyone helps organisations implement effective strategies.
A member of the Shared Value Project, part of the UN Global Compact Network and a certified B Corp, Republic of Everyone aims to work with both companies and Not for Profits who are committed to “good business” and want to create greater impact with less effort.
But as partner and head of strategy Scott Matyus-Flynn explains, there are a number of challenges in helping organisations begin their corporate social responsibility (CSR) journey.
What’s the story behind Republic of Everyone?
Republic of Everyone started to help people and businesses embrace a sustainable future. When I talk about “sustainable future” I mean sustainability in its broadest concept, which includes social and environmental. We work to create positive social and environmental impacts through our own projects or projects we do for our clients. We’ve worked with a number of charities and NGOs on social campaigns, like with ASRC [Asylum Seeker Resource Centre] to increase acceptance and tolerance towards asylum seekers. We also work with corporations geared towards making positive social impact, like our client Hit 100, which is a home delivery meal service to help people living with diabetes manage their diet.
I’d also say that social and environmental impacts are interrelated. One of the programs, for example, that may be considered more environmental [is] 202020 Vision, which is about increasing urban green space by 20 per cent by 2020. You would maybe consider that environmentally focused, but actually it’s got some real social benefits as well, like saving lives by increasing canopy cover in urban areas, so reducing urban heat effects.
You mentioned your own programs – what are the projects that Republic of Everyone runs?
One of the programs that we partner in is the Garage Sale Trail, that’s a big community event that’s held each year for the whole country to hold garage sales in their suburbs on one day of the year. The whole thing was actually a bit of an environmental program originally about reducing waste in suburbs and to landfill. But as we started running the program there were a lot of social benefits that came out of it as well, particularly around social isolation and the breakdown of community connections, trying to combat that.
How do you help companies develop CSR strategies?
I think the more that the market develops, the more integrated sustainability/CSR thinking will get into the business strategy. At the moment sustainability and business strategies maybe don’t always overlap very much, but in the future they’ll have to overlap more and more, and hopefully to the point that your sustainability strategy is 100 per cent integrated with the business strategy, so ultimately your sustainability strategy is your business strategy. That’s a long road, and what we try to do with CSR is develop programs and initiatives that create value for society and the business, so that business has a reason to do CSR and the CSR budget isn’t the first budget to get cut.
What are the challenges in helping other organisations develop a CSR strategy?
It probably starts at why they’re doing it. It depends on what CSR or sustainability means to that organisation. Different organisations are at different levels of maturity in their own CSR journey, so some can see it as the responsibility of one person or a department, and sometimes that doesn’t really affect the broader operations of the company. It’s a challenge if the sustainability or CSR team is isolated, seen as a siloed department, and isn’t integrated into the business. The ideal would be that sustainability team or CSR team really helps the other departments achieve their goals more sustainably.
The other thing is the amount of investment a company’s willing to put into it. Maybe that comes out of the why – why the organisation is doing it. The ideal would be the business is committed to the social outcome they’re trying to achieve, rather than CSR budgets. That way the business is able to think about how company resources as a whole can help achieve that social outcome.
Another challenge in terms of CSR is also the market here isn’t that huge. Over the last nine years we’ve seen the market gradually grow, but it’s still pretty small.
There are a lot of different terms used by the sector – CSR, sustainability, shared value – working with different organisations, do you have a preference?
Over the nine years we’ve been going, we’ve noticed CSR gets called different things, depending on who we’re talking to. CSR, in some cases, can be viewed as philanthropy or strategic philanthropy. Shared value is starting to come into the lexicon too, with the practice of developing social impact initiatives or programs that also drive a business value. At the end of the day, I’m not sure that the language around it really makes that much difference, it’s more about the commitment of the organisation to the outcomes they are looking to achieve.
What are the benefits of having a socially conscious business?
For our own company we have repeat business because of the great work we do, because they like working with us, and also because of the kind of company that we are. We have people seek us out as well. We have great employees here, and mostly because we have a whole bunch of people who are constantly knocking on our door trying to work with us, and we tend to be able to pick and choose and get the right people, which is great. Those are financial benefits to us. But we’re not in this industry to get rich, we’re in it because we need a sustainable future.
For clients there are definite shared value financial benefits for other projects that we’re doing. 202020 Vision was set up to give some improved environmental and social outcomes, and also about getting more trees bought in Australia.
What we’re finding though, especially with shared value becoming more of a conversation piece and more organisations practicing it here in Australia, is that people are starting to look at the kind of business benefits of CSR and social impact work – things like green bonds, social impact bonds, social enterprise as well, that are looking at how commercial market mechanisms to create good.
What about non-financial benefits?
Apart from being able to go home with a smile on my face because the work that we’re doing contributes to the greater good, we asses jobs on the amount of impact it will deliver and the joy it brings our people working on it. We work by that way of thinking, and when you do that it allows the people that are working with you to work on stuff that they feel passionate about, they get a lot of reward for from that, and you get a lot of personal satisfaction and fulfillment from working to your values. That’s really really important for us.