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Strategic Partnerships Key To Linking Purpose With Profit

28 February 2018 at 11:24 am
Luke Michael
Major Australian businesses can link purpose with profit by being clear about their positive intentions and seeking strategic partnerships with community organisations, according to a corporate sustainability leader.

Luke Michael | 28 February 2018 at 11:24 am


Strategic Partnerships Key To Linking Purpose With Profit
28 February 2018 at 11:24 am

Major Australian businesses can link purpose with profit by being clear about their positive intentions and seeking strategic partnerships with community organisations, according to a corporate sustainability leader.

Siobhan Toohill, the group head of sustainability and community at Westpac, will speak about corporate sustainability on Wednesday at the Purpose 2018 conference.

Toohill told Pro Bono News that corporates needed a clear focus about how they wanted to make a difference in the community.

“What I think has been really important for us [at Westpac] is to be really clear about our focus. I think that often an interesting challenge for large organisations is you have to be really clear about where you want to make that positive difference,” Toohill said.

“And so for example at the Westpac Foundation we work with social enterprises with our social scale-up grants program. We’re very clear about working with established social enterprises that are looking to scale-up employment opportunities.

“So we’re not seeking to fund every organisation but we’re seeking to fund five organisations looking to scale-up and create jobs for vulnerable Australians. Being really clear about your intent is important, because we don’t want to waste people’s time and we want to be clear about where we want to collaborate.”

Toohill’s Purpose 2018 session, New School Corporate Responsibility: Navigating Complexity And Harnessing Value In The New Economy, will examine “how leaders from corporates and NGOs are navigating complexity and harnessing value in the new economy”.

Toohill said she would discuss how Westpac has developed strategic partnerships with the social enterprises they work with.

“I’m going to talk about how we work with social enterprises, not just in terms of how we give grants to them or work with them to help them develop their business plans, but also how we’re increasingly procuring products and services from them as well,” she said.

“So they’re actually becoming really strategic partners to our business. Yes we want to see them grow their impact in terms of employing more vulnerable Australians and giving those Australians a career but also we see them as great organisations to work with as well.

“This becomes an important conversation about how we work with suppliers, customers and not for profits and social enterprises in particular. So it’s not about old school bolt-on CSR, it’s about how do we drive value through the business.”

She added that while it was often said that corporate responsibility and shared value should become just a standard part of the company, sustainability teams held an important role in engaging it in business strategy.

It’s always an ambition of a sustainability manager to say that in the future we would see our sustainability strategy as fully integrated into the business strategy, and I think that’s a really important ambition to have,” Toohill said.

“But a sustainability team, because of the nature of the work that we do… are constantly engaging around strategy and we also play that incredible role around engaging with stakeholders, engaging with suppliers, engaging with NGOs and engaging with government around the issues on their mind.

“And so I think sustainability often is having those conversations and working with the business to establish policy and determining where the organisation wants to lead in terms of responding to the concerns or the interests of what we call the material themes of our stakeholders.”

Toohill said she hoped the audience at Purpose 2018 left the conference “with a sense [that they] can do something today”.

“It’s not about ‘I have to join a specific organisation’ or ‘I have to have a specific job title to be able to create a positive impact’, but actually it starts with me in terms of the job that I do today,” she said.

“And thinking back to the roles I’ve had in previous organisations when I wasn’t in a sustainability manager, but I was someone who was constantly looking for that opportunity to create that positive impact… I hope that because of the diversity of speakers we’ll be hearing from, that people realise they can lead with purpose no matter what they do.

“That means you can be in an NGO or in a business or a social enterprise, but it’s about having the [right] mindset and the ability to have the clarity of purpose. I think [also] collaboration is key, so knowing you can do it and collaborating to make it happen.”   

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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