Each year hundreds of Sopra Steria people support their local communities and local, national and international charities by volunteering and raising money for them. For one special week, we do as much volunteering and fundraising together as we can. This is what we call Community Matters Week, and today, 18 June, is the first day of our 2018 campaign.
Corporate community initiatives have become commonplace. Almost all large companies and many small ones have some sort of philanthropic or charitable initiative. If you ask us why we do it (we are for-profit entities after all), we will tell you that it is the right thing to do, and it is. Companies must give back. But there’s so much more to it. Organisations that only think of community impact as the right thing to do, won’t do it as well as they could if they thought about it as a real business imperative, as important as (and, as I’ll argue later, in fact intrinsically linked to) the focus on profitability, the talent war, and pretty much any aspect of a company’s corporate strategy.
The problem with ‘the right thing to do’
When companies only think about community impact as the right thing to do, they aren’t forcing themselves to be imaginative and innovative; a reasonably sized cheque written out to a charity that may or may not have anything to do with the company’s objectives – or more importantly, its role in society and its capabilities – is often the sum total of its community impact work. Certainly supporting the vital work charities do is important. But these organisations miss the opportunity to have a much greater impact on the world while also benefitting themselves. Furthermore, if cheque-writing is the main way a company seeks to make a positive difference, those cheques might get smaller when times are tough; organisations will want to continue to do the right thing, but it often becomes harder in lean times. In short, this doing the ‘right thing’ mindset is not very sustainable.
Serious impact takes imagination… and critical business thinking
I like to think of developing a strong community impact programme in the same way we might think about choosing careers when we’re young. We are encouraged then to think about what we’re good at, as well as what we enjoy, and the ultimate career path chosen should build on both aspects (probably with a slightly greater emphasis on what we’re good at). For example, as a teenager, I really loved dance, but I wasn’t good enough to make a career out of it (don’t worry, my ego survived!). It wouldn’t have made sense for me to pursue dance, just as, perhaps, it doesn’t make sense, for example, for a technology company to focus all its community impact resources on activities that have nothing to do with technology.
The question we ask ourselves at Sopra Steria is, ‘how can we make best use of our capabilities and resources to make a difference?’ We know that we will have a bigger impact when we do what we’re good at. This will be true for other organisations as well.
The second step is to think big. Too frequently, community programmes aren’t as innovative as the organisations that run them because they’re seen as something separate from the rest of the company. This is another pitfall of the ‘right thing to do’ mentality because the ‘right thing to do’ can be anything (there is so much good work that needs to be done, so this is understandable), and the programmes don’t draw on an organisation’s innovators and strategists. When companies think big about community impact, they follow up the question above, with another question: ‘what are the world’s most pressing challenges?’, and they get others to input: sector directors who work with customers and have a deep understanding of the things businesses are trying to address; strategists; and, of course external stakeholders, such as academics and organisations focusing on sustainable development).
It is important that this is the second question, and not the first because there are so many pressing challenges that it will be too difficult to answer this in any meaningful way. With your answers to the first question in mind, you can identify some areas that your company, no matter its resource limitations or industry focus, could actually make a difference in.
The third and final step is to whittle down the long-ish list of ideas that will have emerged from the first two questions by testing which ones will integrate with and support your corporate strategy. Ideally, your community programme will actually transform your corporate strategy, making it stronger by bolstering organisation mission and purpose. Organisations stuck in the ‘doing the right thing’ mentality bristle at the idea that community impact should be a part of corporate strategy and therefore yield business benefits, but those that do not will be constantly at risk of being cut, and if they’re cut, they become less effective, have less of an impact, and that is not what anyone wants, surely.
Some help on the third question
It might not be possible to do the third step above well if you don’t have the business case for community impact programmes well established. Although this will vary from industry to industry, there are some universal truths:
- Communities are part your infrastructure and your future: they are the potential sources of your near and long-term future workforce and supply chain, so supporting effective, inclusive education and strong, inclusive local economic growth benefits everyone.
- Community impact programmes provide competitive advantage both in terms of talent attraction and retention, and in winning business. Employees and customers alike want to work with companies that are making a positive difference in the world. Employees want to be able to contribute to that in their work.
- Community impact programmes are lenses through which to spot innovation and development opportunities: because of the point made above – that people want to have the opportunity to do good in their work – some of the most compelling innovations come through well thought-out community programmes that encourage employees to develop solutions to the problems in the world they care about. For example, in France, a Sopra Steria employee has developed a solution to help homeless people keep digital copies of their important documents and photos so they are not damaged when they are sleeping rough. Now we are taking this to market. Furthermore, employees who work on such projects are developing valuable skills they can use in their jobs.
This week at Sopra Steria
All of this is informing what we are doing during Community Matters Week. Last year we introduced a new Community Strategy that focuses on four areas:
- Digital inclusion
- Educations, skills & employability
- Employee engagement
Entrepreneurship and employee engagement are at the heart of Community Matters Week: all of our volunteers are using entrepreneurial skills to find new, more effective ways of fundraising for the charities we’re supporting. They are marketing, selling, building relationships, sourcing products (for example to go in raffles and auctions), and managing projects. Employees have a say in how Community Matters Week is run, helping to choose which organisations we support and to develop and run their own activities during the week. All Sopra Steria people get paid time off for volunteering, too.
This year we have more digital activities than ever before.
Our Digital Innovation team has developed a new app that will be used by dozens of employees to track distances walked, run, and cycled in our Step Up for Scholars Challenge, which will raise money for scholarships for young poor people in India to go to university.
We have an eBay-style e-auction that will enable our large, distributed workforce to get involved wherever they are during the week by bidding on great prizes, with all proceeds going to charity.
We will be live-streaming events, again, so all employees everywhere can join in the goodness.
Finally, Community Matters Week isn’t where our Community programme ends – it’s just the mid-year celebration of all the things we do throughout the year. For example, coming up soon we’ll be driving greater digital inclusion through coding clubs for girls, gadget surgeries for older people in libraries, and support for the digital skills curriculum at local training colleges. Watch this space for further updates on how we’re going beyond ‘the right thing to do’ and making a bigger difference to communities because of it.