Network of Regional Youth Work Units England blog

A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.

The Nettle Less Grasped? Business, the voluntary sector and developing social capital

csrThe recent conference in London on Inclusive Capitalism has, once again, raised the thorny and uncomfortable issue of the relationship between the business sector and wider society.

The issues are not new, nor the notion of a socially responsible private sector.  The Quaker Capitalism of the 19th century demonstrated that wealth creation does not need to be at the expense of people or principles. The Cadbury’s, Fry’s and Rowntree’s were happy to make money. However, the generation of profit without a sense of social responsibility would have been an anathema.

So what of today? Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has become the vehicle by which companies expunge their sense of guilt about hording all the cash; the voluntary sector now talk of attracting “high worth individuals” and of a new era of philanthropy. These concepts seem narrow and flawed in their thinking. For many companies, CSR is simply a necessary evil that involves very few people from the organisation and develops short term, but high profile, responses to those visibly in need. Philanthropy can, in its grossest form, reinforce a world view of the haves and haves nots.

Where do we get the space to work as equal partners across our different sectors? In 2011, Michael Porter, and Mark Kramer wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review entitled “Creating Shared Value”. The subtitle was “how to reinvent capitalism – and unleash a wave of innovation and growth”. In the article, Porter and Kramer expound the concept of Shared Value – “policies and operational practices that enhance the competitiveness of a company whilst simultaneously advancing the economic and social conditions in the communities in which it operates. Shared value creation focuses an identifying and expanding the connections between society and economic progress”.

Shared value influences the developments of products and services, redefines the value chain and creates the opportunity for co-production between private and social sectors. Porter and Kramer also discuss the “blurring of the profit – non-profit boundary” and the emergence of new hybrid enterprises that generate social as well as financial capital.

Michael Porter has become a figure head for Shared Value, and an emerging community of Shared Value advocates and practitioners are beginning to coalesce in different parts of the world.

Although shared value has its critics, it does seem to be a step on from the handouts and begging bowls associated with CSR and the more garish manifestations of philanthropy. Shared value seems to offer a space for genuinely co-produced and co-owned approaches to social issues, and the development of social capital.

As the public sector in England takes the blows from another round of cuts and the future, particularly for local authorities, looks increasingly bleak, the relationship between the voluntary/community sector and the private sector becomes one of even greater importance.

As a charity based in the North East of England – where the public sector has been such a dominant force and the private sector is yet to find a clear space in the development of social capital for the region – we have begun to explore ideas such as shared value and its links to co-production and the development of social capital. These concepts may, with some refinement make a positive contribution, not only to the future of our organisation, but to our sector as a whole. Just like the voluntary sector, the private sector is made up of people as well. Those people also worry about their communities, the lives of their children and our collective futures. Now might be the right time to reach out and touch the void.

Leon Mexter – Chief Executive, Youth Focus: North East




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This entry was posted on August 1, 2014 by in Youth Focus: North East and tagged , , .
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