Posted on Thursday 19 September 2013 by Ulster Business

BITC

Business in the Community's Gillian McKee, Kieran Harding and Lisa McIlvenna.

Corporate responsibility. Nice if you have the time. Good for a bit of positive PR. Not exactly core to a business. Right? Don't believe a word of it!

The new management team at Business in the Community are laying down a challenge to companies in Northern Ireland to do more to realise the benefits of acting responsibly.

Earlier this year Kieran Harding was confirmed as Managing Director, while Gillian McKee and Lisa McIlvenna stepped up to the roles of joint Deputy Managing Directors.

While the organisation's overall agenda of People, Planet and Place has not changed, the team intend to urge their members to think big in the next three years.

"We are still about challenging companies to do the right thing and be responsible. But we want them to do more," said Kieran.

"One of the things we felt we needed to do was increase our campaigning role and really put a challenge out to business to do more and to do things differently. There are elements of our soon to be finalised strategy for the next three years that will take us back to our roots, because we were a campaigning organisation, campaigning to change behaviour. We're now at an age where we should do more of that."

First established in 1989, Business in the Community NI is the only one of the regions to have increased its membership through the recession. Its 262 members represent over a third of the province's total workforce and the team put the growth down to remaining relevant to persuade companies they should still be responsible even in tough times.

"Corporate responsibility has changed. 20 years ago it was about nominating a charity of the year, that was as sophisticated as it got. Now we are talking more about how corporate responsibility can be integrated, not just a nice add on that they kick to the side when things get tighter," said Lisa.

"You'll always get someone who'll say CR is for the birds, it's good PR or greenwash. You can understand why those arguments are there because some organisations have treated it that way. But in the main, a lot of people are coming to us to ask how to do it properly because they are starting to see others in their industry benefiting from being responsible. The public want to know companies are acting responsibly."

Gillian notes that companies are now looking for Business in the Community to provide them with creative ideas.

"Companies are looking for something different that's relevant to them not just something off the shelf. They are asking what could we do that comes back to benefit the business. They want to get people involved in volunteer programmes and schemes that help them really build their team and make them the sort of company people want to come and work for," she said.

The organisation tailors programmes for each member and make sure their initiatives don't just work for large companies.

"We'll go into a lot of smaller businesses and they are doing corporate responsibility but they just haven't shaped it or structured it or called it corporate responsibility," notes Lisa.

Kieran further elaborates: "If you are a small business in a more rural area, you are often a focal point of the community. SMEs get this stuff and we've been able to build on that and attract small companies to go beyond community involvement and look at the environment or how they develop their people."

Business in the Community's new three year strategy will focus on current key issues including youth unemployment, helping firms move towards zero waste and increasing the uptake of volunteering to develop staff.

It is also set to launch a brand new standard for responsible business called Core, which is currently being piloted by a number of companies and will go live at the end of October.

"This is something our members have been asking for. Awards are effective in looking at specific issues, but firms want to know how they can take a wider picture, like Investors in People would for people development. It is a big step and it will really shift the gear for a lot of organisations who need a new challenge and want an in depth insight into how good they are," explained Lisa.

"We have organisations who consider themselves best in class and have perhaps been recognised as best in class in a number of areas, but whenever they look across the board and they are being challenged to take a real strategic, meaningful approach to all the issues they may fall down in other places. It is a good stocktake for them."

Core will also feed into the Business in the Community awards, adds Gillian.

"Starting next year the responsible company of the year will have had to complete Core and excelled in it. That adds a bit more robustness to it. It will be a real challenge."

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