The time for charity cynicism over

The time for charity cynicism over ‘big corporate’ is over
Civil Society, By Robert Ashton

It’s so easy to be disparaging about multinational corporate giants. They’re easy targets for those who think that only small can be beautiful. Indeed I think I have gradually slipped into the trap of assuming that all corporates are focused on financial gain at all costs.


The media don’t help, highlighting boardroom pay and tax avoidance to illustrate the view that the larger the organisation, the smaller its social conscience. Of course deep down we know that not all corporates are the same. Take a look at the full page broadsheet ads Sainsbury’s ran last weekend. They use their commitment to fair trade to make the point that while Tesco might match their prices, they have yet to match their ethics. 


This overt use of social impact to differentiate in a fiercely competitive retail market is interesting. To me, it’s hugely encouraging. I hope it is to you too, because for those working to deliver social impact, at the coal face of disadvantage, prejudice and vulnerability, it’s a massive opportunity.


Hannah Jones, Nike’s global head of sustainability and innovation, was quoted recently as saying: ‘We believe that the innovations required to create the future won’t come from a single source. Not from science. Not from technology. Not from governments. Not from business. But from all of us. We must harness the collective power of unconventional partnerships to dramatically redefine the way we thrive in the future.’


Just take a moment to think about what Jones is saying here. My interpretation is that she is acknowledging that the future is not about top down centralist strategy, but the collective might of individual demand. The growth of social media informs and empowers us all. We have voice and when we all shout, the resulting a Twitter storm can deliver rapid change on a previously unprecedented scale.


Now my view is that large organisations will increasingly be looking to create mutually beneficial unconventional partnerships. Moreover, they will happily invest in activities that boost their customer appeal and give them competitive advantage. Do you see that as an opportunity? I do!


But if you, like me, have slipped into that comfortable rut, from which you view corporate engagement with the third sector with some cynicism, you’re going to miss out. The fact is that unless you are extremely fortunate, your brand’s less well known than theirs. That makes generating income more difficult. So why not buddy up with a big player and become their point of market difference?


I took Jones’ quote from a business school alumni magazine. It will have been read by countless high-flyers in the corporate world. Are you going to wait for them to come and find you? Or are you going to throw aside your cynicism and make the first move? Remember that the best way to succeed in any sphere is to make the first move. Now pop on your trainers and run towards that goal.