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How Montreal left CSR behind to find our sense of purpose

By Matt Ashby-Cooper
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CSR is a dirty acronym.  Yep, I went there, I said it.

Do Corporates have a responsibility to the societies they operate in?

Absolutely.

Do they carry out those responsibilities willingly?

Rarely. Or at least that’s the way it’s perceived.

The perception is that Corporate Social Responsibility policies come about through a need to manage the image of a business, a need to be seen to be giving back, to be seen to be philanthropic and through the understanding that a good CSR policy will help attract, engage and retain team members. And all while making said team members more productive. Team members know this and see such efforts as a cynical ploy to make more money. And the communities involved see them the same way.

Case in point

Euro Pride, Amsterdam, 2016, I’m stood on a boat on Keizergracht Canal watching the amazing array of boats pass by as part of the pride parade. PWC’s boat passes and my friend comments “Ugh, I hate it when corporates highjack Pride, they don’t care, it’s a marketing exercise, they just do it to make more money”. The fact that PWC requires their smaller vendors to step up to the Diversity plate and therefore drives the D&I agenda in organisations that wouldn’t usually consider it is lost on my friend, who only sees PWC’s presence as a cynical cash grab.

People see CSR as something companies do as a revenue generator at best and out of necessity at worst.

And so, a move from CSR to Social Purpose.

For me, Social Purpose is about the connection between a company’s values, who they are, how they behave and their interaction with the communities around them. If CSR has an emphasis on Responsibility, a begrudged requirement to be seen to be doing something, Social Purpose emphasises a shared goal, a shared set of values and ways of engaging.

When deciding how we would approach our Social Purpose programme at Montreal, we started with our values.

When relaunching our Values, we asked team members to describe the organisation. Human, Diverse, People focussed, Curious, Collaborative, Open minded and Passionate came up time and time again. It was clear that our approach to Social Purpose had to start here.

The first thing we’ve done is to partner with Benefacto.

Benefacto is a charity that ‘Helps Companies develop meaningful Volunteering programs’.

Imagine a platform that looks like Airbnb, but instead of holiday rentals, you’re looking at volunteering experiences with charities. Small, local charities, that often lack funding and don’t have the visibility or the marketing budget of their bigger sister charities and are often therefore overlooked when it comes to corporate partnerships.

Team members go online, sign up for an experience, then share it with colleagues to form a volunteering group and those volunteering days that would previously languish unused in your HR portal are instead put to good use.

We recently spent an afternoon with a group of school children at an after-school arts session with the charity, Arts for All in the East-End of London. Sessions are ran for children and adults with learning difficulties from the local community. Emma, Bastien and I, spent time setting up the room, and then drawing and painting with a group of school children as part of the Kaleidoscope club “…a wonderful club that runs every Tuesday for disadvantaged young children aged 5-11 from the local area”. It was great opportunity to bond with my team mates, to get to see the amazing work done by the charity in the local community and to help in providing a ‘safe space where children get to play and be children’.

For us Benefacto gives us the opportunity to support our local community, meet people from different walks of life and expand our own horizons. We get to volunteer in ways that challenge us, make us think and help us re-connect with our world. In short, our partnership with Benefacto supports the shared values of our team members and MA as a whole.

It’s the start of our Social Purpose journey, our first steps, but feels much more than something we feel required to do. It’s something that gives us a sense of purpose.

 

Author
Matt Ashby-Cooper
Head of People & Culture