"Consider what relationships you already have in place - think about how you can harness that network in order to give back to your community."
As Covid-19 spreads around the world, many organisations are looking beyond their own businesses to launch initiatives that will, in ways small and large, give something back.
This is not an opportunity for virtue signalling or branding exercises - quite the opposite. As governance systems, healthcare providers and not-for-profit organisations struggle to keep pace with the crisis, it becomes increasingly clear that businesses have a vital civic duty to fulfil.
This is a defining moment; the way that large companies respond to this pandemic will be remembered for decades. How can businesses help? How can they work collectively within their supply chains and networks to direct support to where it’s most needed?
As we all adapt to a new way of living and working, so too must we try and understand the new way of giving - a way of giving which navigates the physical restrictions of life under social distancing measures, and which is agile enough to be deployed quickly.
A collaborative effort is crucial to supporting people - and society - through the ongoing challenges created by Covid-19. I therefore wanted to share three considerations for how best we, as financial services businesses, give back during this time. In doing so I will draw on some of our own recent experiences, here at Investec.
Firstly, start by asking what the community really needs.
Unprecedented has become an overused term in reference to Covid-19, but understandably so. Out of the ordinary times create out of the ordinary needs. Talk to people on the ground, listen to what they are saying they need, and learn about what is already being done and how you can help to plug any gaps.
A benefit to this approach is that in seeking to understand the needs of a particular community or vulnerable group, there is more chance of being able to find a place where your business can uniquely solve a problem, while staying credible to your own values.
To give an example from our own experience, Investec has been working to supply a number of food banks which have been struggling under the pressure brought about by the pandemic.
This began in early April with a focused effort to support three London boroughs close to our offices where we had long-standing relationships. Working with their food banks and following a discussion with Meg Hillier, MP for Hackney South in London, we learnt that accessing reliable supply chains was their biggest challenge. More funding was also necessary as the demand on their usual stock surged. This is where we were able to step in, activating a client relationship in order to ensure these food banks were fully stocked and able to meet the heightened demands.
We’ve since been able to extend our support across food banks in 14 UK cities where our offices are based, each of which have been struggling with similar difficulties in accessing their supply chain.
This leads on to my second point, which is to consider what relationships you already have in place - think about how you can harness that network in order to give back to your community.
The benefit of leveraging your existing network is also that, very often, relationships that are already in place can be mobilised far more quickly and effectively than starting from scratch.
As a corporate it’s likely you will have access to networks that community groups don’t necessarily have themselves. In our case, we have relationships with key suppliers - including Creed in England, Dunns in Scotland, Lidl in Northern Ireland, and Aldi in London – allowing us to create the new supply chains necessary to stock the food banks directly, thus solving the problem they’ve been grappling with for weeks. We called upon our own staff in these areas to reach out to their local food banks to determine the local need. They were the pin that linked the suppliers with the food banks and ensured clear communication between the two.
This was a practical and quick solution, and one that didn’t necessitate creating a new product or applying for new accreditation. It was simply a matter of leveraging our own networks as resources to solve the problem.
Finally, consider how local your approach might be.
There can be a tendency to want to go as far and wide as possible with an initiative, in the belief that this will have the most impact at scale. However, not every initiative needs to change the world or have a trending hashtag. Instead, think about the benefits of a more localised approach.
Focusing your efforts in areas or communities where your business already has CSR commitments through open dialogue and understanding, brings opportunities to enhance those relationships.
Investec has long-standing partnerships with the East London communities of Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets through our Sustainability programme. Given these existing partnerships and knowing that accessing food was a real concern especially during this pandemic, we naturally looked to support the food banks there.
A localised approach can prove far more effective in offering sustained, long-term support. Even once the immediate peak of the Covid-19 crisis has passed, there will remain many vulnerable people left in its wake - which is why long-term relationships are essential.
At the start of the pandemic, our ambition for our work with the food banks was that they would always have more than they need. But ensuring the sustainability of any community work we do has always been paramount and, if we need to support for longer than our initial twelve-week plan, we will. We are committed to supporting the long-term systemic issues in society, including those that lead people to need food banks. Through the education and entrepreneurship programmes that we deliver with a number of community partners – including Morpeth School, the Bromley by Bow Centre, Arrival Education and The Change Foundation -, we focus on issues around employment, skills and opportunities. Our hope is that these efforts contribute to a society where food banks no longer need to exist.
At Investec, we are privileged to be able to help alleviate some of the extreme pressure on those who are most in need. And I know that there are many others amongst our financial services sector who are seeking to do the same. As the long-term pressures and implications of the pandemic begin to emerge, the role for businesses to step in to meet social needs will only increase.
For financial businesses, this doesn’t have to be about creating a new product or service. Instead, we need to be asking how we can harness our transferable skills and relationships, and turn our problem-solving mindset beyond the business.
I hope that these principles will go some way towards helping us all, collectively, consider how best we can use our networks for community impact during this unprecedented time.