Think bigger in 2021

Post author image. Amanda Mackenzie OBE
Business in the Community’s (BITC) Chief Executive Amanda Mackenzie calls on business to reach out to communities.
Amanda Mackenzie OBE

Last week, the first Clap for Heroes of 2021 was a muted affair. It was a far cry from the first lockdown, when every Thursday people put the endless Zoom meetings, kitchen-table lessons, fears about cash-flow, furlough or redundancies behind them and clapped for the those going into battle against COVID-19. 

The time for clapping is over, if you want to stop feeling small,
choose to be part of something big.

As we near the anniversary of the pandemic, clapping no longer feels like enough. The scale of this disease and its impact on our lives has been so much bigger than we could have imagined when the Prime Minister told us to stay home for three weeks. When the odds seem insurmountable, taking collective action becomes harder – and not just for the individual. 

In the spring of 2020, the private sector stepped up. Whether it was supermarket chains setting shopping time aside for older and vulnerable customers or a train company donating 10,000 unused meals to those in need, the knee jerk reaction from many business leaders was not to pull up the drawbridge, but to open the doors. 

Confronted with the first desperate days of lockdown, Business in the Community (BITC) set up the National Business Response Network (NBRN), which was a practical way to get community organisations the help they needed from companies. Businesses helped homeless shelters stay open when being on the streets was more dangerous than usual. They made sure that hundreds of children had the technology to keep learning, even when their families could not afford a phone, let alone a laptop. 

At its peak, our matching platform had 53 offers of help from big businesses in a single day. But by late 2020, that number had dipped to just four. 

When a problem is this vast, any attempt to help can seem like a drop in the ocean. And as the issues facing companies have mounted, it can feel like a bridge too far to reach out to communities in need. 

But on the ground, the view is a little different. It was more than a drop in the ocean when a domestic abuse shelter saved a woman’s life because a company gave the charity the digital skills to support victims when they could not leave the house. And as we rebuild, it is the companies which have been out in the communities, understanding their needs and challenges, which are going to succeed.

Battening down the hatches is not an option for business: just as communities need you, you are going to need them too.

Right now, we need to be pooling our resources. At every level of a business, employees have something to offer; the skills, talents and insights which communities will need to survive long-term. 

The time for clapping is over, but the point still stands: if you want to stop feeling small, choose to be part of something big.

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