Together we can: Amanda Mackenzie OBE speaks at the Responsible Business Awards 2019

Post author image. Deborah Sharp

Amanda MacKenzie OBE and CEO of Business in the Community speaks at the responsible business event of the year, The Responsible Business Awards 2019 held at the Royal Albert Hall, London, on Tuesday 9 July 2019. 

The Global Goals are effectively the to-do list for the whole world making our planet a healthy, happy, sustainable, fair place. And the Goals couldn’t be clearer: every person in the room – in London – on this earth – has a job to do. Let’s be honest, though – it’s blooming tough? The Goals are literally the biggest ambition humanity has ever had.  But that’s also the problem with a plan for the whole world: how do you take something so universal and make it practical? It’s hardly as if we have a long time to figure it out. By 2030, our deadline is up. That’s just over ten years from now. There’s not a lot of room to breathe. But if anyone can figure it out, it’s the people in this room tonight.

This evening, the Royal Albert Hall is probably the most responsible place in the country: from top to bottom, it’s filled with people who have had the courage to look up from their daily concerns and think about something bigger. People who understand that the greatest measure of success isn’t the quarterly balance sheet, but the world that they leave to their children. Quite rightly, we’re here to celebrate that. But we also owe it to ourselves, to be honest: yes, we’re doing a lot. But is it enough?

A divided nation, a dying planet and desperate inequality

In 2018, I stood on this stage and spoke about the challenges we are facing in the UK: how people are trusting businesses less but asking more from them. I said that responsible business comes down to the choices we make every minute of our working lives – big or small.

And here we stand again: another July, another glorious night at the Royal Albert Hall. I’m even wearing the same dress. I could have read the same speech word for word. We are still confronted by a divided nation, a dying planet and desperate inequality.

Greta told us that our house is on fire, but we haven’t put it out. The UN’s Special Rapporteur Philip Alston even likened the UK in 2019 to a Dickensian 19th-century workhouse.  If Professor Alston or Greta were here tonight, what do you think they’d say? Could we look them in the eye and say that we’ve done absolutely everything within our power to change the status quo? After all, the ability to change the headlines is in our hands. Our country is not evolving at the pace it needs. And if that’s the case, we need to hold ourselves – as a network – partly responsible for that. We have tried, but have we really been radical enough?

The Responsible Business Tracker®​ helping understand what we need to do

Thanks to our Responsible Business Tracker, it’s never been easier to understand what we need to do to move the dial. I want to acknowledge the 64 pioneering companies which took part in our pilot and were brave enough to show the world what they were made of. They wanted to improve and now have a route map on how to do so. It wasn’t an easy thing to do: the Tracker isn’t meant to be a smokescreen or a tick-box. It’s an honest, clear-eyed answer to the question ‘how good is my company at responsible business?’ It’s not for the faint-hearted. 

For starters, we learned that 72 per cent of companies have started to formally engage employees and senior leaders to identify priority responsible business issues but that only 16 per cent have integrated these into the risk register or consulted externally to review them against the Global Goals. In fact, 86 per cent of companies had a purpose statement, but only 17 per cent had taken the time to understand what this would mean across departments or for team targets.

That gap is just too big. UK plc has the best intentions, but let’s not risk that’s all they are. We need to help each other to take real action.

Inspiring organisations, the largest and most responsible business network in the world

The good news is that you’re in the right place. Together we are the oldest and largest responsible business network in the world: if we can’t make a difference, nobody can. For inspiration, look no further than the people sitting next to you. 

  • The paper mill which is making sure that there is a recycling bin five minutes from every single person in Leeds.

I could mention every company in the room – every single one of you has an impressive story tonight.

I’m not saying that any of these examples are easy to achieve. Every day is a struggle for each of us to do the right thing: everywhere I look, in my home or at work, in my house I see more plastic, more waste. And don’t even get me started on the crushing sense of guilt I have about clingfilm, which I wrestle with every day – often literally.

But the point is that these businesses are trying. They are striving to be better. They are refusing to accept the status quo.

Just look at the phenomenal difference made by our Responsible Businesses of the Year 2018 – big and small. With Salary Finance’s help, more people than ever can get their finances under control and we are learning more every day about the solutions to financial illiteracy. Meanwhile, Lloyds Banking Group is being brave enough to ask not just what businesses can do about supporting their employees’ mental health, but also how work itself might be affecting it – most importantly, they are joining forces with the rest of the Wellbeing Leadership Team to build on the work they have already done. All of them want to move from good to great – and they know that that ambition is bigger than any one company.  The Global Goals may seem impossibly big, but these companies aren’t giving up on a way to make them meaningful.

They have realised that their job isn’t to tick off the whole list, but to understand what part they can play: one more coffee cup recycled; one more refugee given the chance to work; one more bee saved; one more carpet tile laid. One more person feeling that their mental health is something to be cared for, not ignored. After all, if a person isn’t happy and healthy in body and mind, what chance do they have of helping to change the world?  From the global to the most personal experiences possible. Together, those small changes add up into extraordinary things. Just like the power of this network doesn’t lie in its individuals, but in the strength that we have when we work together. 

Membership of Business in the Community

It’s a strength which is growing all the time. This year, we have some of our best membership figures ever. That’s despite the instability all around us.  All over the UK, companies are waking up to the fact that they have to be part of the solution. And they’re realising that the task is too big for them alone. So to the new members here tonight – welcome. You’re now part of the best club in the world. I hope you know what you’ve let yourself in for as we ask a lot of our network: we want each company to be a role model to the others, to push each other further and faster with every passing year. We have a lot of work to do.

Onwards and upwards

When I stand in front of you in 2020, I want to be able to say – with my hand on my heart – that the last 12 months have rung in a seismic change. That the business world will never be the same again.  I want to say that we stopped talking about changing the world and actually did it. I want to say that 2030 is within our grasp. I know that we can do it.”

By working together, we can step up and meet any challenge.

Together, we are stronger.

Together, we can’t be silenced.

Together, we are unstoppable.

This article was originally published in July 2019.