The role of business in Wales

Following the Wales Responsible Business Awards Gala Dinner, Matt Appleby (Director, BITC Cymru), reflects on the current and future role of business in Wales.

Business in the Community (BITC) was founded in 1982 in response to a facture in society – the riots in Toxteth and Brixton were all too literally a burning platform. It was clear that something needed to be done to restore stability and unity. These events were the catalyst that activated the natural sense of duty that people in business had to support their local economies and communities.

Inspired and convened by our president, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, BITC connected business leaders with community groups, government, charities and individuals to support them in taking action.

Fast-forward 25 years, and a report into the impact of BITC highlighted arguably its greatest achievement – that we’ve changed the narrative about the role and responsibility of business in society. Business leaders are now expected – by staff, by customers, by investors – to take responsibility for community, the environment and future generations.

What's old is new again

So, why the bring up our history?  Because it still sounds all too familiar - just as in 1982 society feels fractured. Disaffection, disharmony and disenfranchisement are again all too evident across the UK. Corporate scandals and behaviour driven by short-term financial gain continue to undermine trust in business – we see too many headlines about business putting profit before purpose and treating people as numbers on a spreadsheet rather than rounded individuals.

And all of this is exacerbated by more precarious forms of work, huge demographic shifts and digital disruption. Many of these changes – especially the digitally-driven changes to the world of work – take us into unchartered territory. But the combination of challenges that face both business and society goes back to the roots of BITC – the need for a strong, business-led response is clear – people in and around business must pull together to take on these challenges.

Times of disruption, instability and great political and social change prompt us to ask some big questions of ourselves – to again challenge the accepted narrative:

  • What can and what should business do to help mend fractured communities, tackle inequality and offer more secure futures?
  • What is the true purpose of business in Wales beyond profit – what brand of capitalism to we want in Wales?
  • How do we ensure business has a role in education and employment to create opportunities to raise people out of poverty?
  • And, in an increasingly individualised society, how do we heal divisions so that we can take collective action and responsibility towards common goals?

Into the future

As we look to the future – and towards the 40th anniversary of BITC – our vision for business is clear: a responsible business is one that creates long-term financial value by creating value for society.

And by doing that within the BITC network, they can come together to make a difference at scale. We can change the culture of business for the better; rebuild trust; restore fairness; embed sustainability and have greater compound impact in the cities and communities which need it the most.

That is what these our awards case studies highlight and celebrate. All too often, the good work that so many businesses already do goes unreported and, as trust is built through action, not words, it is vital that we use high profile occasions like the BITC Cymru Responsible Business Awards to show Wales the scale, scope and impact of its responsible businesses.

We look to all of our winners to step up and lead in the year ahead – we know their stories and successes will inspire others to act and strengthen the responsible business network in Wales. With their support and leadership we can engage more companies, work in more schools, support more communities and ultimately make a bigger impact on the social, environmental and economic challenges in Wales. 

To read the stories of the 2017 Wales Responsible Business Award Winners, click here.