We need to stand up together, take brave decisions and collectively be strong and resolute in our convictions

One year since the merger with Business in the Community, BITC Scotland MD Jane Wood reflects on 2016 and looks ahead with optimism to the next 12 months.

It’s almost a year since I blogged about the formal merger with our sister organisation Business in the Community. And what a year it has been.

2016 would not be regarded as a vintage year for public trust in business. Whether it is through coverage of the demise of BHS, or continuing operations at Sports Direct, time and again our daily headlines have been filled with revelations and opinions that highlight the growing divergence between some past or current business standards and wider society’s priorities.

All too often, a rigid focus on returning shareholder value undervalues businesses; we have seen the spectacular crash in share value such as with Volkswagen, when businesses fail. This short-term self-interest can overwhelm a more sustainable economic model, and the significant benefits that can be delivered by commercial success have been crowded out by a declining bond of trust between ordinary people and businesses.

It has not made for pleasant viewing for those of us who, like me, believe and experience daily the power that business can utilise for social good.

All too often, individual and laudable attempts have been made to turn the tide, mostly through investing profit from commercial activities for social good. Now, however, responsible corporate behaviour is not just a bolt-on to corporate messaging, for now, and for the future; it must be the very foundation of business practice.

So, far from being depressed at some of the coverage of business practice in 2016, I’m excited and invigorated by Business in the Community’s ability to convene the power of business for good, and the everyday examples of positive change that have crossed my desk over the last year.

Excitingly, we also formally launched our Scottish National Action Plan for Responsible Business (SNAP-RB) towards the end of 2016. This will provide the driving force behind the next decade of sustainable growth by enabling a new collaboration between government and business.

SNAP-RB is a plan for responsible business in Scotland, created by business, with government for society. The fates of business and society are inextricably linked: one cannot succeed without the other. Businesses need to work together and with government to build safer, stronger, more resilient and therefore sustainable communities across Scotland. These are the only communities which can in turn provide the resources, employees and customers necessary for sustainable businesses.

SNAP-RB brings together leaders of global, national and local businesses in Scotland with government, for the benefit of all in society. This leadership group will change the landscape for everyone, addressing the root causes of issues which are slowing inclusive growth in Scotland.

At the successful launch event at Royal Bank of Scotland in Edinburgh, SNAP-RB highlighted its first stage objectives for reducing poverty through improving educational experiences of all young people in Scotland and increasing employability by encouraging wider understanding of the skills and behaviours needed to futureproof the country’s workforce.

Expect to hear much more as SNAP-RB develops. A Community Action Plan (CAP-RB) framework will be rolled out in the first quarter of 2017 to enable employers of all sizes across all sectors to support SNAP-RB across Scotland. Do sign up to the website for updates about SNAP-RB and CAP-RB. 

We all have witnessed the political and economic landscapes shifting in front of our eyes – moving faster than we could have imagined. Now, more than ever, we need to stand up together, we need to take brave decisions and collectively we need to be strong and resolute in our convictions. I believe SNAP-RB has arrived at precisely the right moment.

The end of 2016 saw the publication of a stark report from the Scottish Government around the shocking rise in child poverty and also the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report on the sheer scale of in-work poverty amongst families. These reports - and other mounting and emerging evidence - tells us that we must act - and act quickly as uncertainty in the wider economy grows.

As always, we challenge your business to join us in creating better business for a better Scotland in the year ahead. There is plenty to do, but a great deal to be hopeful about.