Comment: Time to rethink the role of business?

Matt Appleby (Director, BITC Cymru) asks whether it is time to rethink the role of business in Wales and beyond.

A tumultuous socio-political landscape, combined with rapid technological change and constant shifts in consumer expectation call into question long-held beliefs about the role of business in society.

Disruption, instability and social upheaval prompt us to challenge the accepted narrative – how do we rethink the sort of capitalism that we want in Wales? Is there a more distinctly Welsh approach to business that is more rooted in community and close networks? What can and should business do to help mend fractured communities?

Now, more than ever, is the time for responsible businesses to step forward to shape the answers to these questions. Responsible business is a straightforward concept. It’s about businesses taking a fundamentally responsible approach to how they make their money – not just looking at how profit is spent. It’s how they operate as an employer, supplier and neighbour, and how their actions help to create workplaces and communities in which people flourish regardless of social or economic background. 

A more collaborative approach and greater responsibility from business comes through strongly in the Welsh Government’s Prosperity for All strategy – a recognition that we will all need to work more closely together to solve Wales’ most pressing economic, social and environmental challenges.

There is an important and integral role for business in this collaboration. We know from experience in our own network that companies in Wales have the ambition, skills and experience to take positive action. Our partner businesses are helping to bring schools and employers together, implement wellbeing programmes and support enterprise through employability and supply chain programmes. They are working to adapt responsibly to digital disruption and automation, support employees to work in the community and helping to build a more circular Welsh economy.

The future success of the Welsh economy, society and environment is bound together with the prosperity of our businesses – from smallest to largest – and the strength of our communities. By working together, across sectors and at scale, business can help to build mutually-beneficial, long-term financial and social value.

It requires a more enlightened view of the purpose of business. While wealth-creation is, of course, a vital role of business in society, we can and should expect a wider contribution. And in any case, more responsible business will drive increased commercial success – consumers, suppliers and staff all increasingly expect it and favour companies who can demonstrate the impact they’re having.

With the announcement of the Welsh Government’s new economic contract there is a potential opportunity to create more of these win-win partnerships – and the more we can make responsible business the norm, the more we can inspire all of our companies to contribute towards our shared goal of making Wales a fairer and more sustainable economy.

Increasingly businesses want to align their efforts with national and international frameworks to create the greatest change. We see a growing number tracking their progress against the UN Sustainable Development Goals and in Wales we’re working with public and private sector colleagues to help businesses support the Well-being of Future Generations goals and ways of working. Through our UK network we continue to work closely with devolved governments to develop a new intra-national approach to responsible business which can maximise our collective social impact.

While the social and environmental challenges we all face are significant, there are companies throughout Wales which are demonstrating the positive impact of the evolving role of businesses – on their own businesses and workforce, and on the communities they support.