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Beyond corporate social responsibility

20 June 2012

The call for more and better private sector engagement with civil society from charities and community groups is long-standing. Having spent over 10 years in the voluntary sector, my experience is that attempts to forge better relationships at a local level have always felt lop-sided and ad hoc.


BIG's England Director, Dharmendra Kanani

BIG’s England Director, Dharmendra Kanani

Across the UK, reports produced by umbrella bodies have called for better brokering and partnership work between these sectors with an emphasis on the benefit of skills exchange. Most recently in the Commission on Funding report, a key recommendation to funders is to enable ‘mutual benefit with the commercial sector’ through better brokerage and opportunity to create exchange between the private and voluntary sectors.

Many funders over time have explored and funded the exchange of support and skills between these sectors. In consultation exercises run by Big Lottery Fund, there have been calls for BIG to take a leadership role in this respect.

As part of our ‘Building Capabilities for Impact and Legacy’ framework, we are planning a game changing investment in this area. Following a rigorous assessment of their proposal, we have awarded Business in the Community funding of up to £4.8 million over five years to run a ‘Business Connectors’ programme. 

The Business Connectors scheme will be delivered by a strong partnership that has been brought together by Business in the Community. It involves levering in private sector resources to support and build connections with civil society organisations as a means of addressing community needs. This will be a structured approach with a level of consistency applied across England in terms of the offer, tailored to local circumstances.

The way that this works is that Business in the Community recruits ‘Business Connectors’ from amongst its member organisations (large private sector employers). These Connectors are employees of the companies, who undertake a paid secondment as a Connector of between six months and two years.

Business Connectors will identify relevant issues that business can help to tackle locally; meet local organisations; and facilitate and support the development of sustainable, collaborative partnerships in these areas between businesses and community groups. We intend to be actively involved in the development of this initiative, and the Connectors will also support other initiatives and the wider work that the Big Lottery Fund is funding in these areas, where appropriate.

Over the next five years, we estimate that our investment will leverage more than £39 million worth of talent from businesses, and £52 million worth of support for voluntary organisations to make a difference in local communities.

These Connectors are people like Kay Horne. Kay works as a Senior Store Manager in Sainsbury’s, and was placed in Tottenham in August 2011, just after the riots. She started by helping more than 60 businesses to apply for help from the High Street Fund, and then used the relationships which she’d developed to connect businesses to local charities. 

As a result of her efforts, the Dandelion youth project got free fliers from Staples to publicise their work and engage with young people. Asda helped a local youth club to raise £30,000. Tottenham Boxing Academy secured £8,000 in sponsorship from Sainsbury’s, help with producing a business plan, as well as donations of new carpets and computers.

That’s the difference which can be made by just one Connector, combining the best traditions of both private and voluntary sectors. Over the next 5 years, there will be more than 600 of these Connectors, working across England to bring improvements to communities and the lives of people most in need. At a time when resources are tight and need is greater than ever, this initiative has the potential to create a step change in the level of business support for communities.

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