Profits and Problems

I attended a College networking event last week, not a business to business event, but a business to student one. I do this regularly, not just because I enjoy it (which I do) and not just because I want to help the students (which I like to do), but also for some selfish reasons, it gives me a great insight into the contextual view of business from younger people.

This event was as always, insightful! However, there were two big things that hit me, not one student (and I spoke with about forty) were aware of what a social enterprise was, whilst many more looked at their future career laying in the financial sector. While I have no problem with someone wanting a career in the financial sector, by far the biggest motivator was money alone.

a total focus on maximising personal gain

Now, I have absolutely no problem with profit, in fact I often speak with charities and social enterprises about how the more they make, the more good stuff they can do, however, I was slightly taken aback by how there was a total focus on maximising personal gain in a world I often see moving towards recognition of social problems.

One other thing I forgot to mention was that this College is private. Before anyone jumps on me, not for one moment am I waving my working-class banner and bashing the perceived establishment! I am more interested in how these students were far more aware of the financial sector than in other learning environment I visit.

Context, which I often bring to the forefront of workshops I facilitate for leadership and management, is a powerful player in any decision-making process. The contextual view of these students was interesting, not just in the fact that they were more aware of the financial sector, but that they appear to have a much more certain view of entry into it.

this was a steep learning curve for me

Anyway, I have digressed slightly from the main point of this piece, which is the way we still look at business models. I spent several months as the Norfolk chair for a national, third sector networking group. Coming from a more commercial background, this was a steep learning curve for me, especially as I could link it with my everyday activity at Swarm Apprenticeships, a Community Interest Company (CIC) training apprentices in the business sector.

My own observations are that we still see commercial and third sector organisations as having very different models. Charities and social enterprises perform operations that aid social issues, in whatever form they may take, whilst commercial operations still work on maximisation of profit and shareholder value. But why? I have long been a believer that there is very little disconnect between the two. All organisations should seek maximisation of profits, if the way this is done doesn’t affect anyone or anything negatively, however, why can’t some of that profit then be returned to help others who may need it?

I’m not talking about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) here, which in many cases (not all) has turned into nothing more than green washing and used as a sales ploy. I’m talking about businesses of all sizes giving something back to challenges at a local scale, something that they believe in and genuinely want to help. This may be as simple as sharing some time and skills, or it may be a small percentage of profit is given.

We have just launched Swarm Be, a recruitment company which has used its skills and resources from recruiting apprentices and transferred it to commercial recruitment. Although this is another CIC, with all the profits going to help with local challenges, half for employment skills and half for other local charities/social enterprises to tap into. Other versions could easily be worked on, which allows a commercial organisation to donate a percentage of its profits for similar projects.

I would just like to see it become more widespread

There is nothing new in any of these models, however, I am now actively promoting a new mindset which encourages any size business to give something to what it is passionate about. I know many companies already do this; I would just like to see it become more widespread.

Perhaps then, the students I spoke with may say “I want to work in finance, that way I can earn a great income and use some to help something close to my heart”. Some might say I’m living in a dream world, but as Napoleon Hill once said, “Happiness is found in doing, not merely possessing.”  In that I still believe.

Harry Harris