Resurrecting Howard to Strengthen Business Community Partnerships
As posted recently on ProBono this Opinion piece by Doug Taylor explores the potential of an Abbott Government’s Business Community Partnership group and what a new agenda that deepens and broadens business and community partnerships could achieve.
To simply replicate the agenda of John Howard’s Corporate Community Partnerships initiative with its focus on research papers and awards would be a mistake for the Abbott Coalition without ensuring it is recalibrated for the contemporary situation, says the CEO of United Way Australia, Doug Taylor.
There has been considerable criticism directed at the Coalition for their lack of policy pronouncements. No doubt this is a product of the intense scrutiny of the 24 hour media cycle, but one policy made clear for over a year now is the Coalition’s commitment to resurrecting John Howard’s ‘Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership’ group. This was reiterated at the recent ACOSS National Conference by Kevin Andrews, the Coalition’s Family and Community Spokesman, who stated the objective of the Community Business Partnership group ‘would be to advise government on encouraging a culture of philanthropy and giving.’
This group would be established within 6 months of the Coalition being elected and would be chaired by Tony Abbott himself and facilitate prominent Australians from the business and community sectors working together given that ‘philanthropic contributions have been tapering off in recent years.’ In his speech Andrew’s firmly states that the Coalition would focus less on increasing government services and more on supporting civil society in getting on with strengthening local communities because ‘the risk, when government tackles problems that are best addressed in the community, is that people are denied the chance to achieve something for themselves.’
I’ll leave it to others to debate the right balance between individual/ community self determination and the role of the state. I’m more interested to think about the potential of an Abbott Government’s Business Community Partnership group. The danger in resurrecting an old idea is that it’s not reinvented for today and therefore irrelevant. To simply replicate the agenda of John Howard’s initiative with its focus on research papers and awards would be a mistake. Essentially the Howard Government was seeking to catalyse this new idea of Community and Business Partnerships but now there’s the opportunity to set a new agenda given that a significant segment of the business and community sectors have become more strategic in their thinking and practice in recent years. My sense is that this new agenda needs to deepen and broaden business and community partnerships and what follows are the elements I’d encourage the Coalition to think about as new policy platforms if they were to be elected.
Many corporate and community partnerships are no longer in their start up phase as they were during the Howard Government. This means many organisations are asking a different set of questions as they look to deepen their partnerships. Some of the questions include:
- What’s the business case for this part of our strategy? In other words, are there opportunities to build on our Philanthropy by creating Shared Value for our business whilst we work to solve a social problem?
- Given that our budgets are tight, how do we use our non financial resources to create impact? Can we develop more skilled and strategic volunteering opportunities?
- How do we leverage other business and government partners to have a bigger impact and work efficiently with our limited resources? In other words, are there Collective Impact opportunities we can develop?
- Why can’t I find any useful data to tell me whether or not we are achieving our stated social and business goals? How do we measure the impacts and outcomes of this work?
These are a sample of some of the deeper questions being asked by many leaders in the business and community sectors. It would be prudent for the Coalition to reframe part of this new group’s work around the needs of this important segment of leading businesses to ensure that they continue to innovate.
Of course deepening the work of business and community partnerships is not for everyone, there are many groups who are still in an introductory phase. I’m particularly thinking of the SME (Small to Medium Enterprises) community. SMEs are an often overlooked group of businesses. This is a huge mistake because they are a significant segment of the business community and are often closer to local communities than corporations. So the Business and Community Partnerships strategy needs to be broadened to include this group with a bespoke set of initiatives given their uniqueness. Some questions an effective strategy must address for SME leaders include:
- How can a community partnership raise the profile of my business in my local community and help my neighbours? Are there any potential risks in this partnership given that I know so many of the people in this community?
- We don’t have any dedicated resources for our community partnerships so how can we best use our product or services? We are happy to help but can’t be distracted by time intensive partnerships
- As a business leader how can this opportunity raise my personal profile and meet my personal needs given my life stage. Allan English, of the English Family Foundation, talks about the importance of encouraging SME leaders to think about moving from ‘success to significance’ given they are often in the legacy stage of their career
There’s nothing wrong with resurrecting things tried in the past, just ask John ‘Lazarus’ Howard himself. The key is to ensure that they are recalibrated for the contemporary situation. The same applies to the Coalitions Business and Community Partnerships group and now is a great time to support them as they develop this new agenda.