Category Archives: News

Event report: Impact investing: Ethical to the core?

EVENT REPORT: IMPACT INVESTING: ETHICAL TO THE CORE?

Sometimes it takes a mutual friend to help make a great match. As members of UKSIF and as a B Corp, we spotted the potential in getting them in a room together to talk about the challenges in the growth of sustainable investing.

A huge thank you to Billy Nauman at FT Moral Money for chairing the event and to EQ Investors for hosting in their fab offices. We are editing a video with the main highlights but in the meantime, here is the event report.

B INSPIRED EVENT REPORT – PART ONE

The Bridge theatre on London’s Southbank played host to a 600-strong audience for B Lab UK’s first B Inspired event on Thursday 10th October. Global circumnavigator, Fergal o’Nuillian, a geography teacher and explorer, opened the event with the poignant image of the earth rising in space.  He told a story about one of his students who against the odds, passed his geography GCSE. He set the tone for the event by reflecting that like the advice to his teacher from this young man, we must all learn to practise hope on a daily basis.

Fergal didn’t come alone. Students from City Heights Academy gave voice to his assertion that it is hard to be young at the moment. At his invitation, the audience leaned in and listened closely to a young woman in her school uniform – KatiAnn Barris Rocha whose spoken word poetry blistered eloquently against the expectations society places on her generation. The audience got to its feet in appreciation of her performance.

The first panel – Challenging Business as Usual was made up of Oxford University Professor and expert on corporate purpose, Colin Mayer; Alexandra Mousavizadeh, of Tortoise Media, Sophi Tranchell, the founder of Divine Chocolate and Chair, James Perry, Cook co-founder and man who brought the B Corp movement to the UK.

Colin laid out the historical context for our current situation: Fifty years of Milton Friedman economic theory and the primacy of shareholder value creation as the legal requirement and core purpose of business. He contended that the capitalist system is not fit for our current needs and must change to generate profits only for the companies whose solutions are benefitting people and planet. He used the example of Danish pharma company Novonordisk, explain how they switched their purpose from manufacturing insulin to eliminating diabetes.

Alexandra explained the robust methodology by which her new Responsibility 100 index has been compiled. She cited 5000 data points, 52 indicators, 27 of which are directly relevant for corporations mapping progress through an SDG prism. The Index is a window into corporate rhetoric versus reality, making it easy to see who has signed up to the UN global compact for example, and then analysing any resulting actions in what she called a ‘talk versus walk’ score. She defended the Index format because it ‘creates a race to the top’  and highlights gaps in data and performance. Perhaps the most sobering observation is that it should not be hard to find evidence of corporate contribution to SDGs but it is.

Sophi Tranchell’s contribution expanded on a core theme from Colin’s observations – ownership. She reflected on 20 years of Divine Chocolate – back then a model that drew a lot of scepticism that having cocoa farmers the biggest shareholders (44%) could ever work. That ownership has been key in diversification and mitigation for climate change because the farmers are closest to the issues and empowered to make the necessary changes. Sophi spoke up for the need for patient capital, long term investors and engaged consumers. Divine certified as a B Corp in 2016.

James Perry summarised that ‘business has the wrong operating system’, reflecting on how we think about performance reporting. Tomorrow’s economic rule book needs new rules of the game. We need a legal system that recognises the role of owners (shareholders) as trustees. Change comes quickest when companies are required to report. Regulatory requirements such as publishing pay differentials or ensuring the living wage is paid all through the supply chain would be helpful.

Event report: Refugees: Changing the Conversation to Untapped Talent and Greater Inclusion

 

On 16 October we heard from three speakers with very different routes into the world of refugees:

Paul Hutchings, Co-Founder of Refugee Support, a former market research agency boss who gave it all up to focus full time on running a charity providing aid with dignity; Dina Nayeri, author and a child refugee at the age of eight, and Mike Butcher, editor at large of Techcrunch, chronicler of technology entrepreneurs and founder of Techfugees. The insights they gave us in their conversations and story telling fell into three main take-aways:

View full report here. 

Event report: Diversity & Inclusion for asset managers

 

D&I for fund managers was our 6th event focused on the link between reputation and culture. This time we focused on the asset management community and private equity in particular with a panel representing the views of investors and advisors who believe that the time has come for firms to focus on their own D&I, not only that of their portfolio companies.

From a reputation perspective we believe it is important for firms to communicate to stakeholders that they are acting on D&I, even if they are currently far from perfect. Better to convey the message that your firm is an engaged improver than a head-in-the-sand denier. As the FRC articulated in its report on the state of FTSE reporting, ‘At one end, a sophisticated understanding of diversity as the best utilisation of talent and a significant strategic issue is evident. At the other end, a lack of engagement, leading to a minimalistic, ‘tick-box’ approach.’ From our perspective, there are plenty of ways to get the message out there as well as to engage on D&I issues internally.

The purpose backlash and why it’s important

 

Check out social media, flick on the radio or read a business publication and you will find new evidence every day that the global apocalypse is coming, whether it’s the disappearance of insects, or the melting of the glaciers. It’s basically all terrifying.

Companies that can articulate what they are doing to help mitigate the long list of threats to our very existence: climate change, plastic and food waste, poverty, etc. are quietening their activist shareholders and cheering us all up in the process.

As part of this effort to line up on the side of the hopeful, many more businesses are finding and communicating their ‘corporate purpose’ which seems to be motivated by 3 main objectives:

  • Build brand loyalty among customers
  • Attract and retain talent – particularly ‘millennials’
  • And post ‘that’ BlackRock letter from Larry Fink; keep activist investors happy

But it’s not always easy to summon up a ‘purpose’ that people are going to buy into if you haven’t ever got beyond ‘market share’ or some other financial measure. Let’s face it, most businesses in this tricky global economy (and in the Brexit plagued UK) deserve a parade for simply staying afloat.

This would not be so bad except for the fact that there is a cohort of entrepreneurs globally founding companies that have purpose baked into their core business models. Everyone has their favourite examples, some of mine are TOMS (a pair of shoes donated for every pair purchased),  ToastAle (beer made from bread waste), InspiraFarms (off-grid cold chain) and Global Parametrics (insurance inclusion for poor rural farmers) –  I could go on to list many amazing companies innovating in areas such as renewable energy, sustainable food sources, sustainable farming, I’m sure you get the picture.

The issue here is that anyone who cares about the plight of the planet and our species survival (not to put too fine a point on it), naturally wants to spend their days working for an organisation that is part of the solution, not adding to the problem.

So there really is an ungainly tussle going on for the brightest and most engaged new workers.  Alongside this pressure is the knowledge that customers, business or consumer, also naturally want to reward ‘good’ companies with their patronage. And if that wasn’t enough, the largest asset owners are choosing investment managers based on their ESG credentials – basically how well they pay attention to Environmental, Social and Governance impacts.

Movements like B Corp are approaching a tipping point with a globally understood process for identifying ‘good’ companies through a detailed certification system. Now that some of the biggest (and coolest) companies are on board (Danone, Natura, Patagonia etc.), the sceptics are coming around. Or are they?

Anand Giridharadas, author of the book, Winners Take All  sets out a useful challenge to the notion of corporate do-gooding that also helps separate the different ways companies approach the issue.

His thinking is that corporate philanthropy and purpose are often more about the optics than any real systemic change to the way companies have always behaved to their various stakeholders. His pushback is that rather than ‘purpose’ as an afterthought, (supporting youth initiatives for example), if companies paid their lowest paid workers more, or eschewed zero hours contracts, families would be better placed to look after their dependents without corporate philanthropy.

His is not a lone voice. At the World Economic Forum in January, Dutch Historian, Rutger Bregman departed from the expected script on a TIME panel, noting how people in Davos talked about sustainability but flew there in 150 private jets and raised issues on participation, justice, equality and transparency, but “nobody raises the issue of tax avoidance and the rich not paying their share.”

Speaking truth to power is an essential part of advising on corporate purpose. It’s not OK to exploit one stakeholder group, like squeezing suppliers for 90-day payment terms, and then making a big song and dance about a campaign to support entrepreneurs. That amounts to robbing from Peter to make a very public self-serving gesture to Paul. It’s also going to end in tears because the very people that companies are seeking to impress (the bright young things and loyal customers) will pretty quickly catch a whiff of this reputational disconnect and opt out.

The corporate conscience realm of CSR (corporate social responsibility) and corporate philanthropy
(giving some of the profits back to good causes) – are gradually yielding to a more holistic practice given a label in financial circles of ESG – a way of measuring the positive impacts that are created by the business.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, when ESG standards translate into financial incentives, more senior executives start to sit up and take notice. In September last year, the FT reported that Danone was the first multi-national corporation to tie its risk rating to its cost of capital. Global ratings agencies (like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s) are now accepting B Corp certification as due diligence of a high standard of ESG performance, acknowledging that it will lead to a business being genuinely more sustainable in the long term. As a result, the piece noted a €2bn Positive Incentive Loan (PIL) issued by Danone in February 2018 attracted a discount – or put more simply, Danone was rewarded for its B Corp commitments by paying less for its credit.

The last word on purpose has to go to the SDGs – the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which have helped create a consistent global framework for action. What’s important about movements like B Corp and the SDGs is that they are galvanising business leaders and entrepreneurs around the stuff that’s really important. In the midst of all these efforts to contribute positively, it is important to look for signs that companies are balanced in their commitments and not jumping on a purpose bandwagon. But a note of caution, choose wisely – we don’t have enough time to sit back and see how this plays out, there’s just too much at stake.

Narda Shirley is Founder & MD of London and Nairobi based Gong Communications and a B Corp Ambassador.

This article was first published by the IPRA https://www.ipra.org/news/itle/itl-312-corporate-purpose-why-the-backlash-is-important/

GONG WINS BRITISH COUNCIL CULTURAL HERITAGE BRIEF IN KENYA

GONG WINS BRITISH COUNCIL CULTURAL HERITAGE BRIEF IN KENYA

Gong Communications Kenya selected from 13 agencies to deliver communications for two-year British Council pilot programme

London, January 8th 2019: Gong Communications, a multi-award winning PR and marketing agency with offices in London and Nairobi, has won the contract to deliver communications support for the British Council’s Cultural Heritage for Inclusive Growth Programme in Kenya. Cultural Heritage for Inclusive Growth is a two-year pilot programme in Columbia, Kenya and Vietnam, which explores the use of cultural heritage for social and economic growth in ways which benefit all levels of society.

The Programme seeks to create an understanding of Cultural Heritage and its contribution to inclusive growth, support inventive Cultural Heritage projects in the country and create new connections between the UK and Kenya’s Cultural Heritage sector. Gong will offer strategic PR support in creating awareness and building an understanding of Cultural Heritage by first exploring how Kenyans value, protect, learn and share culture, and working alongside stakeholders to articulate how Cultural Heritage contributes to tourism, economic growth and job creation with a focus on women and young people. Gong will also be delivering a campaign to drive conversation around Cultural Heritage and how it contributes to inclusive growth, digital asset creation and a digital marketing skills training programme.

Rocca Holly-Nambi, head of Arts, Kenya and East Africa at the British Council commented, “We’re delighted to have Gong on board as one of our partners in delivering our new Cultural Heritage for Inclusive Growth programme in Kenya. This programme directly supports the British Council’s overall mission of increasing trust and mutual understanding between peoples and cultures. We were impressed with the quality of all 13 submissions, but Gong’s proposal really stood out as well considered, creative and practical.”

Nikki Francis-Jones, director at Gong Communications said: ‘‘As a B Corp and a purpose driven agency we are thrilled to be working with the British Council on this brief which focusses on inclusivity, participation and sustainability. The work, kicking off with an insights phase, will be delivered by a combined London/Nairobi team.”

CULTURETECH EVENT REPORT

CULTURETECH EVENT REPORT

 

On 11 September, we held our third event on Culture, this time lifting the lid on how digital platforms are used to measure sentiment and predict behaviour at work. Our panel was chaired by Helen Barrett, the FT’s Work & Careers Editor and comprised Alastair Gill, People Partner at multi-award winning telco, giffgaff, Briana Van Strijp, COO & Chief People Officer, Anthemis, a VC firm focused on ‘digitally native finance,’ Hani Nabeel, Founder, CultureScope, which provides behavioural diagnostics of organisational culture and Torie Chilcott, Co-founder of Paddle Consulting which has developed a unique methodology using data insight into the emotion, moods and tastes of people across the UK to help organisations engage their internal and external audiences.

The event was run under Chatham House rules to encourage free and open debate. Here are some of the main takeaways:

ON COMMUNICATIONS:

Culture needs to come from the people in the business, not only from the leaders. Emotion came through as being a critical component of good cultural communication. We shouldn’t be afraid of tapping into emotional responses to messages and to answering the question, ‘What does this message mean for me?/my career?/my development?/my happiness?’

Communicating inside organisations should be approached with the same rigour as for external audiences, for example customer targeting, using persona building and segmentation to define different internal ‘tribes’ and split testing content for effectiveness.

Similarly, we have to acknowledge that people at work are just people and we all respond to things that are funny or aesthetically pleasing or inspiring in our own time and work doesn’t really change that. Organisations need to apply the same creative standards to their internal comms as their customer comms.

ON RECRUITMENT:

Onboarding: When new people join the organisation, we give them a computer, a password and show them where the coffee machine is. We don’t spend nearly enough time on the culture. We need to help people understand what is expected of them, and why they have been hired. What are our values? What are the behaviours that show that we are living those values? How will I feel as a result?

ON THE FUNCTIONS:

Often HR is not the client for the most progressive culture tech. HR has an opportunity to step up and lead on this stuff. One observation was that HR used to be thought of as there to protect the company from its people. Now the role of HR includes helping the company attract, retain and motivate talent and culture is the key.
When HR people spend time with their marketing colleagues, the result is internal communication that feels sync’d up with the brand and how it engages external audiences, most importantly, customers. This isn’t typical, but it makes a big difference to the quality of the internal output.

Post all of the corporate scandals, it’s easy to view culture as a potential villain that needs to be managed by risk professionals, but we should think of culture as the hero.

ON THE TECHNOLOGY:

Technology is just an enabler. It is pointless collecting more data unless you know what to do with it.
The tech doesn’t influence the culture, or fix it when it’s bad, it just measures sentiment and behaviour or delivers messages. What it can do when people don’t have physical proximity to transmit culture is create opportunities to connect to reinforce values and behaviours.

CULTURAL CAPITAL AND ITS VALUE TO AN ORGANISATION

 

CULTURAL CAPITAL AND ITS VALUE TO AN ORGANISATION

If an organisation’s Purpose is its general direction of travel, then Culture governs everyday decision making in the business when the CEO is not in the room. Positive cultures are valuable because they create focus, enable innovation, productivity and cohesion and help attract and retain great people.

The next generation of talent; portfolio careerists, gig economy workers, freelancers and contractors  – those who are arguably most attracted to a great culture are becoming the hardest to get traction with because of increasing remote and agile working practices. Communicating, managing and measuring culture effectively in this environment is the next wave of competitive advantage.

On 15 May we asked author and strategist John Grant, (Better – Wellbeeing and the human-friendly business, Unbound, March 2018), to lead a discussion on Cultural Capital* which we defined as the value of culture to an organisation. He was joined by Yvonne Smyth, Group Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Hays plc, whose annual survey of 14,000 people ‘What Workers Want’ reveals how many people value culture more highly than remuneration.  Dineshi Ramesh, Director, Board Intelligence Academy provided insights on how Boards struggle with the issue of culture when it comes to how it is reported, and Kevin May, founder of Seattle based consultancy Sticks LLC, contributed insights from his research into ‘The Office of the Future’ which examines the role of the physical environment on culture.

Watch some of their insights here.

* (with a little nod to Bordieu),

GONG HONOURED IN ‘BEST FOR THE WORLD’ B CORP LIST

 

GONG HONOURED IN ‘BEST FOR THE WORLD’ B CORP LIST

B Corp has today released a list of its ‘Best for the World’ honorees based on its top scoring community members. Gong Communications is one of just 12 UK B Corps who made it into the ‘workers’ category.

To be a Best For The World: Workers honoree, a company is assessed for its relationship with its workforce. The B Impact Assessment Workers category measures how the company treats its workers through compensation, benefits, training and ownership opportunities provided to workers. The category also focuses on the overall work environment within the company by assessing management/worker communication, job flexibility, corporate culture, and worker health and safety practices.

Commenting on the news, Amanda Lyons, Director at Gong responsible for people said, “The importance of attracting and keeping great people can’t be overestimated when it comes to running a successful communications agency so this honour is particularly welcome as we have worked hard to build a positive culture and environment that reflects our belief in the pivotal role of our people.”

GONG TO MENTOR GREENTECH CHALLENGE ENVIRONMENTAL ENTREPRENEURS

 

GONG TO MENTOR GREENTECH CHALLENGE ENVIRONMENTAL ENTREPRENEURS

On Thursday 14 June, GreenTech Challenge will open its doors in London to the latest cohort of 12 carefully selected environmentally focused businesses to help them meet their dream potential investors.

The event is the brainchild of three Danes who share a vision for a greener and more sustainable world and a mission to help digital disruptors gain traction in terms of finance and professional advice that will help them accelerate their success. Gong is one of the firms mentoring entrepreneurs in how to build profile that supports their business ambition, from attracting the right investors to landing the right messages with potential clients.

The event takes place over 3 days with 1-on-1 training culminating in pitching in front of industry VIPs and investors on June 19.

Commenting on the partnership, Gong’s Founder, MD Narda Shirley said, “Talk to anyone who is involved in sustainability and they will tell you that it is human ingenuity in areas like the circular economy and blockchain in supply chains that will help ensure that we find solutions to mitigate climate change. We are super excited to be able to share our knowledge with these important entrepreneurs whose innovations may hold the key to a sustainable future.”

www.greentechchallenge.eu