By Brian Chernett, Founder, The Academy For Chief Executives

The Coalition Government under David Cameron has been in power for just about a year now. One of the key ideas in the Conservative manifesto which also made it into the Coalition Agreement is the ‘Big Society’.

Given the first year’s emphasis on deficit reduction and the political fallout from severe constrictions in public spending followed by plans for enabling private sector led recovery and growth, apart from some sniping from opposition parties, Big Society is still largely neglected and misunderstood.

What is clear is that the Government see localism and community action as being important to their plans for growth. The ‘third sector’ — neither public nor private — is populated by charities, social enterprises, voluntary bodies and community groups. All of them have a need for money and time in order to achieve their aims, some of which may be contracted services that once were part of the public sector.

How does this Big Society affect CEOs of private businesses? Is there anything new about the provision of essential services by essentially voluntary bodies. Safety at sea, for example, has long been supported by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, a charity staffed, especially at the operational front line, by volunteers.

Businesses, of all sizes, have traditionally given to charities. It is part of what is increasingly referred to as CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) or simply ‘giving back’. At a time when businesses are tightening their belts and keeping their eyes on the rough economic weather ahead, it is easy to forget that charities and communities still need help and support. In some cases they need it more than they have ever needed it as support from public sector sources begins to dwindle.

Business engagement, especially when it goes beyond money and becomes more hands on, gives benefits in both directions. Charities and community groups get good quality people that they can use to develop what they do and to do it more effectively. Good business leadership skills are important to third sector bodies, especially those that are being asked to do more with less as so many are at present. (I explore leadership and Big Society in a separate article in this newsletter).

Businesses also gain from the exchange. It can provide a good reference to the ethics and values of the business and it allows you to develop and grow your people in situations outside of the normal business environment that stretches and grows their skills. You also get to support a good cause which can do wonders for business morale.

For professional services firms, there are key roles for skilled practitioners like lawyers and accountants to take as new organisations are formed that will need more guidance. For example, in the education sector, as schools become Academies, they also become charities and need good professional leadership and management. The same is likely to be true for the ‘pathfinder mutuals’ and Social Enterprises that are being developed to take on roles that were previously public sector run.

Many of these new entities will be formed in an atmosphere of excitement and good intent but unless they are properly constituted, advised and supported, they will fail.
So now is not a good time for businesses to turn their attention away from the third sector, the Big Society. Then skills the sector increasingly needs are already in your business. It is a social responsibility (as opposed to CSR) of businesses to support their communities. It shows the human side of the business whilst also paying the business back for the effort.

Done well it can be a win/win. How else would you do it?

Brian Chernett is the founder of The Academy for Chief Executives and Chairman of Academy Group ACE2. Having stepped down as Chief Executive of the Academy, Brian is now developing his own coaching and mentoring business – Wisdom Forums - for senior executives and building a new charity, The Ella Foundation, to coach and mentor Chief Executives in Charities and not for profit business.

Watch the video below featuring Brain Chernett, Founder of The Academy For Chief Executives, discussing three top tips for a sustainable growth in your business


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