Responsible business requires new standards
A broader sense of purpose is welcome but needs to be measured
Reinventing business for the long-term is a far from easy task, as my last 15 years as a volunteer change-maker proves. At long last there seems to be a growing acceptance among business leaders of the need to broaden the pursuit of shareholder value to one that is based on inclusivity, sustainability and purpose. Hitherto, attempts to confront the problem have only been skin deep. Adding the label “purpose”, or “a social value mark” onto existing corporate models will not be enough. Here at Counter Community we are not afraid to announce that the change will begin in Burslem — one of the most left-behind high streets in Britain. A new corporate cooperative structure is being created to take our region’s responsible businesses in this new direction and to showcase the business art of the business possible.
Today’s leaders need to be aware that the younger generation of entrepreneurs value purpose, the environment, good governance and social justice, more than their older forebears. These young entrepreneurs will be given the option to join a cooperative business model that suits those broader objectives better than their for-profit alternatives. The company of the future will not necessarily look like the company of today.
What remains one of the biggest challenges of all, however, is how to measure something as nebulous as “purpose”. How should performance be measured? And how can that performance be understood by ordinary people so that they can play their part in producing it? A range of initiatives already exists in the form of ESG standard-setters, including the Global Reporting Initiative and the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures. While the aims of many ESG campaigners are certainly — to say the least — lofty, standard-setters should focus on what is realistically possible: what is needed are standards that everyone agrees on and that can serve as benchmarks for comparison — both internally and externally.
Which is why we ground our purpose and define it as “volunteer contributions to our community”, as measured in hours. That is our definition and that is our standard. When each of the seven towns across North Staffordshire begin measuring their own contributions we’ll be able to transparently rank which towns contribute the most. It is the job of our community representatives to ensure that the standard of work performed by the volunteer continually improves. That is their job. Enshrining this purpose in the Objects clause of a new Community Benefit Society and addending a number of social, business, environmental and heritage, yes heritage, goals is a task sitting in the in-tray of Annette Francis and Dave Proudlove, before being shared with the ever-present Alex Phillips.
What gets measured gets done. It also gets valued and then it gets tokenised so that the value of the choice to contribute time, rather than waste it, isn’t just unlocked but is stored — making such tokens tradable.
There are plenty of businesses that have redundant capacity within their operating models. Empty seats on buses; off-peak at the gym; quiet times for the hairdressers, tattoo artists, nail-bars, will- and copy-writers, conveyancers and so on and so forth. All of them want more business. What if the token gave them a way of disguising their discount to attract more business? And simultaneously signalled a new, more inclusive, more sustainable and more purposeful way of doing business?
This is the kind of thinking that has many of the neo-banks interested in the payment network we have in mind. But more on that another day.
For now though, North Staffs has an opportunity to set and showcase the standards for what responsible business is and does, simply by measuring contributions to the community using a token that operates as a universal credit standard for local action.
Transparent public ranking across the seven towns…and their businesses? Giving the bean-counters some meaningful numbers to count…?
Is it Game-on time?