Despite the fact that it was a Tuesday night and a by all accounts thrilling sporting occasion was taking place in Brazil, 1,400 people from organisations of all sizes and sectors across the UK, gathered in London's Royal Albert Hall earlier this week. They weren't there to catch a show, or hear a recital. Instead, along with HRH The Prince of Wales and his sons The Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry, they came to be inspired by the positive impact of business.
All year round Business in the Community works with businesses who understand their contract with society and demonstrate this in how they run their businesses. Yet we all know, from conversations with friends and flicking through rolling news channels, that the public and much of the mainstream media seem to remain oblivious to these actions.
The Responsible Business Gala Dinner is a personal calendar highlight because it gives a platform to celebrate business at its best. The dinner, which announced the winners of the 2014 Responsible Business Awards, painted an encouraging picture of the breadth of the responsible business agenda and the willingness of business to tackle challenges and make a lasting difference in our communities and to society.
Reflecting back on the evening, there is much that we can learn from.
Firstly, each of the 15 winning companies highlight that being a responsible business can also be a key driver for business performance. Take Anglian Water, whose clever customer engagement campaign has both changed behaviour for the better and saved £7million in the cost of unblocking drains. Or EE which has not only invigorated its call centre business by bringing in young apprentices, but has saved £2.7 million in recruitment costs in the process. Responsible business goes far beyond philanthropy, it adds value back to the business and is increasingly central to businesses that want to survive, and thrive. An important message that I believe will encourage even more responsible practice.
Secondly, effective leadership is at the heart of this movement and underpins the success and impact of the businesses we celebrate. Chief executives who understand that responsible business is integral to long term success will drive a culture of responsibility throughout their organisation and support and encourage employees to develop the programmes that make a real difference.
For example, if you were to ask Steve Holiday, chief executive of Responsible Business of the Year 2014 National Grid, why he champions responsible business he will tell you it's because there is no other way to do business. Supporting young talent isn't, in his words, 'fluffy'. Instead, doing so not only addresses the social impact of the youth employment problem, it also brings talented employees into the business and the wider sector that will help it meet long term business needs.
Lastly I left Tuesday's dinner with a renewed sense of the crucial importance of talent to our communities and economy.
One of the most powerful ways for business to bring about change is through creating employment opportunities that nurture talent which is why celebrating talent was such a powerful theme . From the young apprentices handing brochures to guests on arrival, the powerful spoken word of young George the Poet, to the announcement by Jaguar Land Rover CEO Dr Ralf Speth of his plans to provide opportunities for skilled returning ex-servicemen. The evening was a timely reminder that talent is the engine of growth and innovation which struck a real chord with the gathered business audience - in fact I have already received offers of employment for returning service personnel from a number of Business in the Community member companies.
The 2014 award winners are a snapshot of the outstanding contribution of business. They were selected from a wider group of 159 leading companies that have collectively supported over 400,000 young people to find employment, saving society £24.6m. 80% of these companies have embedded environmental sustainability into their core products and services.
Of course the ultimate aim would be for this agenda to be so embedded into mainstream business behaviour that eventually, awards that hold up responsible business won't need to exist.
But for now, there is still progress to be made. We want many more businesses to join the move to creating an enhanced contract with society and harness the influence and reach of their businesses to tackle key issues. In return businesses will unlock innovation, growth and long term opportunities. It's a win-win and it's time that every business recognised this.