Michael Carey: Irish business leaders rise to challenge of giving a little to make big difference
Post-Celtic Tiger, firms want to create more than just wealth – a positive social impact is their goal
THE Irish business community has the potential to leave a real and meaningful positive impact on society, if more business leaders sign up to a commitment to make a 1% Difference.
Many Irish business leaders have already recognised the need and the benefits of 'giving back', of making a positive impact on society. It never fails to amaze me that so many members of the Irish business community respond so well to the endless demands on their resources and time.
Some business leaders make huge commitment, providing funds, expertise and resources to numerous needy causes at home and in many far-flung countries. If every business were to get involved, the potential impact is vast.
The launch of the 1% Difference campaign (www.onepercentdifference.ie) has come at a great time. It encourages more business leaders to get involved, to respond to the calls for assistance, to make socially responsible corporate behaviour part of the DNA of how they run their firms.
I have worked with some very impressive Irish business leaders in Uganda, members of the board of Traidlinks. They have responded to a request from the Department of Foreign Affairs to find ways that the Irish private sector can contribute to Irish Aid efforts to progress development of some of the world's most underdeveloped countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
There is a need for more sustainable investment, to help build the economies of these countries, providing livelihoods.
Irish businesses such as Tullow Oil, the Healy Group, Barry's Tea and Bewleys have all provided input towards the strengthening of the Ugandan economy, establishing new businesses and transferring skills from Ireland to Ugandan SMEs. The expertise within these Irish businesses can add to and enhance the efforts of the professionals who work in development.
By engaging with our Ugandan business and government counterparts, gaining insights into their needs, a number of projects have been effectively implemented. Business has a real and meaningful role to play in this process.
I have visited Haiti many times in the past seven years, since a group of finalists in the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award decided to establish The Soul of Haiti Foundation.
Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, a country hit by numerous natural disasters including hurricanes, outbreaks of cholera and the devastating earthquake in January 2010.
A group of around 25 Irish entrepreneurs has established a number of very impressive initiatives, aiming to improve the lives of the Haitian communities and build sustainable livelihoods.
A model farm is now established employing 16 people and teaching best practice agriculture and farming methods. A bakery in the slum area of St Martin in Port au Prince has been refurbished. An enterprise centre has been built and solar panels provided to a remote fishing village.
The orphanage on the island of Ile a Vache has been entirely transformed, applying Irish skills and resources in areas such as medical practice, construction, professional management and education. Irish businesses such as Beacon Medical, Ion Equity, Country Crest, H&K Kitchens, Grant Engineering, Bowen Construction, the Gift Voucher Shop and many more have made enormous contributions of time, resources and funds.
Here at home, the Irish food industry has established a programme called Food for Simon, aiming to meet the food needs of the Simon Community, for the Simon Soup Run and the food supply to their homeless hostels.
In the past three years almost €1m of food has been supplied by businesses such as Valeo Food Group, Nestle, Kellogg's, Boyne Valley, Tayto Largo and BWG Foods.
The commitment of all these businesses is enormous. The best of them are as concerned about how they make the money they spend, as how they spend the money they make. For these businesses making a positive social contribution is a core element of their operation, it's not just about making a financial contribution.
Businesses such as Tullow Oil in Uganda and Digicel in Haiti have made an extraordinary impact, investing significant funds in building food supply chains and providing schools.
Former US President Bill Clinton has dedicated his life after politics to challenging businesses, NGOs and governments to work together, to address some of the world's most difficult issues. The Clinton Global Initiative has secured over 2,300 commitments from its members, impacting on 400 million people in 180 countries.
It shows that collaboration between these types of organisations can make an extraordinary impact. In Ireland, Traidlinks, Soul of Haiti and Food for Simon illustrate how business can join with NGOs, charities and political leaders to maximise impact.
There are real business benefits to making a positive social contribution; it helps to establish better customer/supplier relationships and it is a hugely motivating activity for many employees who often demand that their employers are socially aware and ethical.
The extent of engagement of Irish business leaders is impressive. It seems that, as we recover from the more damaging elements of the Celtic Tiger economy, business leaders are expressing a need to achieve more than just the creation of personal wealth. They want to make a positive social impact.
The private sector has much to offer. Giving just 1% of time or resources can make a real impact. If all businesses in Ireland committed to making a 1% Difference, the impact we could collectively make is limitless.
I would urge all business leaders to join in the journey that the Irish business sector has already begun, to make the 1% Difference.
Michael Carey is executive chair of The Company of Food. He also chairs Traidlinks, The Soul of Haiti Foundation and is a member of the Clinton Global Initiative