Achieving the Big Society

Your feature on coalition collaborations (MW 20 January) raised some interesting issues where the Big Society is concerned. Although I agree that it will take more than a voucher scheme to convince critics of their worth, the point that businesses and society need each other cannot be ignored.

I agree with the views of Michael Porter, of The Harvard Business School, on the role of business in society. He argues for a focus on shared value – the creation of value for the business where the individual and society also benefit directly from the sale of the product. In layman’s terms, he wants more businesses to ask whether their product is actually good for the consumer and how could it be made better for them. Food products that contribute to healthy living are an obvious example of this but the thinking applies to many areas.

However, CSR activities can often seem like a sticking plaster on a gaping wound, allowing companies to feel good about themselves while
doing little to shift the business towards a true and sustainable contribution to society. In fact, many corners of society are starting to question whether big business is a legitimate societal institution – just look at the current loathing of certain banks and oil companies.

Companies have a vital role to play in making individuals, economies and the planet healthier and happier – they have the budgets and experience needed to change behaviour. But many need to rethink their approach to value creation. The consumer benefit of many products needs to evolve so that consumers can again trust the inner motivations of businesses.

Steven Dodds
Joint head of planning

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