“Businesses should be a force for good” – how Calor is approaching CSR through the Calor Rural Community Fund
By Andy Parker, Head of Marketing, Calor
Corporate. Social. Responsibility. These three words have become commonplace in our business language and are now synonymous with an organisation’s ability to deliver positive outcomes for its wider stakeholder community, outside of its contractual obligations to its customers.
Sounds pretty impressive doesn’t it? It also sounds pretty complicated and I prefer to look at it in simpler terms. CSR should really be about business being a force for good. I believe it really is no more complicated than that. Regardless of size or sector, CSR recognises that all companies can play a positive role in supporting their local communities.
And this can translate in many different ways. From environmental initiatives that protect our habitats, to ‘buying local’ in order to maintain supply chains and employment opportunities, to charitable donations, right through to the simple giving of time and expertise to an emerging business start-up.
Yet, with so many opportunities for businesses to contribute to wider society, how can we be certain that these contributions are meaningful and making a positive and lasting difference? Community engagement simply for the sake of the next CSR report isn’t necessarily the best approach to take!
Here at Calor, it’s a question we had to ask ourselves. Our operations take us in to the heart of many rural communities and we are familiar with the challenges they face; whether it is accessing vital infrastructure services such as public transport, the growing impact of rural youth migration or simply, finding adequate broadband provision! Our Start from the Heart Programme has already made some positive in-roads in this area, enabling our staff to donate their time to help a local project that matters to their community.
But we also recognise that each community is different, with unique needs and challenges and, if we are to support the people that live and work in these areas, we need to be able to adapt to their circumstances.
It is why this year, we launched our Rural Community Fund on a nationwide scale. Following the successful pilot of the campaign in 2017, we rolled out the Fund across the whole of England, Scotland and Wales, providing £50,000 worth of grant funding to support local projects in off-grid locations.
It would have been easy to set the scheme up on our own terms, specifying precisely the types of projects we were willing to fund and deciding among ourselves which were successful. But we felt that approach was in opposition to the real ethos of CSR, and did not focus on those projects which could really make a lasting difference.
We therefore structured the scheme with a number of qualifying criteria, with the two standout requirements being the impact of the project and its sustainability. These looked at areas such as the project’s reach, its appeal to a wide cross-section of society, and importantly, that it would stand the test of time beyond the initial funding.
Moreover, we also built the scheme around the applicants; encouraging them to enter their project on line and most importantly, using their collective, community ‘power’ to get local people behind their project and voting. This year alone, we had 216 projects submitted and more than 182,600 votes cast – a real testament to the effect of local, community engagement.
The projects with the most votes then went through a shortlisting phase… and last week, as we approached the final judging stage and live unveiling of our winners, we had the difficult choice of selecting winners from all the very worthy applications we have received. To help ensure we remained objective, we proudly worked with an independent judging panel, which included supporters from Rural England, Business in the Community and the mental health charity, Mind to ensure that the winning projects chosen were those that will have the biggest impact. If you missed our announcement, you can watch it here.
This is just one example of how ‘big business’ can try to be a force for good. There are many more and with our CSR hats on, it’s worth remembering that the even the smallest gesture can sometimes make the biggest impact. Making it meaningful – and making it work – are the key ingredients for CSR success.