The pandemic has changed the game.

Responses from governments, private philanthropy, and some businesses to the COVID-19 pandemic have been swift and decisive, demonstrating what can be achieved when a crisis breaks.

Looking beyond the immediate threats to people’s lives and livelihoods, inequalities in society—money, security, health, and having a voice—have widened. In the post pandemic world, we face ongoing crises that are longer term, systemic, complex and difficult to solve.

Governments are at full stretch; private philanthropy is already committed. Corporate business looks under-represented in tackling these more lasting of society’s problems.

What are we in business for anyway?

Few CEOs would agree they do the job mainly because they are passionate about banking, say, or road haulage, or disinfectant. Even for those who lead businesses with a long history, it is not often pride in the product or service itself that appeals, but the wider impact of the business on people’s lives. Or put another way, the contribution that business makes to society.

Corporate leadership already recognises that business relies on a healthy environment, a resilient society and with governance functioning well. Many use CSR and ESG models to make substantial contributions to charity and to improving the sustainability of their operations. In environmental matters, performance measures are well established, and companies can be held to account.

To address the social inequalities which the pandemic has deepened, takes more than charitable action. A different approach is needed, one that must speak to the core values of every business.

A different approach is needed, one that must speak to the core values of every business.

We call itcorporate philanthropy.

Corporate Philanthropy differs from CSR activity or ESG compliance in that it provides a strategic platform for establishing the engagement of the corporate with society.

Why think philanthropically? The philanthropic sector has an established track record of effective interventions in society’s systemic problems, acting independently or in collaboration with governments, business and Non-Farm Payroll (NFP) organisations. Its focus on root causes rather than symptoms (more often the preserve of the charity sector) provides a parallel for the way corporates might reconsider their social engagement strategy.

Most significantly, this is not a compliance issue, but one of purpose. It is a constructive way to re-examine the role of the business and its potential to be a force for good well beyond, but not incompatible with the narrower definitions of existing programmes.

More than measurement,more than money

Just as there is more to Corporate Philanthropy than CSR or ESG, it also has a wider potential application. Rather than being defined by monetary contribution, it is about throwing the weight of the business behind a social agenda.

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Finding the balance thatbrings the benefit

Engaging philanthropically with stakeholders and communities could become a valuable component of a business’s strategic and competitive position. We have already seen the impact of social and environmental policy on investor opinion. We might expect much the same of the next generation of talent, whose interest and critical judgement on these issues is heightened—they are sure to converge on companies who express their values convincingly.

Corporate Philanthropy is an opportunity for cementing the purpose of the business and its position in relation to society. It represents a meaningful shift in thinking and a source of tangible benefit, not only for the corporate, but its people and all people.

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