Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Once upon a time ........

I listened to a BBC Radio 4 programme on Saturday 17th February that discussed social enterprises and the use of storytelling. On the panel were: Dame Anita Roddick, formerly of The Body Shop, Lizzie Vann, Chairman, Organix, Fiona Reynolds, Director-General, The National Trust and Tim Smit, Chief Executive of The Eden Project.

After a lively debate about the definition of a ‘social enterprise’, it was agreed that social enterprises went above and beyond what Anita Roddick referred to as ‘cheque book charity’ – whereby a % of profits are donated to charitable causes or reinvested into foundations or trusts. Anita referred to a social enterprise as having a social purpose; bringing benefits to the community and driven by values.

The panel went on to say that 40% of today’s young people do not want to work for corporations but are seeking meaning and purpose from their work and claimed that our economy is evolving into a ‘moral economy’, or capitalism with a conscience. This is all very well, the panel agreed, but would people be willing to invest in a social enterprise? Is it likely that there would ever be a social enterprise arm to the stock exchange?

Claiming that business reflects society, the panel put forward the view that the next generation of employees can expect more honesty, transparency and meaning from their working lives – already reflected in some way through values-driven social responsibility programmes.

Another way to reflect the original values of a company is by the use of story-telling. Brands now have stories; individuals now have stories (personal branding). Anita Roddick is apparently The BodyShop storyteller – keeping the original purpose of the company alive by telling a story about how she rolled up to her bank, with a T-shirt on and two kids in tow, to try to get the original investment for her idea. Lizzie Vann said that the history of ingredients or of the farmers life-stories, have been key to the success of organic food consumption.

Bringing anecdotes, humour and ‘person-hood’ into brands humanises business, the panel concluded.

For more information on our social responsibility programmes and coaching programmes, which use story-telling to elicit values and develop personal brands, please see our services page on our main website.

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