The role of business in society is changing. Gone are the days of set piece ‘corporate social responsibility’ with a ‘day out of the office’ resulting in community halls getting smaller and smaller with every layer of corporate paint applied. Businesses are moving towards a more sustainable approach: investing in activities and programmes rooted in the specific issues of the communities we operate in, and expanding the definition of ‘value’ to include social and environmental returns over the long term.
Our experience in Accenture over recent years is one example of the corporate citizenship journey many companies are on.
Rewind five years or so. Back in 2008, the corporate citizenship team managed a set of voluntary sector relationships and programmes with a group of charities, focused on issues ranging from homelessness to carbon reduction and healthcare. Corporate citizenship was a standing issue for our UK board, and we invested heavily through pro bono consulting, grants and by giving each employee three days a year to use their time and skills to volunteer; a very satisfactory scenario for any business seeking to engage responsibly in the UK. And yet, the following five years have seen a very significant overhaul in our approach to corporate citizenship in the UK and globally.
We have gone from engaging the communities around us via a set of disparate relationships which developed organically, often through personal connections, to a strategic approach which aligns with a global corporate vision set by Accenture and guided by the needs of the communities in which we work.
What does that mean? In 2009 Accenture launched Skills to Succeed, a global corporate citizenship approach focused on a single challenge: to advance employment and entrepreneurship. Reflecting the age-old adage ‘what gets measured gets done’ we set ourselves an ambitious goal: to equip 250,000 people around the world with the skills to get a job or build a business by 2015. We have made great progress, skilling more than 500,000 people and subsequently raising the bar to 700,000.
Setting a clear global goal was significant as it focused us on a single objective. Even more significant was challenging each of our businesses around the world to determine what Skills to Succeed would mean in the context of their local marketplace and what relevant responses would look like.
In the UK, we opted for a focus on youth unemployment. Given the scale of the need (one in five young people are unemployed, with a projected cost to the country of £28bn over the coming decade), we knew that any intervention we made needed to be replicable, scalable, and would convene key players around this national issue rather than see us working in silos. In short, we needed to do something different!
An example of this new approach is our Skills to Succeed Academy, a free, highly interactive, online training programme helping young people to build skills and confidence to find and sustain employment. Using a mix of media and technologies, gaming techniques, innovative behavioural learning approaches and, most importantly, developed in partnership with a large number of charities and other employability experts, we have created a tool which helps young people through the entire job-seeking journey. Playing the role of the convener, our focus has been on achieving reach and scale by embedding the solution into the existing fabric of the UK’s employability support services across the public, private and voluntary sectors. So far so good - through our network of national delivery partners, including charities and public agencies, the Skills to Succeed Academy has already helped more than 7,500 young people to build critical employability skills and confidence. And it’s just the beginning.
So what have we learnt?
The Academy is succeeding because we focused on a single issue, because we stuck to doing what we do well, and because we invested heavily in cross sector collaboration to benefit from the expertise of others.
By combining our expertise in the development of learning and technology and using our convening power to bring together experts from across the employability sector, together, we are helping young people find jobs. The focus on a single, highly relevant socio-economic issue has allowed us to instigate new conversations with our clients about the role we must all play in helping to grow the UK, and is also a source of motivation for our employees who can see the visible impact their work is having. Building on what we do well has enabled us to develop new capabilities and credentials, and taking a broad approach to collaboration has allowed us to build new networks and relationships.
We are very proud of the Academy and its contribution to Accenture’s goal to give 700,000 people the skills to get a job or start a business by 2015, but this is not the end of the story for us. The expectations placed on businesses by employees, customers, governments and shareholders continue to evolve, and our responses must evolve with them. The challenge, and opportunity for business, is to continue to seek collaborative solutions that allow public, private and civil society interests to converge.
Writen by Camilla Drejer, Accenture