Written by Vice President, Sean Murray.
Over the past few years, the British Chamber has gone from strength to strength with a fast growing membership and an expanding variety of activities and events. This success has been due to a sharp focus on developing and delivering business value for the membership. The chamber’s premises and secretariat are now professional and business-like in line with the standards expected by its members.
But the chamber’s growth in size, reach and influence has brought different demands. Members and other stakeholders look closely not just at the hard, ‘bottom-line’ results but, increasingly, have other expectations of a ‘softer’ but no less important nature. They want to know about our values, what the organisation represents and they want to feel comfortable and good about being associated with the chamber. And the better they feel, the more solid is the chamber’s basis for continued success
In short, we are talking about CSR – and social responsibility. Over the past six months I’ve been leading an effort to examine this important aspect with the invaluable help and support of members of both Council and the secretariat.
What does it all mean?
We’ve avoided the temptation to over-reach by launching a fully-fledged CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility Programme. We are not a corporation. We are a Chamber – more of a club than a company. So we’ve tried to keep things simple and, in our case, it is called Chamber Social Responsibility. We’ve defined that as meaning activities and behaviours which are:
• Good for society and others
• Good for the Chamber’s reputation and profile
• Good for how current and prospective members feel about the Chamber
We decided we needed to do three simple things to decide a way forward:
• Review current and planned activities
• Brainstorm new ideas
• Decide whether it would help to have a coherent, long-term theme/strategy
What has the Chamber done?
It quickly became clear that, over the years, the chamber and its members have been very active in supporting organisations doing charitable work or promoting worthwhile causes. To name just a few, the Brussels Charity Bake-Off has raised funds for YouthStart, a charity focused on helping young persons from low-income backgrounds secure employment. The Brussels New Generation organised a charity lunch raising over €5000 for the Japanese Red Cross following the earthquake/tsunami. Chamber staff give their time regularly to help the Little Sisters of the Poor (littlesistersofthepoor.org). The chamber has also worked closely with the European Youth Forum and patron member, Microsoft, to promote best practice in the employment of interns and awareness of the European Charter for Quality Internships.
What will change?
Let’s talk about what will not change. All of these excellent charitable initiatives came from chamber and those who wanted to make a difference. It was agreed quickly that the chamber would not seek to define a single area for such activities. As in the past, the chamber will continue to support charitable work wherever its members want the chamber’s involvement and where time and resources are available.
But we also recognised that we needed to change two important things. The first was to do a better job of communicating to members and key stakeholders about the chamber’s good work. This will be built into the chamber’s new communications strategy.
The second was to identify a central theme of social responsibility where the chamber’s involvement could be credible, long-term, could make a real difference and become a recognisable part of the chamber’s identity. Critically, it was decided that this theme must be relevant to governments, policy-makers and business audiences alike. And that the Chamber should be active not just on policy but on the ground locally in the Brussels community.
Youth employment was chosen as it fits all the key criteria.
We believe our involvement is credible since the chamber itself employs so many young people and because our members are major employers not just in Europe but globally. For some years now we have been building partnerships with organisations like the European Youth Forum and YouthStart.
There is intense political and societal interest in the issue at EU, national and local levels. Little surprise given that, on average across the EU, 25% of young people seeking employment do not have a job. To succeed in the competitive global marketplace, Europe needs to foster its young talent, making sure they have the skills, opportunity and guidance to succeed.
To generate political and corporate action to address these issues, the chamber will make youth employment the theme and charitable beneficiary of the inaugural Ambassadors’ Gala scheduled for October 2015 (www.ambassadorsgala.be). Our youth organisation partners will be centrally involved in planning this event. We hope the Gala will act to link the chamber in people’s minds with the promotion of work opportunities for young people.
And we will be expanding the range and extent of our support to local Brussels organisations dedicated to helping young people into the workplace.
You’ll be hearing more over the months to come.