Last week, hidden amongst the din of constitutional debate, we learnt that child poverty in Scotland has risen sharply in the last year.
One in four children across the country are now waking up in accommodation that is overcrowded or cold, without enough food to support their health and development, without the right clothes and possessions to get through the school day, and without any hope that things will change.
Shockingly, 70% of these children’s parents are in work. Fifteen years ago that figure was 48%. The austerity policies of the last few years, designed to bring the budget deficit down for the benefit of our children’s futures, are damaging children’s lives in Scotland today.
For people who work with families experiencing poverty, the rise in child poverty figures was no surprise. Last week I learned from a source working with the Scottish Government that the complicated welfare administration system has now led us to a situation where 98% of all benefit sanction appeals are granted. We get it wrong 98% of the time.
But this isn’t just government’s problem. We have a responsibility as business leaders, parents and citizens to play our part in turning this around and giving hope back to children who feel like they don’t matter.
We need to hold on to our ambition for our children and, as Karyn McCluskey, Chief Executive of Community Justice Scotland said this week at the Shelter Scotland Homelessness Conference, that means being equally ambitious for a neighbour and a stranger.
Notably, there was no representation from the private sector at that conference, and I couldn’t help feeling that the absence of business people in the room removed an entrepreneurial approach to solving the complex problem of homelessness that we really, really need.
In my role working with community engagement and third sector organisations for Charlotte Street Partners, I am constantly inspired by businesses and organisations that have vision and ambition to spare.
More and more businesses are telling me that CSR, as we know it, is dead, because it never really goes further than the shaking of a tin and an annual impact report from the chosen charity.
Whenever you ask, CEOs will say they they want to get closer to the action. Crucially, they want to engage with a cause that aligns with their company’s values.
All businesses have values but, in my experience, many of the C-suite struggle to bring them up in conversation without looking sheepish. But being bashful about what we believe isn’t good for company culture, so the more your values can be brought to life with tangible outcomes, the more your culture will begin to reflect your values.
The kind of high impact community engagement I always advise is one where businesses commit their knowledge and relationships to a single cause, safe in the knowledge that we have mapped out strategic benefits for both parties before we begin. It has to be a relationship of equals between the charity and the business, where skills and experiences are shared openly.
A successful community engagement journey embeds the business’s values by engaging employees, supporting employee retention by increasing happiness and job satisfaction and, most importantly, making people feel good about their work because they have done something extraordinary for somebody who needed it.
As well as working with corporates, I help put charities together with the right business partners. A small social enterprise that has led the field in corporate partnership since 2009 is Street Soccer Scotland. Corporate partners are welcomed into the organisation and invited to help upskill staff and volunteers, fundraise, take part in their own football tournaments and join in the business club which offers networking opportunities for all the corporate partners.
Because of the organisation’s success in accessing the private sector, it has managed to avoid the need for funding from local authority contracts and has been able to stay faithful to its mission of offering free football to disadvantaged people across Scotland. It punches above its weight because of the support of the private sector which delivers its marketing, pays for its office HQ and, crucially, talks about Street Soccer Scotland and the great work it does to other influential businesses and individuals.
I know that this is just one example of the many thousands of charities across Scotland carrying out incredible, transformative work against the odds and in the face of growing need. I also know that only 40% of UK charities work with the private sector.
This is one statistic that needs to rise over the coming year.