“Some people say that tackling societal issues is a ‘nice thing to do’. We say that for business it’s mission critical.”
This message from our co-chair Sacha Romanovitch at IMPACT19 – held on Thursday May 9th at County Hall – was clear: it’s time for cross-sector collaboration to end social exclusion.
IMPACT19 was the Inclusive Economy Partnership’s inaugural forum, which brought together leaders from across business, civil society and government, to discuss ways of working together to address some of the major social and economic problems our society is facing.
Over the course of the day, 150 attendees discussed one central question: how can we work together to build a society fit for today and tomorrow?
Following a powerful spoken word opening from Supa Network’s Louis Baptiste, Inclusive Economy Partnership co-chair Oliver Dowden MP (Minister for Implementation) took to the stage, where he told the standing-room-only audience that “as a government we recognise we can play a unique role in bringing together business and civil society.”
His co-chairs built on this rousing opening, with Sacha’s aforementioned call to action preceding a big question from Mark Norbury (CEO, UnLtd): “Are we radical enough? Are we visionary enough as businesses to address these big social issues?”
This set the tone for a series of empowering and engaging keynotes addresses and discussions throughout the day from our external speakers, including the Secretary of State for Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Wright, who called for businesses to recognise the social contract they have with communities: “Businesses are recognising that they must contribute to solving the big issues in society today,” adding, “you cannot have an inclusive economy without a diverse workforce”
The Minister spoke ahead of an engaging panel featuring actor and activist Michael Sheen, co-founder of ImpactHub Birmingham Imandeep Kaur, Business in the Community vice-president Dame Julia Cleverdon, University of Buckingham vice-chancellor Sir Anthony Seldon, Sage Foundation VP Debbie Wall, and City Mental Health Alliance vice-chair Beth Robotham.
The in-depth discussion, which sought to understand experiences from the front line relating to the Inclusive Economy Partnership’s three core challenge areas – financial inclusion & capability, mental health, and transition to work for young people – saw Sir Anthony criticise the education system for not nurturing workplace skills: “We have narrowed down education, sold off playing fields, closed down arts for school heads to get promotion prospects through exam results. It is a factory education system with children told all they are is their exam results.”
It was a strong message, which opened up the discussion to possible solutions. Imandeep called on the world to face up to oncoming challenges: “Over the next decade we are going to see unprecedented shifts in the challenges we face together as society, so the most important thing is unlocking humanity to step into that.”
Dame Julia meanwhile praised the progress in the conversation around mental health in the last fifty years, and Michael Sheen emphasised that change could only come about if those at the top listened to the most vulnerable in civil society: “The engine room of change comes from the people excluded from the economy. It’s the same in any business where boardrooms who exclude their employees miss out on being an efficient business.”
“Life’s hard,” he added, “let’s help each other.”
The forum also showcased the high impact partnerships created in year 1 of the Inclusive Economy Partnership with spotlights on the social innovators and their corporate partners. The dynamic session was praised by many as a real testament to the depth of the mutually beneficial collaborations created.
This inspired further ideas for three breakout sessions on the day’s themes: financial inclusion & capability, mental health, and transition to work for young people. Each one asked our attendees to suggest solutions to nutty problems within each challenge area. Suggested solutions included auto-enrolment for savings, mental health risks assessments, and reframing the school curriculum to allow for more work experience opportunities.
The day concluded with two more fascinating sessions. First, Edie Lush sat down in conversation with Imagine co-founders Paul Polman and Valerie Keller. Paul, one of Europe’s foremost purpose-driven leaders, explained that while necessary change in society was happening, it was happening too slowly: “We have to believe in the goodness of people, but collectively we are not achieving what we want to. We have become too short term in our expectations and do not have the time to look at the underlying causes.”
Finally, The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy delivered a closing keynote with one final call to action: for every business to be a social enterprise: “That is not incompatible with commercial success, it is the foundation of it and I think that penny is dropping all over the world.”