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The Good Small Business Programme

Garth Dallas, Head of Collaborations at The Good Business Festival, discusses the importance of a new initiative – The Good Small Business Programme – in helping build a fair and inclusive economy for Liverpool City Region

What is the Good Small Business Programme?

Last year saw the launch of The Good Business Festival (TGBF) which has been deeply engaged in leading the global movement on good business practices – with a real focus on Good and Purposeful Work.

This new programme is an extension of that principle – basically it’s a partnership project between The Good Business Festival and Growth Platform to establish a programme for SMEs in Liverpool City Region to help them better understand what it takes to be a ‘Good Business’ and to adapt to these principles in their own business and in doing so contribute to the economic objective of inclusive growth through Building Back Better.

It is aimed at creating a lasting legacy of TGBF via the development of a pathway for supporting eco-systems for ethical business in the Liverpool City Region.  TGBF is well placed to be the catalyst for this, linked to a far more ambitious strategy for supporting, sponsoring and nurturing “good business”.

What do we mean when we say a ‘good business’?

Clearly, there are a range of possible answers to this question.  TGBF doesn’t feel it’s up to us to define what makes a good business, we believe that’s something everyone needs to decide on together. That said, many definitions of good business are related to the following overarching themes:

1. Radical connection to society’s needs, goals and aspirations.

2. Placing purpose, planet and people, at least, on a par with profit, if not ahead of it (Quadruple bottom-line accounting).

3. Embracing new techniques, processes, methods, technologies for cleaner production, particularly in respect of decarbonising strategies.

Considerations of purpose, sustainability and the greening of all industrial sectors are at the heart of conversations about the present landscape and future for business, in all contexts and at every scale.  Good businesses value a more ethical, transparent and fairer society where people and our planet aren’t put at odds with business growth.

Good business practices are inevitably linked to the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. The SDGs – which were co-created with academic experts, business leaders and civil society advocates – are a rallying call for everyone, from nation states to corporations.

There are 17 SDGs in total, underpinned by a total of 169 targets which all countries have committed to reaching by 2030.

The SDGs offer all economic actors something that has been sorely lacking: a shared vision for the problems we must solve, and a common vocabulary for directing and describing progress. The SDGs represent an urgent call to action for business.

So how should business leaders respond to this call to action?

There are three possible approaches: defensive, selective, or holistic.

The first option is to defend the status quo: to tell a story about what the company is already doing on topics relating to the SDGs, rather than seeking out opportunities to change.

The second option is to be selective and focus on one or just a few of the 17 SDGs.

The selective approach is akin to the notion of Creating Shared Value, whereby a company looks for opportunities where its current business model happens to overlap with societal needs.

For example, a pharmaceutical company may choose to focus on SDG 3 – Good Health and Well-being – by making medicines that help people to live productive lives. Such efforts may indeed make a genuine contribution to SDG 3 – if the medicines are affordable and accessible to those who need them most.

But is that enough? What if manufacturing the medicines uses huge amounts of fresh water, and the production takes place in a water-stressed area? For local communities in that region, the company may actually be undermining SDG 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation.

That brings us to the third option: taking a holistic approach, to consider all of a company’s SDG impacts, both positive and negative, across the company’s value web.

No business decision is ever free of trade-offs. But if we take a systems approach – by looking at all interactions between the company and its suppliers, its customers, other socioeconomic actors, and the environment – it is possible to identify otherwise unforeseen issues. Negative trade-offs across the company’s value web can then be anticipated and avoided – or at the very least mitigated.

It’s about people rather than profit

Miguel Brockmann, who was President of the UN General Assembly from 2008-2009 puts it very well. He said: “The anti-values of greed, individualism and exclusion should be replaced by solidarity, common good and inclusion. The objective of our economic and social activity should not be the limitless, endless, mindless accumulation of wealth in a profit-centred economy but rather a people-centred economy that guarantees human needs, human rights, and human security, as well as conserves life on earth”.

He also said, “Economics, and indeed human civilization, can only be measured and calibrated in terms of human beings. Everything in economics has to be adjusted for people, first, and abandoning the illusory numerical analyses that inevitably put numbers ahead of people, capitalism ahead of democracy, and degradation ahead of compassion”.

An inherent assumption about capitalism is that profit is defined only in terms of monetary gain. This assumption is virtually unquestioned in most of the world. However, it is not a valid assumption.

A business enterprise must make monetary profit, or it will merely cease to exist. That is an absolute requirement. But it does not follow that this must necessarily be the final bottom line and the sole aim of the enterprise. How this profit is used is another question.

It is commonly assumed that profit will enrich enterprise owners and investors, which in turn gives them incentive to participate financially in the enterprise to start with.

That, however, is not the only possible outcome for use of profits.

Profits can be directly applied to help resolve a broad range of social problems: poverty relief, improving childcare, seeding scientific research for nationwide economic advancement, improving communications infrastructure and accessibility, for examples.

The same financial discipline required of any conventional for-profit business can be applied to projects with the primary aim of improving socioeconomic conditions.

We can build better working lives and workplaces for everyone in the City Region, if we learn the lessons the past few months have taught us and make the most of the new opportunities that present themselves.

We need to put people ahead of profit – PEOPLE are the most important pillar in any business organisation. Indeed, if you look after your people (staff) they will look after your customers. If they look after your customers, they will also look after your profits.

A new workplace contract to build more inclusive workplaces

So, to make the most of these lessons, businesses need to create a new workplace contract that reflects the dimensions of work that contribute to productivity, wellbeing and good employment relations.

This contract must make explicit promises about some of the core elements of the psychological contract, namely respect, compassion, fairness and, critically, trust.

Essentially, it is now accepted that we must address the following questions if we want to look at responsible business practices:

1.     How do we create a fair balance between flexibility and fairness?

2.     How do we build fairer, more inclusive workplaces?

3.     Can we make flexible work arrangements the norm?

4.     How do we balance the needs of employee wellbeing and business productivity?

5.     Can we accept that short and long-term conflict will emerge; prepare for it and see it as a creative force for positive change?

So how will the Good Small Business Programme help?

We want to help small businesses put these principles into practice – that is why we are currently reviewing the various models and business standards for good business and we will develop a preferred model for the Liverpool City Region.

In essence we want to harness the power of the Liverpool City Region’s growth sectors to help to revive and rebalance the City Region thereby creating a business environment where SMEs can grow and thrive to support regional communities and create good jobs.

Through the programme we aim to provide practical support for the many local small businesses that are keen to be “good businesses” – helping to put good practices in place in their business.

By the way, this link very well into various other progressive social policies which are being implemented in the City Region, including the Fair Employment Charter which aims to address the need for a new workplace contract mentioned earlier.

What next?

We are currently looking to recruit a small number of businesses to trial the good business proposition and feedback candidly on the experience and usefulness and how to improve it

If any business is interested in being part in the trial register your interests here