Interview with Shared Value Project’s Executive Director Helen Steel

Last month, the Shared Value Project released its inaugural State of Shared Value in Australia 2015 report, the first survey of its kind in Australia. We caught up with Helen Steel, the Project’s executive director to learn out more about the findings and how they hope to apply them. Shared Value Australia

The State of Shared Value in Australia 2015 report was the first of its kind in Australia, how did it come about?

Well, the fact there is very little research, or collective information, here in Australia. Part of our mission is to support research and actually do some. We thought this was a great place for us to start − to see what was actually happening in the shared value space here.

We know that our member organisations are doing shared value, or aspiring to do shared value. We did have a point of reference to start, but we thought it would be really interesting to broaden that conversation and extend it to others, like ASX 100 companies, multinationals and other big organisations that we knew were starting to dabble.

It was to get a baseline of activity and an understanding what was happening here in Australia and how we as an organisation should be supporting the movement.

Mark Kramer said of the survey that he was “deeply impressed by the level of enthusiasm for shared value in Australia” but noted its “still-nascent status”. What were your thoughts of the survey and what it said of the state of shared value in Australia?

There are a couple of different conversations taking place around this. One, some of these ideas have been around for a long time, but what shared value has provided is a new language. I think it’s the language, as much as anything, that’s new. Those organisations that identified shared value are using it in the Kramer/Porter way. It’s also fair enough to say that there aren’t a huge number of organisations that are doing that and that it is very much in its infancy there.

But some of the philosophy, framework and methodology behind shared value isn’t entirely new. It’s definitely an evolution of, I think, Corporate Social Responsibility. CSR served a really terrific purpose in helping businesses to consider how they actually engaged with society and what their responsibilities were. I think that shared value takes that conversation to the next level and says ‘yes you should be engaging responsibly but you can do it where there is an economic benefit’.

What advice would you give to a company looking to embrace or grow shared value within their business?

I think what the survey provided was some really good Australian case studies – certainly become a member of our organisation and join the network and you’ll have that peer-to-peer learning opportunity!

I think that what we are seeing is that the companies that are starting to do it [shared value] successfully and getting buy in is those looking within the organisation to see if they have any existing examples – and using that as a means to hold up a successful case study.

One of the organisations doing that is Suncorp. At one of their insurance companies, AAMI, they have a Skilled Drivers Course and whilst that program has been around for 30 years, they hadn’t, until recently, identified it as a shared value activity. It’s a great example of a service they provide to help the 17-25 age group – where the fatality and accident rate is high – with better education and awareness on how to be a responsible and good driver.

They have got economic evidence to support it too. There are more than 100,000 drivers that have gone through that program; some 4,000 a year do. That cohort of drivers has a lower amount of claims. So there is economic benefit to AAMI; and to the driver, as their car isn’t involved in the accident; and, of course the benefit to society is enormous, as they are much more responsible drivers. So if organisations that can find those sorts of examples that already exist in their company, it’s a great way to sell it internally.

I would really encourage those wanting to take on shared value to get some education. We have plenty of workshops and programs that we are starting to roll out now that anybody can attend to get a better understanding of what shared value is.

I also think we have seen a lot of organisations that have a champion, someone who is really interested in it [shared value]. They go out and get the education and take that back to the organisation and see who else should be involved. Sometimes it starts within the CSR division but more and more we are seeing it sit within strategy in an organisation. Then a really good measure of success for an organisation – if they are getting the internal messaging right – is that their CEO starts to talk about it and use the language.

The survey identified two questions that required further discussion: How can we change the way companies approach shared value so that it focuses on a specific social issue? And what should the role should of government and not-for-profits be? Why are these important to shared value moving forward?

I think that we see shared value and the organisations that take it on be very successful when they collaborate. I think that more and more big companies think about community partnerships, and think about how they can help solve some of the issues.

I think partnering with not-for-profit organisations will be really fundamental because not-for-profits often understand an issue or sector – that some of these companies are looking at going into – really well. So I think there is a wealth of knowledge that they can tap into through the not-for-profit sector.

I think what we will see is that not-for-profits will become service providers to some of these big corporates, rather than the traditional model of getting a grant or a large donation. Then they will work together with that organisation to develop a business strategy for a sustainable solution. I see those partnerships as being quite integral to the ongoing success of shared value.

Then there’s the role of government – there are two aspects to that. There’s the role of government as rule setters and providing the platform in which that sort of collaboration can happen. And then there’s government business. For example, DFAT made a ministerial statement on a program they have been doing with Australian AID and shared value is at the core of that.

Government can really benefit as well and are well placed to facilitate and bring together the right players, be it the corporate or the not-for-profit sector, to actually help resolve some of those problems as well. So I see their role as very much a moderator, facilitator, as well as providing good, sound policy and a platform for it to actually happen in.

Learn more about the Shared Value Project here.

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