Connecting the charity landscape: part 2 – Taking a stand
In our previous blog, we looked at how living with the Covid-19 pandemic had made us all redefine what we mean by community along with what human connections mean to us all. Suddenly prevented from meeting face-to-face, be that in the office or socialising, we have taken to the internet to share our thoughts and experience with others as part of our daily lives. Community has become wherever and however we can find ways to bond and interact over a shared interest or purpose.
Yet while many communities have found work-arounds to connect people during the ongoing pandemic crisis, it can also be said that society as a whole has never felt more polarised and divided. Disputes rage across both mainstream and social media platforms as different sides argue their seemingly irreconcilable differences on a broad range of topics. Race, gender, the environment, religion, the future of the UK and even whether Covid-19 is a hoax or not – everyone seems to have a strongly held view and no one seems ready to give it up, or even concede any ground.
With discontentment of social, political and economic situations on the rise, we see grassroots movements creating an even-louder voice for change. Black Lives Matter not only featured in a 2020 YouGov Poll of high profile charities and organisations but also topped it. That was in a year when many groups voiced their protest, from Amazon workers joining with climate activists for the #MakeAmazonPay Black Friday protests to those at the other end of the political spectrum demonstrating against lockdowns.
And it’s not just across the UK but also reaching around the globe. By their very nature, such concerned voices transcend the boundaries of organisations, formal roles and job descriptions. Movements dive deeper into the personal commitment and conviction that lasting change needs to take place.
These movements shine a light on growing inequalities and injustice, as well as the structural and institutional discrimination, which have been further exacerbated by the pandemic.
Climate change concerns are leading the way
While many campaigns are rooted in present day issues and concerns, the future state and health of the planet is, understandably, a growing concern. Numerous governments formally announcing a climate emergency was a huge turning point, with environmental activism hitting the mainstream. While Greta Thunberg became the poster child for this movement and the face of the generation that will be most affected by climate change, concerned voices span every social divide. The Earthshot Prize, for instance, was awarded in October 2021 to innovations with the potential to protect the planet, in a ceremony that included speeches from Prince William and Sir David Attenborough.
Environmentalism has been a grassroots issue for decades, yet scientific confirmation that climate change is both real and the result of human activity have helped push this global issue to the top of government and business agendas over the last decade. The realisation that generations that had nothing to do with creating the climate emergency will be the ones most affected by it have made Millennials and Gen Z particularly vocal about the need for rapid, decisive change, with green recovery becoming a pressing political subject for the British public.
This divide was apparent during Cop26 in Glasgow last year, with demonstrators outside being clearly a different generation from delegates inside. While the conference ended on a damp squib moment without any clear groundbreaking, planet-saving proclamation, the fact that discussions on climate change continue to be held openly and set out ever more ambitious goals may end up being the most valuable aspect of such gatherings. As long as protesters are allowed to protest so that governments are held accountable to their pledges, perhaps the world will slowly move towards addressing climate change.
It’s not just governments that are being pressured to do something. As more people become aware of the environmental costs of shipping fast fashion halfway round the globe, of next-day delivery and even of streaming your favourite TV show, consumers are expecting their favourite brands and businesses to own up to their wasteful practises and become greener. Customers who demand sustainability and accountability from brands are using their buying power to influence meaningful change. The same is true of people supporting not for profits who can wield the same influence if they choose to take their support to a different, cleaner, greener charity.
It’s clear that any kind of public-facing organisation, from public sector departments through to charities and even well-known commercial brands, have a part to play. It’s also very clear that taking a stand is a minefield of unexpected and unintended consequences, ranging from consumer boycotts from backing a divisive cause to accusations of jumping on a bandwagon for commercial gain. One example of this is businesses being accused of ‘greenwashing’ their products by aggressively marketing them as more sustainable or less polluting, or by offering to plant trees as a carbon offset programme, rather than making actual changes to production or distribution to make them less environmentally damaging.
The importance of authenticity
Such stands are frequent and, more often than not, very public. Employees, suppliers and partners as well as customers have boycotted, named and shamed numerous brands and businesses, often forcing them into backing down or U-turns. This fallout can even extend to brand partnerships – look no further than the anger sparked by the Mercedes F1 racing team when it announced a sponsorship deal with a building cladding firm linked to the Grenfell Tower fire.
With so many users and customers putting so much importance on a brand’s authenticity, being honest, open, empathetic and putting your money where your mouth is are all vital in making any organisation stand out. On the flip side, any organisation who is advocating for change, needs to be able to evidence the impact within their organisation. Quite simply, be the change you want to see.
It’s far better to take a longer-term, more grounded view by looking within your organisation in order to understand what matters to the people inside. Taking a stand relies on active allyship, organisations and systems working collectively to provide access to valuable expertise and resources. Right now, we’re at a critical point in history where the energy to create change is palpable. The questions now are around how organisations can support their audiences in helping to make credible, lasting changes:
Questions to ask yourself and your organisation:
- How clear is our purpose and vision for helping drive meaningful change?
- How are our values aligned with our purpose and vision and are we living them authentically?
- How will we measure the impact of taking a meaningful stand?
- How can we use our voices, platforms or influence to amplify the rights and needs of our members, communities, supporters, service users?
- What role does our organisation have to authentically drive change?
- How can we collaborate with other organisations that share our values, to drive change?
- Are we providing a platform for voices to be heard?
- How are we being held accountable for the change we are committed to achieving? And likewise, how are we helping hold others to account?