charity workers

Monday after the coronation was dominated by the Big Help Out. It was wonderful to see voluntary work raised at a time of community cohesion (republican protests notwithstanding). But let’s not allow ourselves to lose focus on the systemic change we need to improve people’s lives, protect the environment, guard all our futures.

The Big Help Out was inspiring. Prince Louis drove a digger. The Prime Minister cut veg for the elderly. The Archbishop of Canterbury served food to the homeless. Hundreds picked litter, cleaned canals, helped youth clubs.

It was a celebration of the joy and value of volunteering.

At root, volunteering is all about putting others ahead of ourselves, serving with no anticipation of material gain. It is a vital cog in our society and the bedrock of all charity work.

And make no mistake, charities of all kinds have found it hard to recruit volunteers since the pandemic. Charities Aid Foundation research indicates 1.6 million fewer people have volunteered over the past five years.

Several factors seem to be behind this drop. Some feared catching the virus, others felt burnt-out having kept going through the pandemic. Yet more have possibly had to take on paid work in the light of the cost-of-living crisis.

So, thank you Big Help Out. If you encourage more people to volunteer for charity, that’s wonderful.

And yet.

Individual action is no counter to government inaction

I remember the Big Society. Sounded great – let’s support community groups to act more effectively, focused on their local priorities. However, individual action is no counter to government inaction. Personal activism is no response to corporate inactivism.

There is always a danger that such community initiatives deflect attention from the need for government and businesses to create systemic change.

It’s a temptation outlined by Professor Michael E Mann in his book, “The New Climate War”.

No amount of individual altruism will solve global problems if businesses and governments do not act responsibly.

It’s not an either/or. I refuse to allow us to be divided into individualist and collectivists. That kind of division creates inaction, inertia.

So, yes, please give your staff volunteering days, but also act corporately. Sign up for the Better Business Act, measure your triple bottom line not just your financial numbers, reduce your environmental footprint, implement ethical sourcing practices.

Above all, business can lobby government at all levels. Let’s make sure our politicians know that we want a better world and ‘business as usual’ is not acceptable. As regulations tighten, business is being pushed to be more transparent – maybe it’s time for us to turn the tables. Politicians, what are you doing to reduce your impacts, improve your communities? Let’s see the numbers at national and local government level.

So, I’m thrilled that the British Chambers of Commerce, ASDA, BT and a host of firms are supporting The Big Help Out. I just hope they are not just ticking a CSR box. Every business can embed societal change into its strategy. The strategy to grow. The strategy to thrive. For people, planet and profit.

Photo credit: RDNE Stock project on