Like so many New Zealanders of a certain age, I went to Scouts as a child and still proudly wear my Queen Scout Award each Anzac day.
The Scout movement, despite the bad press it has received for poor behaviour by some of its leaders, is a great learning environment for young people - teaching self-reliance, resilience, outdoor skills and general leadership. It's a sad fact that far fewer kids are involved in Scouting or similar movements these days.
One of the things I learned at Scouts was the idea of contributing to society and the benefits that can accrue to all through that contribution. Under the watchful eye of our leader, Scouter Williams, my mates and I spent many weekends teaching less fortunate kids than ourselves to abseil at the Brookfields Scout camp in Wainuiomata or volunteering for Civil Defence. Under the Scouting award system, there were countless other opportunities to do good for society.
At the time, these things just felt like fun. I'm not an overly astute chap and hence didn't really understand the longer-term implications of what we were doing. Nonetheless, it instilled upon us the notion of doing well by doing good and being a part of the society we live within. It was a time when "Be Prepared", the Scout motto, meant something more than "go and panic shop for cheap imported goods at your local supermarket".
I was thinking about this idea of members of a community helping themselves and other members of the community the other day. You see, a few months ago the electricity lines company for Canterbury, Orion Energy, contacted us at Cactus Outdoor to talk about acquiring protective garments for their workers to wear during the cold and dreary Canterbury winter.
Orion is owned by the Christchurch City Council and hence has a bit more of a community perspective than is usually the case for a commercial organisation. They realised that buying gear out of China, India or Bangladesh would probably be cheaper, but they had the clarity of vision to realise that other benefits might accrue to the community through local sourcing. Orion took a more holistic view around their purchase: they had a desire to create a positive impact from their procurement decisions and made decisions accordingly.
Long story short, and Orion workers are now proudly wearing items of clothing made not only using the electricity they distribute but by workers who also happen to be their neighbours. And, in return, those neighbours not only have stable jobs, but they have pride in doing their bit to keep a critical service warm and dry.
It's an interesting story since it calls into question the view from some that a business' only objective should be to make the highest profit possible. These people hold the contentious view that profits will flow on down through society and benefit all. This despite the fact that decades of increasing profits haven't done anything to reduce income inequality (quite the opposite). Trickle-down economics, while a nice theory, doesn't seem to work in reality.
In Orion's case, however, the results are obvious and the workers who proudly manufacture the garments they will see being worn in Orion's workplace are well aware that at least one organisation is directly delivering positive impacts for its community.
Like Emily Barrientos, an immigrant from the Philippines who moved to New Zealand to make a better life for herself. The pride she feels is palpable - when she sees Orion workers wearing the jackets, she has real proof that what she does matters.
It's quite a simple idea, that, like all simple ideas, has a bunch of complex terms to describe it - circular economy, doughnut economics, social enterprise, impact-driven business decisions.
Whichever term you use, however, it's just about doing well by doing good. Making business decisions that deliver positive impacts across the social and environmental spectrums as well as the financial one.
I'm not sure whether the leadership at Orion went to Scouts in their younger years, but I reckon Scouter Williams will claim it and quietly smile at behaviour that very much delivers the broader meaning of "Be Prepared".
- Ben Kepes is a Canterbury-based professional director and businessman.