October 5, 2023

Why getting directly involved with a community is the best kind of CSR

Karen Mattison, Co-Founder and CEO, Cook for Good
Business leaders who want to create social value should aim to build sustainable relationships with people and communities. It’s a win-win-win for the business, their employees and the people they support.

Are businesses more socially responsible than they used to be? The widespread adoption of ESG goals and CSR strategies suggests that they are increasingly seeing the value in having a social purpose. And with both employees and investors actively seeking out opportunities to work with socially responsible companies, it’s fast becoming a commercial imperative, as well as a moral one.

All of which is great news, particularly in the current economic climate, with the cost of living crisis highlighting the gaps in state provision to an alarming extent. And for those of us in the social sphere, it’s reassuring to see corporate companies proactively asking what they can do to help. But there’s a question to be answered about the best way for them to do so – and it’s one I believe we can answer.

There are, of course, many ways to deliver against CSR and ESG goals. Some companies choose to give one-off grants or run fundraising events. For others, it’s about releasing staff to take part in volunteer days, such as planting trees or helping sort stock. And while the aims behind these kinds of operation are laudable, they don’t always deliver the sustainable support that most third sector organisations need.

So what are the alternatives? We’d argue that building a sustainable relationship with a group or community is the perfect way to deliver tangible, lasting social impact. And we’re pioneering how this approach can work in practice in our own small corner of Kings Cross, on the long-neglected Priory Green Estate.

A new model that combines CSR and HR – with sustainability baked in

At Cook for Good we’ve created a new model which brings businesses and communities together, for the benefit of both. We run corporate team building experiences, which see groups coming into our kitchen to cook around 150 portions of food in a MasterChef style experience. These events are great fun; the teams have a blast, and loads of them come back for seconds. And they deliver a triple win, through:

·      The food – which is shared with residents of the Priory Green Estate, as well as local community outreach organisations (with enough left for the team to enjoy together).

·      The profits – which are invested into our community programme, tackling food poverty and social isolation through free cooking classes, community meals, a surplus food pantry and employability projects.

·      The engagement – not only between colleagues,but also between the employees and their organisation, and the team and our community too.

We make a point of introducing our clients to members of our community, so they can see the impact they’re having first hand; one of our experiences, Cook & Serve, even sees our clients serving the food they have created at a community meal.

And as well as offering the chance to connect directly with the community, another key difference with our model is that we’re not asking companies to give us money, or even donate their time. Instead, we’re asking them to buy social; to spend their team building budgets with us, and benefit accordingly, whilst at the same time supporting others.

Imagine the social impact that £200 million could have

When you look at the numbers, there’s so much potential for using these budgets for good. UK companies spend over £200 million on team building experiences, to boost morale, build team cohesion and support staff retention. But in many cases, these are one-off events that are little more than a day’s distraction away from the office; and a far cry from the sense of purpose that buying social can bring. As one of our clients so brilliantly described it:

“Working with your colleagues to achieve something of such importance and with such a positive impact is a significantly more meaningful way to demonstrate the power of teamwork than any activity I can think of… take it from someone who has spent many a day herding ducks, building towers, escaping from rooms and numerous other forgettable, throw-away activities.”

So while our teambuilders may not leave with a trophy for the fastest lap or the highest tower, they take away a real sense of achievementand the knowledge that they are making a hands-on, lasting difference to a community. So much so, that many of them come back two, three or four times with other teams or new colleagues or their own clients, and others evolve into corporate impact partners, supporting our work on an even deeper level.

Hyperlocal connections are the most sustainable of all

We believe the Cook for Good model is the perfect solution for the times we live in, and the constraints that many people are living under. If you share our belief, and would like to get involved – whether as a team building client, a corporate social partner or a social investor, we’d love to welcome you in.

We’re also really relishing the experience of becoming embedded in a community, able to get to know the people we’re supporting, understand what changes would make a difference to their lives, and make them happen. This kind of hyperlocal approach, working with a community on the doorstep, makes the connections even more powerful on all sides.

So if you’re based in or around the Kings Cross area, that’s another good reason to work with us. And if you’re not, but would like to explore getting involved with the communities you work alongside, we’d be happy to share what we know.

As one of our recent clients said, at the end of his Cook for Good experience:

“Such an amazing way to spend a day, and with a purpose; one of the best events I have done and will be doing again in the future. I’ve been coming into London for over 25 years, and like many commuters never really think about the community around us; it’s made me reassess how we should be more involved in what is around us and make more of a positive impact with the community.”

I can’t really put it much better than that.