I cannot tell you what a pleasure it is to have this opportunity to be present today at the launch of “Cares” in Melbourne. This is an initiative which builds on the great spirit of volunteering which I know exists in Australia but combines it with the growing desire of companies to connect to their communities, and continually improve their impact on society. “Cares in Melbourne” will ask companies to work together to encourage and support their employees in bringing time, talent and skill to work in partnership with a range of community organizations to tackle community need, and I am so enormously encouraged by the number of companies that have already been signed up. And, if I might say so, I am particularly pleased that the Deputy Premier, John Thwaites, who I know has been a great champion of this partnership, is able to be here and I would like to thank him for all he has done to support this initiative.
I just wanted to tell you a little about the genesis of this initiative. There are two people in this room who have been the catalysts, Jane Tewson of Pilotlight, and Janine Kirk of the Committee for Melbourne. They have been working together to take business leaders to meet some of the community front-line organizations - like the Good Shepherd in Western Suburbs, and the homelessness organizations here in the Central Business District – so that companies could see first-hand just what power they have to make a difference. It has always been my experience, for what it is worth, that “Seeing is Believing” is the only way for business people to understand these social issues.
That is why I started my “Seeing is Believing” programme in the United Kingdom in 1990. Since then I have invited nearly 4000 business leaders to travel around the country seeing for themselves the social problems that exist. They then come and see me to share their experience and tell me of the often wonderfully innovative ways they have found for their business to make a difference, sometimes with financial support and gifts in kind, but more frequently through providing employee volunteers, secondees or business advice for community organizations. However, I was rather horrified the other day to hear from Julia that the average life expectancy of company chief executives - I mean in their jobs! - is now only 26 months, so you can imagine that the need for my programme keeps on growing because you have to keep inviting the new ones. In any event you can imagine how pleased I am at the success of the visits run by Pilotlight, which mirror so closely what I have been doing in the United Kingdom.
If I might say so, I am greatly encouraged by the obvious understanding here that corporate social responsibility does matter. It seems to me that companies – all over the world - are facing rising expectations of how they behave, how they manage, how they recruit, market, manage their waste and their water, and how they measure their impact on society. Having been President of Business in the Community in the United Kingdom for twenty years, I am delighted to see the positive response in Australia by companies increasingly concerned about their impact in the community, in their own workplaces, in the marketplace and, of course, in the environment.
I know that Richard Lambert – the former editor of the “Financial Times” – came to Australia just two years ago as one of my ambassadors for Business in the Community to share some experience from the United Kingdom. I think I am right in saying that it was partly as a result of this visit, and with the independent support of Simon Longstaff of the St. James's Ethics Centre, that the Corporate Responsibility Index was launched here. It is so encouraging for me to hear about the involvement of those Australian companies prepared to benchmark and measure their impact through the Index which will be published in the “Melbourne Age” and the “Sydney Morning Herald” at the same time as we publish the results of the “Companies that Count” in the “Sunday Times” in the United Kingdom at the beginning of next month. For what it is worth, I do happen to believe that the companies that will count in the long term will be those who genuinely think about their impact not just on their local community but on the wider global community and that they will have the most sustained record of commercial success.
That is why today's event is so encouraging because the companies working with the community organizations in Melbourne recognize that to be competitive in the long term, the communities and people around them must be cohesive and that by releasing employee time and skills, they can make a significant difference in building thriving communities. Interestingly, in the United Kingdom, where the “Cares” programme has been running for six years, companies have found the benefits work both ways. They have discovered that by becoming closer to their communities, they understand more about their customers and, in addition, they have seen the loyalty and commitment of their employees, their most valuable resource, grow too. Business leaders, in a survey by one of the United Kingdom's foremost business schools (Roffey Park) report that 50 per cent of business leaders say they get their best new ideas while taking part in their community work.
Of course, I know that some very innovative programmes are already in place here – mentoring young people at risk of dropping out of school, supporting community organizations by helping them with business plans and professional skills, but I also know that it is vital to ratchet up the impact and scale of these initiatives, and that is what I hope that Melbourne Cares will be able to do.
I know that you have been assisted by Simon Robinson who has been on secondment from “Leeds Cares” to help develop your programme in Melbourne, who I last met when I launched the “Right to Read” initiative. This is just one example where a Cares Partnership has helped to add real value to a community. It was a drive to support employees as reading volunteers across the whole of Yorkshire in the North of England. It started from the enthusiasm of business leaders who took part in my “Seeing is Believing” programme and saw that more must be done to raise reading levels in primary schools – and ended in more than 4000 employees volunteering to be involved as reading partners. The result was far higher reading scores of the children because reading with a volunteer for one hour a week for twelve weeks can improve reading age by at least six months.
So I am sure that “Cares” can have the same impact here too. Whether it is replanting a community playground or helping homeless people with their job applications, “Cares” has the potential to make a huge difference in this city, just as it has done in cities throughout the UK, and indeed in America where we first found it.
So, I do want to congratulate and thank all of you for your hard work and innovative efforts. It is wonderful to be able to endorse the launch of “Cares” in Melbourne as a pilot for Australia and I am so glad that Business in the Community has been able to be of support. The real gratitude however should go first to all the supporting businesses who have seen that corporate volunteering by the city for the city is good for business and the community. Secondly, I do want to thank and congratulate the community partners who have the connections and the real knowledge of community need, and so often are those who inspire us all. And lastly, our gratitude should go to the visionaries, like Pilotlight, and the stakeholders, particularly the Committee for Melbourne and the Victoria State Government, who have provided the vision, energy and drive to pursue this idea with such determination. I much look forward to hearing about how “Cares in Melbourne” develops over the next year and can only wish you all every congratulations. I know it will soon make a huge difference throughout Australia. Thank you so much.