I find myself in the rather unenviable position of not quite knowing where to begin. Because after 17 years I find there are so many things to mention and to talk about, both as a result of my own visits and what I have heard about yours. I worry that I will be repeating everything that Julia has already told you, as you have been locked in here since 9.15am, so I hope you will forgive me if I repeat anything that has already been said.
But I do hope that you realize what a real difference you are making as a result of your willingness to take an interest in all the different areas that so many of you have been looking at in the last year or two. And the fact that you are willing to get out from behind a desk and go off, having received an invitation to do so, is hugely appreciated I promise you and by nobody more so than myself, whose fault all this is I hate to tell you!
But I do hope, having listened to what so many of you are saying, that you won’t forget the huge added value that occurs from your being able to pass on business skills. So often people think that it’s all a matter of endlessly trying to shove out cash. Obviously it is a great help, but at the same time, from what I’ve seen over the years, and I really do believe this, it is the extraordinary influence and power that one person who has skills that can be passed on to individual organizations that is so helpful.
These organizations may have frequently struggled against enormous opposition - bureaucratic red tape, you name it, it can be difficult for them to begin. Your advantage is that you do know where to begin, to find the way through this labyrinth and to get to the minotaur at the centre. This is why I keep on saying that if you do think about personal development opportunity for employees then don’t forget that their skills, even for six months, can be hugely valuable to many of these organizations and transform their means of making progress in the future. It’s that old adage - instead of handing out food to people, teach them how to fish.
What I find so encouraging now is that the number of people prepared to join this Programme is increasing hugely. Just last year more than nine hundred business leaders went on sixty-five visits across the U.K. That compares with just over five hundred leaders taking part in forty-five visits the year before. I think a lot of this has to do with the development of the regional “Seeing is Believing” Programme, for which I wanted to congratulate John O’Brien, who runs the Programme, for a really remarkable achievement in this particular area. That means that around five and half thousand business leaders have been on the Programme since it started in 1990, which is really quite a lot. And now with the alumni association I think we can go on achieving even more.
And then of course, as Julia’s told you, we have the new development of the Seeing is Believing visit to India, and have also exported the idea to Canada. The “Seeing is Believing” visit to Mumbai was in partnership with the Mumbai Chamber of Commerce and was also helped by Oracle and TATA Consultancy Services. I am delighted that those that went to Mumbai are here today and I look forward very much to having a word with them later.
And then of course Canada has joined the family, which now includes parts of Europe and Australia. The Canadian Business for Social Responsibility, of which I was delighted to become Patron last year and which is Business in the Community’s partner, has already taken more than sixty delegates on different visits.
And I am so pleased that Adine Mees, the Chief Executive, is with us today with one or two members. This growth in interest from abroad has prompted Business in the Community to develop a Global Partners Network so that we can help engage companies in their communities wherever they are across the world. I do congratulate BHP Billiton and KPMG for their support for this initiative.
Many of you said in your reports this year that your visit was both surprising and sobering. I think it was Alan Meredith of Eversheds who reminded me of J.M.Barrie’s quote that “Life is a long lesson in humility.” And perhaps I might just read a brief extract from the report that Chris Needham-Bennett from Needhams 1834 Ltd. sent me. He visited a homeless hostel with Carolyn McCall and wrote afterwards, “All the care staff at all three centres were better than most of the middle to senior managers that I have seen in business. They were almost all more articulate, more visionary, more focussed, more intelligent, more compassionate and more dynamic. One can only wonder at why they do it.” Mr Needham-Bennett ended with a particularly poignant sentence. He said, “I went back to the smoking room of my London Club to think about it.”
I know exactly the point he was making. The wonderful thing is to be able to recruit and encourage more people like yourselves who have such interests to also think about some of these issues and then go away perhaps and do something. I hope you have managed to hear about Project Compass for example. That whole area of homelessness is something I have taken an interest in over the years, and I have visited many different hostels. Nearly 25% of all homeless people in London are ex-servicemen.
A few years ago, I managed to get a group together to look at this particular issue and the results have been very encouraging. We have actually managed to get quite a lot of ex-service homeless people back into jobs. It is possible and it relies enormously on people like yourselves who are prepared to work with BITC and this sort of project to make it fantastic.
We had a wonderful description today from David, who was helped by one of these projects, about what a difference can be made to people’s lives and it was marvellous hearing what he said, it’s exactly what I hear so often from those who have been through my Prince’s Trust courses. And I’m always amazed by their courage in being able to stand up here, in front of an audience like this, which is not all that easy, and describe how their lives have been turned around.
I hosted a seminar at Clarence House before Christmas, at which lots of ex- young offenders whose whole lives had been turned around by the Trust were put together with people from the criminal justice system, the Home Office and elsewhere, to hear from the young people themselves what it was that actually turned their lives around, what it is that we have to do.
They were saying that a lot of their behaviour was actually a cry for help. When you go into it you find there are many stories like this. The outcome of that seminar has been that several of these young ex-offenders are now sitting on probation boards and it will be very interesting to see how many people pull the wool over their eyes! And several of them have now been taken on as mentors for other young people so hopefully it might help to create a virtuous circle. Your help and interest can be invaluable in these sorts of things.
But the difficulty is that all of us come away from these “Seeing is Believing” visits fired with enthusiasm and a determination to make a difference as a result of what we saw. But as soon as we step back into our daily routines with all the pressures of “real life”, those feelings can, completely unintentionally, be suppressed. But it’s amazing the difference you can make just, for example, by supporting head-teachers.
I went to The Robert Clack school in Dagenham the other day, which has an amazing head-teacher, Paul Grant, who turned that school around. It has 1600 pupils and he was having the most dreadful time with bullying and every kind of horror. He took over and made a huge difference. He excluded 300 pupils just like that – the worst offenders. And then had to struggle away with all the parents who obviously didn’t like that. Now most of those pupils have come back. He started them playing rugby, gymnastics, all these things.
When I was there the other day it was fascinating to see the kind of spirit that pervaded the place. But those sorts of head teachers need huge support from those that have skills to help turn schools around. So again your help can be invaluable in that area. The stories from Ruth Allen, Tessa Sanderson and David Robinson do speak really eloquently of the power of business to make that difference.
Nowhere is the power of business to make a difference on a massive scale more evident than in tackling climate change. Such is the magnitude of the problem that it demands an urgent and, dare I say it, co-ordinated response across all sectors of society. But I happen to believe that the role of business is absolutely critical. You have probably been lectured endlessly about this now and I apologize. This was brought home to me only the other night when I was driving back into London from a dinner for my Prince’s Trust at Windsor Castle at nearly midnight.
I was staggered to see office block after office block ablaze with light – on every floor! Now I know you all work very hard, but I just wondered how many employees were left in those offices. Just think of the energy wastage – let alone the expense. To me, it seems one of those really quite simple ways to reduce carbon emissions, like switching off stand-by lights on computers, if the manufacturers could help there as well it would make a great difference, and keeping your tyres pumped to the right level to reduce resistance and improve fuel economy. Little things like that can go a huge way.
When I spoke in America earlier this year about global warming I said that perhaps it was time that we should see this as a war we simply have to win – and in wartime it is remarkable how solutions can be found to challenges that were previously considered insolvable. Switching off the lights in office buildings at night might just be a start!
We may be the last generation that can help protect parts of the planet. As was made clear in the starkest terms by the United Nations Millennium Eco-System Assessment we do bear rather a big responsibility, with human activities putting such a strain on the natural resources of the earth. The ability of the planet to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted so I think we really do take a much longer term view of our actions.
Just take the subject of building design. I am sure that many of your companies are building new offices. But instead of creating more of the glass and steel constructions that have become rather the norm in cities the world over then why not think instead of using more sustainable materials, building traditional living structures and creating more livable communities. The question really at the end of the day is how we build sustainable communities again. Just think for a minute where most of you want to live and in what kind of building.
It really is time for a look at the way we zone our lives between the personal and the professional and follow the old adage of doing unto others as they do unto us. And these buildings usually use up so much energy to heat and cool, far more than those structured using more natural resources so I just pray you might think about some of these things.
This is why I feel so strongly about the built environment - it helps to define us as human beings and I think in so many ways you can tinker with the symptoms but not always reach the root cause. For instance I was fascinated visiting a slum in Mumbai about three or four years ago – you start by going into what looks like a rubbish tip with plastic bags and everything all over the place.
When you get inside you find they have constructed this tiny Lilliputian world with streets and shops and it brought it home to me that humanity has an instinct, like other creatures, to build in their own instinctive intuitive way and what we have been doing for so long is to push against that human, instinctive, intuitive way and we need to remember some of these aspects of life if we want to ensure a degree of sustainability and community.
And so, in order to force the pace on the action that needs to be taken, I have asked Business in the Community to stage a May Day Business Summit on Climate Change. It will take place, you guessed it!, on May 1st. And this is a Summit with a difference. Whilst there will be a gathering here at St. James’s Palace, which I will attend, there will be simultaneous regional events at which business leaders will come together and share their experience on measuring their carbon emissions, minimizing them and then mobilizing their customers, suppliers and employees to do the same.
We are using the wonders of modern technology to link the events together and I hope this way we can make a real impact. We are working in partnership with the Carbon Trust – and I am delighted that Ian McAllister, its chairman, is here today – together with some of the best environmental experts. I only hope that your businesses and some of your suppliers will be represented at the Summit – and rest assured, there will be invitations for you later!
It only remains for me to say how hugely grateful I am to all of you for joining the Programme. And also to Mike Rake, the Chairman of Business in the Community and forthcoming Chairman of BT, who is tireless in his efforts for us, and, of course, the indomitable Julia Cleverdon and all her team. I do hope that you will use the “Seeing is Believing” Network of those who have been involved so that together it will be possible to increase the scale and impact of what business can do. So many of the levers of change are in your hands, and you can make a real difference and I am hugely grateful to you for all that you do.