Michelle Wright writes for New Business

13th March, 2020

Nobody told me there'd be days like these … ethical entrepreneurship, is it really possible?

Some days being an entrepreneur seems thankless. With a new start to the decade that comes with some devastating environmental crises and a frightening Covid-19 pandemic that is seeing cities going into lock down, travel cancelled and business events postponed to protect public health, it can feel like everything plus the kitchen sink is being thrown at small businesses, and indeed us all.

My business, Cause4 was one of the UK's first B Corporations. We worked hard to pass the B Corp assessment, not just because we wanted to meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability, but also because we felt it made business sense. We sort of fitted into the social enterprise model as we reinvest much of our profits back into our social purpose, but we were not completely comfortable in that box.  B Corporation fitted us much better, and we were delighted to join a band of ambitious social purpose businesses like One Water and Ella's Kitchen, organisations wanting to make a profit and change the world. This sentiment is at the heart of Cause4 - we want to run a profitable business, be a good employer - paying the Living Wage and being an Investors in People, as well as to be environmentally conscious and to invest as much money as possible into training or charity.

But is it even possible to focus on this virtuous circle of ethical purpose when many businesses will struggle to keep their heads above water as we enter unchartered waters?

This is a question we've been wrestling with in recent days. As panic sets in, the danger is to revert to type, or to maximise profit over purpose. How do we juggle our responsibilities of protecting our staff, servicing our clients, running events and trying to ensure we have enough cash to be able to invest in staff, as well as charitably? Of course, the mark of character is how an organisation reacts to difficulty. It's easy being fair, inclusive, environmentally aware, and to balance your work and home life when work is plentiful, but much less so when times are tough. If we are facing a global recession, will holding on to our ethical values make us a better business?

Innovation in entrepreneurship is as much about finding a new technology or product as it is adapting the rules of business to make life and business work. As such, ethical entrepreneurship goes hand in hand with organisational idealism - ensuring the company you are running works in a way you're proud of, supports your values, and allows you to live a healthy and satisfying life - this requires faith in your own entrepreneurial ability to spot opportunities. In short, when faced with hard choices we still need to do the right thing. 

My personal situation is relatively complex; I am a single parent of two children under four. I live in Norfolk so my family can help with childcare, whilst running a small business based in London and Leeds that works nationally and internationally. Flexibility is therefore at the heart of how I can make my own life work. This is a personal need, but it also has to be at the heart of how we make the business work for others. Job roles are changing, people want more flexibility, our younger staff are not interested in climbing the ladder based on 80-90 hour work weeks- they want to be able to do that in less than 40, whilst also having plenty of time for outside interests and travel. One colleague wants to work flexibly so he can manage his rural small holding! Work and life have to comfortably co-exist. Job roles themselves are going to have to change fundamentally in the coming years.

Whatever the needs, flexibility is one of the main things a small business can offer to loyal employees. Social purpose is also a big driver. According to LinkedIn, 71% of professionals said they would take a pay cut to work for a company with a mission they believed in and 39% would quit a company if the employer asked them to do something they believed to be unethical. We therefore have to understand ‘the power of purpose'.

If a perfect situation is to make profit, behave ethically, treat staff well and give plenty to charity then we need to believe that these businesses will endure, even when the kitchen sink is thrown at us. It's taken me over a decade of running a small business to realise that organisational idealism is something you create and adapt as needed for your clients, your colleagues and ultimately for yourself. We entrepreneurs need to stick to our guns, and not leap on the ‘business as usual' bandwagons because we're panicked. Small is beautiful, ethical entrepreneurship is ideal.

Read the original article here.

“The Creative Entrepreneurship Scheme completely rewired my brain.”

Ruth Mariner, Gestalt Arts