Investment of human capital: the gift that keeps giving


Fiona Halton


Fiona Halton

A £9 billion investment made for a triumphant Olympics last year. Yet how much did it really touch the poorest in the Olympic boroughs?

A year on from the Olympics, and I’m visiting the charity Step Forward Tower Hamlets along with BP, one of the Olympic sponsors. The charity’s chief executive, Jennifer Fear, tells us that the young people coming in to use their counselling services definitely felt touched by the Olympics. Part of this was down to the fact that in the year leading up to it they saw business sponsors from adidas working directly with the charity, helping it grow and develop.

The investment made in Step Forward was of the sponsors’ skills not money and it had a significant impact. They weren’t the only charity to benefit: teams of four senior business people, the top talent from the Olympic sponsors, worked with six charities to coach them in business skills.

The results from this investment of human capital?

Everything from putting a full cost recovery model in place to stabilizing the finances of a local charity working with children at risk; from nationwide plans to bring sport to the most disadvantaged communities to a growth in the services offered to women facing domestic violence in Newham. Lasting legacies from volunteering skills, thanks to the Olympics.

At Pilotlight, we firmly believe in the power of human investment. The Olympics gave us the chance to ask the sponsors to invest their brightest and best talent, working with brilliant local charities that needed help getting to the next level. Now we are seizing the same opportunity with the Commonwealth Games. Leaders from social enterprises across Scotland, including the East End of Glasgow, are being brought together with talented sponsor teams. It’s all being backed by the Scottish Government and BIG (Big Lottery Fund) who see the potential for spreading the legacy of the Commonwealth Games throughout Scotland.

And there is a need for this expertise among the social enterprise community. Diane Cameron, the Sports Network Coordinator at SENSCOT, says that while there are about 3,000 social enterprises flourishing across Scotland, one of the biggest challenges for the sports sector is a lack of expertise in key business disciplines. She wants to see organizations empowered to shift a gear towards robust long-term sustainability.

Like any business taking stock and planning for growth, charity and social enterprise leaders often find it useful to bring in outside expertise and have a fresh perspective. Someone to help them see what is working and what is not. They have questions about how to grow strategically, the need to think through key aspects such as cash flow, developing new services, engaging a wider community, and for some taking their services national. And the effects of combined brain power are dramatic: a 50% growth in turnover and a doubling of people helped as an average. What is interesting for the much talked about legacy of both the Olympics and Commonwealth Games is that this growth does not drop off but continues.

Also, social enterprises and charities that are coached are then able to spread their knowledge and experience to others in the sector. So there is a ripple effect. The projects will also be evaluated over the next three years so that there will be real evidence on the impact.

Colin Temple, chief executive of Scottish retailer Schuh, said: ‘This is about experienced business people giving something back. Levering management and business skills within the charity sector can leave a lasting legacy for organizations facing challenging economic times.’

What is interesting is that the value of the investment is two way. David Pelham of Lloyds TSB said of his engagement with the charity Access Sport that ‘the benefits are personal, corporate and local’. As well as making a difference to the charity, three-quarters of business people we surveyed say they appreciate the work of the voluntary sector more after working with them in this way – creating an even greater impact.

And this skills investment is welcomed by more and more companies as it makes good business sense: as well as getting them closer to the community they also see their senior talent challenged and inspired. In a recent survey of Pilotlight members we found that 88% go back to their workplace with improved skills.

So to me, this is virtuous capital. The gift that keeps giving to all.

Fiona Halton is chief executive of Pilotlight.

Tagged in: Commonwealth Games Glasgow Olympics Pilotlight Scotland

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