A Financial Leap of Faith: Government Funding for Community CSR and Sustainability Initiatives: An Abstract
Central and regional governments in the UK employ mechanisms to promote ethical business behaviours through a combination of mandatory tools (regulations, directives, and laws) and voluntary approaches (including public interest promotion and funding for targeted initiatives). Focusing on the provision of government grants for voluntary corporate social responsibility (CSR) or sustainability-related initiatives, this research details a nationally funded project that harnesses the support of ‘industry-led’ employers, with an aim to enhance the employability skills of young people (Scottish Government, 2014). The ‘Developing the Young Workforce’ (DYW) initiative has an associated government-backed standard, ‘Investors in Young People’ (IiYP), which (when achieved) publically identifies an organisation with internationally recognised good practice (IiYP, undated) and provides a marketing tool by which companies can directly promote their ethical credibility. Highlighting the DYW initiative and associated IiYP standard as examples of government-backed targeted initiatives, the research explored theories related to CSR and sustainability and the perspectives they present in the debate regarding the relationship between business behaviour and society.
This exploratory study utilised a qualitative methodology involving focus groups to gain the opinions and involvement of business leaders based in a predominately rural region. Three focus groups attended by 31 senior manager participants were held, before volunteers for a formal DYW Industry Group Board were sought, to which 15 business-based representatives responded. The formal 22-member, cross-sector, DYW Industry Group Board was created when seven public sector representatives (from the education sector, skills developers and the local council) were added. Subsequently, a fourth focus group was held to plan the aims and objectives of the funding bid and to seek volunteers to write the necessary documentation.
The research found that terminology was key when communicating the benefits of government-funded community-based initiatives to the business sector, with ‘sustainability’ gaining a more positive reaction than CSR. Hence, encouraging senior managers to view involvement with government-funded initiatives as part of their strategic planning was more productive than presenting it as engaging in extra activities beyond their core business functions. However, there was a lack of credible industry-led leadership willing to take on the task of writing the bid documentation. Therefore, this research examines the skills-based barriers to the successful attainment of government funding for companies in predominately rural regions, compared to counterparts in urban areas. Recommendations on action to address weaknesses in government-funded activities designed to encourage strategic CSR and sustainability are offered.