There are roughly 1.5m companies with employees in the UK, one of whom is ASI. Of these, 44,000 are large or medium sized (>50 employees), and these businesses collective employ 52% of all employees and account for 64% of turnover.
In this context, we B Corps are not a big bunch (364 businesses). However, as the movement grows, many new B Corps are large or medium companies, like ASI, representing an ever greater proportion of UK employees who work for companies who strive to be better for the world.
We know that businesses can be good for the world without being a B Corp. However, at ASI it has helped us to look in the mirror, have clarity in what we see, and think expansively about what we can do better.
A Mirror for Everyone
Our professional services seek to directly advance 11 different SDGs in over 30 countries around the globe. We support governments to improve, and the private sector to grow. This span is quite unique for a business of our size, so it’s from this perspective that we can confidently say that businesses are essential for bringing about positive change the world over. Moreover, they can do so quickly and equitably at scale, in ways that governments struggle to penetrate.
We see it first-hand in countries where we are helping small business to grow, such as Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste or Sierra Leone. But this growth needs to be equitable, must empower women, and needs to be within the resource limits of our planet.
The bottom line is, whether you choose to take the B Corp route, or find another way to look in the mirror, we are absolutely resolved businesses should do this.
We work in a sector where there has been scepticism over how ‘good’ businesses are. We decided to take the B Corp assessment, and subsequently pursue certification, because it was time to look at ourselves in the mirror, rather than using self-judgement or uninformed external sources. We were also aware of the potential wider positive influence it could have within our sector. The result has been setting ASI on a course to knowing and increasing the positive impact we create as a business with confidence. We also hope that it brings evidence to sceptics that businesses really are a force for good within our sector, and that it paves the way for others within the sector (and more widely) to think more about how they can be better businesses.
Our journey started in 2017 and became reality when we became certified in Sep 2019. We made a large number of adaptations, such as setting up an employee council, creating more supportive policies for staff and caregivers, adjustments to how we engage with and require from suppliers, and many others. This journey also reaffirmed certain things we were doing well, such as providing business services that contribute directly to achieving the SDGs and paying staff fair and equitable wages across different contexts and geographies.
At this point, in March 2021, the ‘quicker’ wins have been achieved (although not all have been quick!), and we’re in the midst of trying the keep momentum on stickier and higher impact changes – such as reducing the gender pay gap, improving diversity, improving employee representation, and becoming carbon neutral by 2025. We must stick at these doggedly, as they are not simple fixes. Other critical elements to running a business will distract, but these are the next stages in our B Corp journey.
Oddly one of the painful things about becoming a B Corp is that while you become aware of where you are doing well, you also become aware of your limitations. When these are difficult to address, it can be a painful mirror to look at. One example is that through our annual staff survey, we now have much greater depth of information, which shows some fantastic gains, yet painful truths, particularly around these stickier issues. Still – being a better business means – despite bottom line considerations and huge pressures on the business in the midst of a pandemic – continuing to look in this mirror and examining it warts and all.
Growing the Momentum
As one of 364 B Corps in the UK, and almost 4,000 globally, we want to see the wider community of businesses grow as a force for good. However, to influence others with credibility we continue to look inwards first , sticking at these tough (but surmountable!) issues. This is why we also feel comfortable strongly endorsing the Better Business Act*, a movement that seeks to change law so that each UK company puts balancing people, profit and planet at the heart of their purpose and responsibility of their directors. We know that it’s realistic – and we are here to offer our story to others who would find it useful.
As long as those of us within the B Corp community continue to start with ourselves, and not slow down when it gets to the hard stuff, then we have confidence that this momentum will grow with size and influence, and that ever more employees of UK companies will be able to have confidence that they work for companies that are good for the world and will know how to go about doing it.
Jalpa Patel, Interim CEO of Adam Smith International
 Michael Jackson “Man in the Mirror”