One of the key characteristics of a successful, sustainable business is the ability to collaborate effectively, writes Commissioner Sandy MacDonald in the latest issue of Business Comment.

The insight you gain from speaking to and working with a diverse range of people across sectors can help you identify great solutions to societal and environmental challenges. Many large businesses also realise that to build trust and remain sustainable in the long-term, they need to be close to what people expect of them. Connecting with different voices in the local community can help with this.

Edinburgh has many strengths and it regularly places highly in global indexes of the best cities, by a number of different measures. We have world-class academic institutions supporting us with both research and talented future workforces; a world-class financial centre; and a government that’s connected to this agenda. We’re small enough to be able to work together across sectors locally, but we’re also globally connected. We have arts and culture that’s world renowned. We have amazing charities and NGOs with headquarters or operations here. We have entrepreneurs and an increasingly thriving social enterprise sector. In a global context, we have wealth by any measure.

However, it is fair to say that we also have some specific challenges and not every citizen of our city feels they benefit from all Edinburgh has to offer. As a member of the Edinburgh Poverty Commission, I have met many people who are living in poverty in this city. As the Commissioner who is representing the private sector, I am particularly interested in the positive and negative impact businesses are having on their employees and customers in the city.

If Edinburgh is to successfully eliminate poverty, it will need every sector to collaborate effectively and play their part. Different businesses need to consider what action they can take, and it is important to appreciate that the challenges and opportunities will vary. We have many great examples of businesses of all sizes taking positive action including;

  • paying the living wage
  • offering inclusive employment
  • high quality training and progression
  • family friendly policies and practice,
  • and addressing potentially exploitative practices such as zero-hours contracts.

Many people we have spoken to who are experiencing poverty are in work, but a lack of secure, stable hours is leaving them and their families struggling to keep their heads above water, especially when rent costs are rising. This isn’t good for workers or businesses.

Edinburgh has successfully come together before to achieve positive change in youth employment. A similar opportunity exists now to address in-work poverty, and we’ll need people to again collaborate across sectors towards a bold ambition. One of the ideas the Commission has identified is for Edinburgh to aim to become the first ‘living hours city’, with employers committing to decent notice periods for shifts and a right to a contract with living hours – a guaranteed 16 hours of work a week, unless workers requests otherwise.

 Generally speaking, employers who look after their workers benefit as their workforce becomes more diverse, motivated, productive and loyal. Not only does that make our businesses more sustainable, it makes our city healthier, happier and more competitive; for the benefit of all.

Business Comment is published by the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, and this article first appeared in the December 2019/January 2020 issue.