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Ensuring survival of social impact organizations during covid-19

Ensuring survival of social impact organizations during covid-19

By Isis M Bous, Managing Director, Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation.

The economic fallout of COVID-19 is upon us and coverage of its reach is prevalent. Stories of businesses closing their doors permanently due to the crisis proliferate the media. From government responses and record unemployment rates to fluctuating markets and threats to commerce, there is no sector left untouched by the global pandemic.

These consequences are exacerbated among social impact organizations and social entrepreneurs who seek to integrate meaningful purpose into their business models. Mission-driven organizations are fighting for survival while simultaneously fighting to respond to exponentially growing needs in their communities. Social entrepreneurs work in areas that cut across industries, tackling issues like poverty, human trafficking, education, equality, sustainability, workplace protections, climate, healthcare and economic opportunity. As many attempt to pivot their work to address pressing needs during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as access to food and water or developing mobile community viral tracing initiatives, financial and capacity support is all the more imperative to their work.

Prior to the pandemic, impact organizations were already less likely to receive funding from traditional sources like bank loans or large investment firms. These enterprises chiefly rely on philanthropic donations, impact investors, capacity builders, and government programs for support to advance their missions. The economic impact of the global pandemic is having a direct effect on the funds available from those sources, and access to capital is especially difficult in emerging markets. As investors face tough decisions about where to focus much-needed resources, organizations struggle to stay afloat; money is tight, and budgets have been upended. And while investment support to help stabilize businesses through this crisis still exists, it is without a doubt harder to find.

Isis M Bous

Isis M Bous

Further, it is not just about the money. Social enterprises are also in dire need of legal support to continue their work. Navigating new government response policies and initiatives, renegotiating contracts due to supply chain stressors, evaluating cyber security protocols in an increasingly virtual world, and assuring employees’ mental and physical well-being can all require legal expertise. Existing support systems like the Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation, an affiliated nonprofit of Lex Mundi’s top-tier independent global law firm network, provide pro bono legal services to social entrepreneurs around the world who are working to bring about high impact and sustainable change to improve communities and lives.

Social entrepreneurs have worked for decades to solve market failures, fill gaps, and drive innovation to advance economic inclusion, environmental recovery, health, education and more. Should the ecosystem of philanthropic and impact investors, capacity builders, pro bono supporters, and peer networks falter, impact enterprises may not recover. “The economic fallout from COVID-19 could push half a billion more people into poverty. Social entrepreneurs are the de facto social net in many emerging economies. We need to intervene to help them before it’s too late,” said Saskia Bruysten, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Yunus Social Business.

To shore up aid and assure stability, 40 leading global supporters of impact organizations, led by the World Economic Forum, founded the COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs to help impact enterprises through this crisis and beyond. The global organizations that comprise the newly formed alliance collectively support more than 15,000 social entrepreneurs in more than 190 countries, delivering benefits to an estimated 1.5 billion people. In the weeks following its formation, the Alliance added eight more members and received more than 60 requests from additional support organizations who would like to join.

The Alliance brings together long-time allies of social impact enterprises, like the Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation, Schwab Foundation,Ahsoka, Skoll,Echoing Green,and many others, so that social entrepreneurs can more easily access resources and locate financing.  The Alliance seeks to provide holistic support to these organizations as they endeavor to rise above the devastation brought about by COVID-19. Activities of support will include assessing and highlighting the needs of social enterprises across the portfolio; amplifying and expanding available financial support for social entrepreneurs; coordinating non-financial support such as social procurement, legal services and technological assistance; and advancing joint communication efforts to advocate for fiscal and policy interventions. The Alliance will also utilize covidcap.com, a searchable database of emergency funds available to nonprofit and for-profit entrepreneurs during COVID-19, containing global capital relief offerings worth more than USD $1 trillion. This unprecedented collaboration among foremost foundations, sector organizations, multilateral organizations, private companies, and non-governmental organizations will support social entrepreneurs by “pooling knowledge, experience and responses to alleviate suffering and advance new models of change for a more inclusive, equitable and sustainable world,” according to the World Economic Forum.

“Social entrepreneurs and their community partners have been working for years to solve market failures and demonstrate more sustainable and inclusive models.” said François Bonnici, Director and Head of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship at the World Economic Forum.“These front-line organizations now face bankruptcy and severe constraints while they also innovate and respond to this global pandemic. Through this Alliance, members are committing support for social entrepreneurs to protect decades of work in the impact sector.”

Social entrepreneurs are innovative leaders testing, revitalizing, and improving institutional systems. They tackle global issues that give way to universal progress.Supporting their work is critical to our recovery and essential to assuring a greener and more inclusive economy to come.If we fail to ensure our change makers survive this crisis, we risk forfeiting their ground breaking leadership while rebuilding our future.

Business

Return to work: Flexibility, preparation and communication are key

Return to work: Flexibility, preparation and communication are key 1

By Matt Weston, Managing Director, Robert Half UK

As lockdown restrictions ease for the foreseeable future, conversations across the business world are starting to turn to how employers can safely and seamlessly prepare for their workforce to return to the office.

Research from Robert Half has found that over half (54%) of employees are worried about working in close proximity to their colleagues, while a similar proportion are eager to return to the office due to loneliness working from home (45%) or concerns about missing out on career opportunities (30%).

Unsurprisingly, after everything companies and their employees have done to successfully adapt their operations and working practices to social distancing rules over the last few months, immediately returning to the old ways of working will likely neither be sensible or practical. With safety being the key priority for the ‘new normal’ of office life – communication, flexibility and preparation should be the main focus areas for employers.

With this in mind, what are the challenges and opportunities that employees anticipate as they prepare for the return to work, beyond government and industry supplied health and safety best practice? Furthermore, how can employers best support their staff during this period?

Keep people at the heart of change

It is important to recognise that your workforce has been working through an intense period of uncertainty and change for months, which can be incredibly unsettling. On top of this, working for weeks in isolation without the usual physical interactions with team members could be potentially detrimental to employee engagement and mental wellbeing.

Having adjusted to keep staff connected with one another from a distance with virtual team building exercises, video calls and daily check-ins, as teams begin working in hybrid models with some in the office and others remote, staff engagement will need to adapt again.

Managing people with greater sensitivity and maintaining positivity throughout will be crucial. To help instil a sense of normality and engagement, encourage maximum collaboration between individuals (in accordance with social distancing rules), and make sure teams feel part of company goals and opportunities through regular meetings and communication – no matter their location.

Continuing to invest in technology and offering flexibility will also be important to ensuring that people can continue to work remotely or on-site, either in accordance with their own wishes or as part of your staggered return-to-office plan.

Communicate, communicate, communicate (and listen)

Reassuring staff that they are able to safely return to the office will require continuous communication. From expectations of the physical office, to expectations of how to operate within hybrid teams, these new expectations and new workplace requirements should be communicated to all staff clearly to avoid confusion.

Regular email updates, updates on the company’s intranet and social media channels, as well as frequent town hall meetings (either online or in a smaller setting) could be key elements of an effective communications approach.

Also, consider a feedback channel to allow staff within the team to offer thoughts on their experience of returning to the office and any suggestions on improving the process. Whether on a company-wide basis or a team-by-team approach, schedule regular check-ins to engage with employees’ questions and concerns.

Maintaining open communication channels with your team will be essential for keeping up employee morale and ensuring clarity. For example, if some employees aren’t comfortable with coming to the office every day, then they should have plenty of opportunities to voice their concerns and have them dealt with promptly, respectfully and fairly.

Staggered return-to-office planning

Depending on the size of business and density of office space, maintaining home working arrangements across teams on an alternating basis could make it easier to implement safe social distancing. This involves select teams working remotely while others work on-site on any given day.

An alternating approach to remote working might also reduce the risk of staff feeling pressured or overwhelmed by an immediate return to the office five-days-a-week. After all, some families might be juggling temporary disruptions to childcare arrangements and public transport systems will likely become crowded again. So, a transitionary period will help everyone adjust to post-lockdown office working.

Finally, if you have developed your technology infrastructure to facilitate remote working, you would do well to continue to leverage these new capabilities as in all probability, a mixture of remote and at-office work will be needed for some time.

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Business

Contis enters RBS Capability and Innovation Fund bid seeking £35 million for disruptive SME growth strategy  

Contis enters RBS Capability and Innovation Fund bid seeking £35 million for disruptive SME growth strategy   2

Leading payments provider, Contis, has applied for two grants from the RBS & BCR Alternative Remedies Package, totalling £35 million.  

Unlike most applicants who will deploy funds through a single brand, Contis is taking a completely different approach. The funding will be used to drive fintech innovation in the UK by developing an off the shelf, B2B electronic and card payment technology platform for SMEs. With Contis’ powerful tech stack and regulated status, this will empower hundreds of fintechs to support the SME market with groundbreaking technologies, payments and lending capabilities. Contis today services over 800,000 consumer accounts, 14,500 business accounts and processes £4bn in transactions per year, demonstrating a proven track record.   

UK businesses are facing a challenging economic environment with the impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit. As large corporations and entire sectors are affected, SMEs will play a vital role in the recovery. Contis’ approach is completely disruptive, offering three channels to maximise support for SMEs and sole traders, through three unique brands, all powered by APIs from Contis’ modular and configurable engine. 

1.       Canvas for Business 

Contis is a super-vendor in the world of fintech, offering payments through proven banking rails and card scheme capabilities including issuing pre-paid, debit and virtual cards. They’re linked to digital delivery like Apple Pay and Google Pay, and a trusted tech stack that boasts 99.99% uptime.  

With funding from the Capability and Innovation Fund (CIF), Contis’ technology and regulated services will be made available to the whole fintech community, enabling them to provide dedicated SME accounts with the latest leading-edge capabilities delivered via Contis’ wholly owned, secure, cloud-based technology and apps. Contis’ solution has a firm eye on the need for SMEs to compete internationally, particularly after Brexit, and offers FX integration as standard.  

Canvas for Business will increase competition by providing fintechs serving the SME market with technology that outstrips the big banks. Contis will also provide credit referencing capabilities and empower fintechs to lend to their SME client base through Contis’ own credit licence. Without the constraints of legacy systems, it will enable simple connectivity to accounting and payments solutions, as well as to unlimited future innovations.  

2.       Engage for Business 

Over 150 Credit Unions currently use Contis’ Engage service and technology, and hold an estimated £400 million in undeployed cash reserves. Developed with CIF funding, Engage for Business will enable Credit Unions to launch business accounts and payments products for the first time, and allow excess funds to be redeployed in the SME sector through business support loans. This will revolutionise access to funding for sole traders and small businesses. 

3.       Freedom for Business 

With CIF funding, Contis will also offer large scale SMEs a direct-to-market solution where Contis holds the relationship and provides a bespoke offer to meet the business’ exact needs. 

Contis’ application to the Capability and Innovation Fund is focused on creating the widest possible impact for UK SMEs by fulfilling their accounts & payments needs and driving innovation in SME financial services. 

Through the grant, Contis will empower over 200 fintechs and Credit Unions to provide credit, simplify payments integration into everyday business needs, offer digital credit referencing, provide budgeting tools to SMEs, enable automated payments, give predictive insight on cash flow, provide rewards to SMEs on spending, and much more. 

Peter Cox, Founder and Executive Chairman of Contis said: “Our mission is to democratise payments and financial services for all SMEs, so they’re spoilt for choice with innovative and affordable solutions that meet their exact needs. Our approach, based upon proven technologies, will broaden and disrupt the services available to SMEs far beyond the capabilities of existing providers such as the big banks.  

“By driving competition and innovation, while improving the availability of funding, our approach will increase the services on offer to SMEs and make them more affordable, therefore becoming easier for every entrepreneurial person with vision to run their own businesses.” 

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Business

Four years of digital transformation in four weeks: UK lockdown puts pressure on brands to digitally deliver

Four years of digital transformation in four weeks: UK lockdown puts pressure on brands to digitally deliver 3

Nearly a third (32%) of consumers would switch providers if a brand’s website is unavailable for more than 24 hours

A study released today reveals the scale of omni-channel pressure brands now faced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, as consumers flock to apps and websites to as the priority destination to transact with brands.

The UK has experienced a huge leap in use of online services thanks to lockdown, with the public appearing to have less concern for the availability of a brand’s physical location. Research by Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS) uncovers a “window of availability” that UK businesses now have before consumer loyalty changes:

  • If a brand’s website is down for 24 hours – 32 percent of consumers would switch provider
  • If a brand’s app is down for 24 hours – 28 percent of consumers would switch provider
  • If a physical store is closed for 24 hours – 20 percent of consumers would switch provider

The results by industry paint an interesting picture of the availability timeframes brands are expected to adhere to:

  • For online retailers, excluding grocery retailers – 23 percent of consumers would switch provider if they could not access online services for 12 hours, rising to over a third (34 percent) after 24 hours
  • For financial services and entertainment streaming platforms – 21 percent of consumers would switch provider after 12 hours, rising to 33 percent after 24 hours
  • In the case of online grocery shopping – 20 percent would switch provider after 12 hours, rising to one third 33 percent after 24 hours

The findings also highlight that as digital reliance increases, so will consumer expectations towards availability in the future. Over the coming two years, a third (33 percent) of consumers expect online financial services to always be available, rising to 35 percent for streaming services.

“UK consumers have become reliant on the constant availability of online services, and lockdown has only served to heighten this,” comments Chris Huggett, SVP, EMEA at Sungard AS. “What used to be a choice between physical and digital has now firmly accelerated into digital environments across various industries. As online worlds continue to outpace bricks and mortar as the face of businesses, ensuring constant availability and clear communications on downtime will be key for brands to build trust and loyalty.

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