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When enterprise is good for the community

Business can create welfare for a community, and not only financial welfare, but much more as well. The road to uniting business and profits with welfare and the community is an arduous one, but one that is important to study and, where possible, embark upon. The experiences of industry that “does good” for a community – experiences that are not just of today, but which can be found in decades past – can even be found right here in Italy. Although nothing is perfect and there is always room for improvement, what happens when a business takes a positive approach to its territory and its community is, nonetheless, something interesting to analyse and that can teach us a great deal.

An interesting read in this regard can be found in the report “Welfare e Ben-essere: il ruolo delle imprese nello sviluppo della comunità” (Welfare and Wellbeing: the role of enterprise in community development), which the Region of Emilia-Romagna’s office for the promotion of social policy, associations, volunteer work and the integration of immigrants has recently published. Written by multiple authors and from multiple points of view (and intriguing right from the title of the work), this report opens with the observation that the creation of a new model of welfare must necessarily involve multiple actors in the community, all contributing to provide original solutions to emerging needs. Among the most significant of these actors, in addition to the public and the civil sector, enterprise can, and does, play a key role.

The goal of the study (conducted with the help of CNA, Confindustria and Unioncamere), therefore, was to discover and promote the contribution of parties other than government and find out how they can contribute to the creation of welfare services, with particular reference being made to the world of for-profit business. The study focused on the field of regional industry and selected seven case studies from the entire population of enterprises in order to take a closer look at the experiences of businesses that are also actors contributing to the social wellbeing of the community. These experiences ranged from the promotion of proper nutrition (Non congelateci il sorriso) and “company volunteer work” in high-tech segments (VolontAriamo) to meeting the needs of the disadvantaged (Portobello, Emporio di Parma and Cibo Amico), reclaiming traditional production techniques (Alici per gli amici), and working with the disabled (L’antiBARriera). In each case, the culture of enterprise extended to the surrounding community to merge with the needs of that community and to share information and ideas for development.

As the report states, the theoretical point of reference was that of “shared value”, i.e. a new way of pursuing financial goals while also focusing on goals of a social nature. In this way, the business in question conveys an image different from the stereotypical profit-only focus. The report explains that businesses that place the concept of shared value at the basis of their actions pursue strategies and adopt technologies and processes that systematically involve all of the individual members of their ecosystem (i.e. employees, customers, suppliers, and other partners) in the maximisation of this value. Not empty ideals, but something quite different, something higher and more complete.

Welfare e Ben-essere: il ruolo delle imprese nello sviluppo della comunità

Various authors

Assessorato Promozione delle politiche sociali e di integrazione per l’immigrazione,  volontariato, associazionismo e Terzo Settore Regione Emilia-Romagna

Bologna, August 2014