Discover why doing business ethically really can pay – 3 October – Open Norwich - RSA

Discover why doing business ethically really can pay at Open Norwich


  • Picture of Robert Ashton
    Robert Ashton
    Non-fiction author & social entrepreneur
  • Future of Work
  • Employment
  • Social enterprise

The nature of work is changing.

My parents’ generation grew up believing that the goal was job security. Their mantra was to keep your ‘head down and nose clean’, with a decent pension and happy retirement the ultimate goal. My children, as millennials, expect to move jobs many times and in common with most of their generation, will choose employers on the basis of their social impact.  

According to the Guardian, 42% of the total workforce ‘now wants to work for an organisation that has a positive impact on the world.’ And as we near full employment with many preferring the flexibility of part time work it’s increasingly becoming the case that to attract and retain the best people, a business has to be clearly socially responsible. 

Matthew Taylor, in his recently published Review on Modern Employment Practices, comments that ‘Our idea of what it is to be a respected citizen should not stop at the office or factory door.’  But what can we as Fellows do to play our part in bringing about more wholesome business practices? 

My own work, as a social entrepreneur, author and now publisher means I spend a lot of my time in that space between the corporate and charity sectors. I’ve used my network to bring together people I think can prompt local debate. Most importantly, they can help us recognise the role we can each play, be we an employee, employer or consumer.  

Ethical business has its roots in history. 17th century Quakers managed very successfully to balance profit with an ethical approach to commercial transactions and employee relations. Later, the cooperative movement introduced the concept of employee and customer ownership, creating a business model that has proven to be more resilient in times of recession. 

In 2011 charity Blueprint for Better Business emerged from a conversation between a group of business leaders and the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster. They believed that businesses should have a corporate purpose which respects the dignity of people and serves society as the foundation for delivering a sustainable financial return. The rapid broadening of the spectrum of constituencies supporting this core proposition, across business and wider society, suggests a real appetite for change. 

The event takes place at Open in Norwich. The building was once the home of Gurney’s Bank, a Quaker business. A collaboration between the RSA, Norwich Cathedral and Norwich Quakers, it will be chaired by the Very Revd Jane Hedges, Dean of Norwich Cathedral. You will hear senior speakers from the Quaker movement, East of England Coop and Investing Ethically.

Also speaking will be Loughlin Hickey, co-founder of charity Blueprint for Better Business.

‘Too many people accept that success in business requires all to pursue their own self-interest. Not only is that a narrow view of human instincts but it actually blocks business potential,’ Loughlin explained. 

‘What I and the other speakers will do is to show how moving beyond self-interest, to our human instincts to collaborate towards a common good, can unleash untapped potential for business and society to prosper together.’ 

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