Ethics – a term we use to describe our worldview, our personal values and beliefs we hold true. Now, ethics can be applied to the high street. People are increasingly making purchasing decisions in accordance to their personal ethics. Not only do we look at the clothes on the hangers or products on the shelves, but we look at the values the business holds – how do they treat their staff? Do they pay their taxes? Do they support human rights?
Businesses are recognising not only the necessity of engaging with ethics, but their personal responsibility to engage with the movements their communities are creating. From Sportswear companies working with their customers to help clean up Fifa to the beauty industry empowering women of all shapes and sizes to take the stand, businesses from across the spectrum are engaging their ethics in everything that they do.
And M&S is no exception. M&S is committed to making a positive difference to millions of their customers. Their Plan A, launched 10 years ago was introduced to make M&S a more sustainable business. Now, M&S is committed to making a difference to the lives of millions of their customers by using their expertise and resources to support the communities they live in.
As part of this, M&S is launching a fantastic new programme aimed at working with communities across the UK to help them deliver positive change. Piloting across 10 areas in the UK, M&S is listening to people about what they love about their area, and what improvements they would like to see.
We at The Social Change Agency have had the pleasure of helping M&S run these community conversations across the ten areas in the UK. We caught up with Sarah Ford, Delivery Manager for Plan A from M&S to hear about the programme in more detail.
What spurred M&S to run this programme?
Sarah: M&S has a legacy of connecting with communities. We’ve always been active in fundraising and volunteering with charities, we help with food waste and we’ve helped the unemployed get back into work. So this is the natural next step for us. This programme aims to work with communities to deliver positive and measurable change over the next two years. Because healthier communities are needed for a healthy economy.
SCA: M&S is launching this programme as any movement that aims to elevate the voices of community members should: by listening. Over the next month, The Social Change Agency are working with M&S listen to the stories, hopes and fears of people within each community. And the experience so far has been heart-warming.
People from across all sectors in the community came together with a shared love for their community, and together they have identified areas they thought should be improved. Through these community conversations, M&S is bringing like-minded people together to shape the future of their area.
Part of M&S’ Plan A strategy is to help transform 1,000 communities. How does this programme of Community Conversations feed into the wider goal?
Sarah: We’re going to be building and building. From the first ten communities we listen to, we’ll build programmes that are tailored to them. We’ll then take those learnings and allow them to shape the programmes in the next 100 communities, and finally, we’ll take the learnings from those 100 communities and share them with the next 1,000, our total number of stores up and down the country.
SCA: M&S is allowing itself the space to really interrogate each stage of this process. While they connect more and more people with each other, M&S is reshaping its programme in accordance to what the community wants. M&S is moulding itself to the communities it’s working with, so that they work collaboratively with communities rather than dictate to them.
What role do you think businesses play in communities?
Sarah: We as a business operate within the community. Our customers and our colleagues are part of that community. It’s therefore important that we work within the community. It is only in thriving communities that businesses can thrive. Our biggest asset is our staff: our teams of people who really want to make a difference. They play a big role in connecting our colleagues and customers to communities.
Through our research and listening we will be identifying common themes so the programme has core areas of focus in order to have impact.
SCA: We love this response! It encapsulates everything that’s so brilliant about corporates and local communities working together.. M&S really emphasise connection. How we’re going to connect our colleagues to our customers to our communities. There’s a genuine passion here and this coupled with resources M&S can dedicate to the project means that they have real potential to help build and mobilise local movements for change .
We’re really excited to see the outcomes of this project and the development of M&S’ Plan A over the next few years. M&S is showing how to do business responsibly, sustainably, and always in line with their fundamental values. They’re showing us how business can support local communities to shape change through collaboration, participation and, importantly, authenticity. M&S is showing their genuine potential to make a difference to the world.