The Bruce Column — Finance for the Future: spreading the word globally and enhancing best practice

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16 May 2016

This year’s Finance for the Future Awards aim to expand best practice and spread the word around the world. Robert Bruce, our regular, resident, columnist explains how ideas, insight and advice can change business thinking.

The best way to bring about change in business is to show very clearly how it can be done and then reference the examples of companies which have, successfully, achieved it.

The Prince of Wales’ Accounting for Sustainability project, A4S, has come a long way in a relatively short time. From initial discussions amongst a small number of experts in a converted bedroom in Clarence House, the Prince’s official residence, the project has progressed to become a truly global influence in spreading best practice and building understanding. And one of the ways it has done this is through the awards system it set up with ICAEW.

This autumn, for the fifth time, the annual Finance for the Future Awards, now in partnership with Deloitte, will recognise and celebrate the role of the finance function as fulcrum, catalyst and instigator in the task of encouraging business performance and sustainability. It is all about going beyond the traditional silos of knowledge and resource and creating value as a result of a much more coherent and collaborative process. The early days of the Prince’s Project of putting together initial frameworks and bringing a growing number of CFOs into the fold to share ideas have expanded into a truly global presence.

Earlier this year, for example, A4S held a Summit in New Delhi in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Cost Accountants and CIMA.  The focus of the Summit was the role of finance leadership in delivering sustainable economic outcomes, expanding the work of A4S's CFO Leadership Network within India. ‘A4S’, said Jessica Fries, its Executive Chairman, ‘works with CFOs around the world to explore the leadership role that they can play to set a sustainable trajectory for businesses and economies. We see real innovation happening in different parts of the world to integrate social and environmental risk and opportunity with the strategy and decision making, and to explore how these issues can drive value.  The Network provides an opportunity to share the best approaches being adopted globally’. Case studies ranged from Hindustan Unilever and their integrated strategy, for example, using a focus on public health and water issues to deliver positive social impact and underpin the growth of health products, to suggestions from Tata on how to measure impact. 

Prior to the Summit, A4S held a Measure What Matters workshop as part of a three year project being undertaken in partnership with a number of other organisations.  The Measure What Matters project is exploring opportunities for business, governments and other stakeholders to collaborate in order to achieve the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, in particular focused on ways to close the data gaps that all organisations face when trying to measure areas such as natural, social and human capital.  The Global Goals, also called the Sustainable Development Goals, were agreed by the United Nations in September last year, setting out a series of ambitious goals to 2030.  'Unlike the Millennium Development Goals which they replace', said Jessica Fries, 'the Global Goals are seen as universal – relevant to every country across the world,  comprehensive, and inclusive – recognising the vital role that business, finance and civil society play in their achievement'.

The Measure What Matters workshop in New Delhi brought experts, business, governments, the not-for profit sector and the accountancy profession together. It stressed the need for collaboration between the business community and governments, both in terms of the role that business and government can play to deliver the goals, and partnership opportunities to measure progress.

One of the most important ways to share ideas globally is the Finance for the Future Awards. ‘This year we are raising awareness globally’, said Fries. ‘We will use the awards to showcase the leadership that will inspire other people to act on their example’. 

The strength of the Finance for the Future awards has been cumulative. Each year has seen the growing bank of case studies of best practice amongst the winners become an ever-larger and invaluable source of ideas, insights and simple how-to-do-it advice. In partnership with Deloitte the awards are now aiming for a global reach as A4S sets its sights on a global influence and networks.

It is all about spreading the word and sharing the experience. After all in such a field there are no borders. But at the same time, as the Prince of Wales continues to remind us, the world is still a small place with natural resources which are limited. And we all need to work within that conundrum, which is why a bank of best practice created through the awards process is so important and so is the work of organisations like A4S.

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