The Bruce Column — Impact, collaboration, and integrated thinking

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22 Nov 2016

This year’s Finance for the Future Awards was the most successful ever, with a wide range of entrants from all around the world, and new categories for Communicating Integrated Thinking and Investing and Financing. Our regular, resident columnist, Robert Bruce interviewed all the contenders, and then the eventual winners again, and wrote the case studies. Here he sums up the main themes of this year’s winners’ success.

If there was a theme running through the stories of all the winners of this year’s Finance for the Future Awards it was surely the focus on the impact that the efforts of the organisations concerned was creating. Bridges Ventures, which triumphed in the investment and financing category, was all about impact investing, bringing together social investors wanting to foster social impact with social enterprises wishing to grow. The success of water and waste water company United Utilities, which won the newly established Communicating Integrated Thinking award, was all about how the company was reaping the benefits from all the ways that integrated thinking had transformed both its processes and performance. The award for Innovative New Idea went to the Public Services Lab, (PSL), a consortium of organisations on Merseyside which were bringing their different but complementary skills together to create a collaborative approach to rethinking the way that public services could be delivered. Everywhere the world was being turned upside down.

‘It’s really hard’ said Bridges’ investment director, Caroline Tulloch, ‘to combine traditional financial structures and models of socially-focused businesses, and entrepreneurs’. ‘We changed the way we were working’, said United Utilities CFO Russ Houlden, ‘and we needed to communicate that to all of our stakeholders, particularly our investors, our customers and the society around us’. ‘This is a partnership between a number of different organisations’, said Chris Wright, CEO of Catch22, one of the organisations in the consortium, PSL, ‘and the idea is that we bring our collective expertise, energy, drive, and imagination to the fore to encourage others to step up and come up with solutions around the future of public service delivery’.

And this theme stretched across all of the winners. The Climate Disclosure Standards Board, CDSB, was a good example. Collaboration, for them, became the solution. ‘There was this gap in the market’, said managing director, Mardi McBrien. ‘We had climate change. We had investors who said they couldn’t use the information in the market. We had companies saying there were way too many ways to report that information and what did we want them to do. We had Governments saying: “We can’t regulate that yet”. So CDSB’s objective was to harmonise all these different interests into one place, our framework, and try and reconcile all those different objectives’. Collaboration was the only way forward. ‘It’s all about collaboration’, said McBrien. ‘It’s about bringing different disciplines and different ideas together, sharing experiences, testing things out, putting it onto the market, accepting the feedback, and trying again’. This lesson also shone through the highly commended award for HM Treasury in the public sector category. This was all about how the accounts of over 6,000 entities in the public sector were brought together to create one set of consolidated accounts for the whole of the public sector. This was a unique challenge which will create an impact which has profound consequences. ‘One of the big benefits of pulling all of the assets and liabilities into one place’, said Vicky Rock, head of government financial reporting at HM Treasury, ‘is that you can use that to assess the long-term sustainability of the public finances. So we have been working with the Office for Budget Responsibility on this and going wider than their definitions by putting in provisions, putting in guarantees, putting in contingent liabilities, to start to say how the Government’s balance sheet is going to evolve over time. What are the scale of these liabilities? How are they going to be paid for? And this is leading to changes in how policies are made in Government’.

And the range and the geographic reach of the finalists around the world emphasised how ideas of sustainability, integrated reporting and thinking, and collaborative efforts between the old silos of information within organisations are being brought together. From the social and environmental outcomes of the expansion of Auckland Airport to the way mobile banking was overcoming financial exclusion amongst the 110 million people of Pakistan, from the transformative integrated thinking at global healthcare company Novo Nordisk to the ultimate winner of the large business award, Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling, the story was the same. ‘It really teaches you lots of lessons about collaborative working and collaborative thinking’, said Basak Kotler, director, investor relations at Coca-Cola.

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