It takes a village to raise a child, and the same can be said about a company – without community support, companies can crumble.
In 2023, it is now as important as ever to ensure businesses are supporting their local community as much as the local community supports a business.
Wesfarmers Corporate Affairs Executive General Manager Naomi Flutter said supporting local communities where they operated was good for their partners and, from a long-term perspective, she believes Wesfarmers also benefits.
“We know strong, healthy and vibrant communities give our businesses the best opportunity to succeed,” she said.
“From Wesfarmers’ corporate office, we support community organisations working in medical research and wellbeing, education and the arts.
“Within these pillars, we seek to engage Indigenous and Indigenous-led initiatives.
“To consider funding requests fairly, we look for projects and initiatives that align with our pillars.”
EON Foundation Executive Chairperson and Founder Caroline De Mori said community projects relied on financial and in-kind support to deliver programs, build infrastructure and operate services from which vulnerable people could benefit.
“It is very difficult to find funding when you are a small, under-resourced organisation often relying on sporadic volunteerism,” she said.
“Companies that genuinely and sincerely invest in their local communities for the right reasons will enjoy a tremendous reputation boost, trust and loyalty that far outweighs the dollars donated.”
Ms De Mori began the EON Foundation in 2005, with the goal to improve health and prevent disease caused by poor nutrition and food insecurity across northern Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
“Fresh food is expensive and not always available to remote communities and, as a result, community members suffer terribly from diseases such as diabetes, kidney failure, heart disease and hearing loss caused by nutritional poverty,” she said.
“EON grows fresh fruit and vegetables, including bush tucker and medicine, in partnership with remote schools and families.
“It also teaches nutrition, food hygiene and cooking, and trains students and adults in hospitality and horticulture.
“The program is invitation only and EON commits to visiting each community four days every fortnight for up to 10 years to build capacity, skills and micro-enterprise.
“Every year, we implement our program to thousands of children and families across the top.
“Our staff travel 200,000km-plus and our partners cook many thousands of nutritious meals from what they have grown in the edible gardens.”
A major benefit of supporting communities through sponsorships and partnerships is the positive impact it can have on a company’s brand.
One of Wesfarmers’ primary partnerships is with Rowing WA’s Making Waves program, which began in 2019 – this partnership, among many others, has allowed Wesfarmers to brand itself as a community-focused company.
One target area of the Making Waves program is giving students, including neurodivergent individuals, the chance to learn how to row at Champion Lakes.
“We liked Making Waves for its novelty, leveraging terrific assets at the Champion Lakes rowing facility to deliver physical, education and wellbeing outcomes among students at schools in the area,” Ms Flutter said.
“Most – if not all – of these students wouldn’t otherwise have rowed.
“For many years, we have known that it is only possible for Wesfarmers to achieve our primary objective over the long term if, among other things, we support the communities in which we operate.
“We provide this support in various ways through partnerships and sponsorships, with local and national community organisations, including new, innovative initiatives like Making Waves.”
Ms De Mori said companies only had to look at recent examples of where big corporations didn’t understand their obligations to the community and experienced enormous backlash to see the importance of corporate social responsibility.
“A positive corporate reputation takes years to build and can be destroyed in an instant,” she said.
“However, if the corporation, generally, is a good citizen, the community will forgive an accident or incident associated with it.
“It will not forgive those who only take and do not give.
“People like to know that companies’ profits are helping vulnerable communities not just wealthy investors.
“If they think the profits are being shared, they are more likely to support.”
Team spirit and customer experience
Ms De Mori said being involved in grassroots and community initiatives was beneficial for corporate companies because it could build a sense of team spirit amongst employees.
“Employees and their management must participate in the community they are a part of, as I believe being good corporate citizens is everyone’s responsibility,” she said.
“More than ever, employees want to know they are having a positive impact on the world and community, and contributing to a grassroots community organisation is a great start.
“Contributing either by fundraising or hands-on volunteering builds team spirit, social cohesion, confidence, a sense of purpose and fun.
“It may bring a new hobby, interest or skill to employees that they would otherwise never have gained.”
Beyond creating a positive perception for employees, supporting communities through partnerships and sponsorships can also have a positive effect on customers.
“Where possible, we try to align our community programs with customers,” Ms Flutter said.
“Our divisions and their managing directors are encouraged to support their local communities.
“Across the group, terrific examples include Bunning's community sausage sizzles, the Kmart Wishing Tree Appeal and the Officeworks Back to School Appeal, where local customers support local communities, typically, alongside our businesses.
“Bunnings has a long-standing focus on supporting local communities, undertaking more than 54,000 local activities in the last financial year to help raise and contribute more than $29 million for community groups, including schools, sporting groups, service clubs and other groups.
“As another example, Kmart has chosen to focus its support on young people.
“It has a range of partners, including Smiling Mind – Australia’s leading preventative mental health not-for-profit organisation, which provides children and young people with skills to thrive in life.
“Reflecting their customer base, Officeworks has a particular focus on helping to educate disadvantaged students and together with its customers, raising $7.3 million in the 2022 financial year.
“Each store selects a local charity or group they would like to support based on their connections within the community and who needs it most.
“Officeworks also runs business-wide programs like the Officeworks Back to School Appeal, which supports The Smith Family to provide scholarships to help disadvantaged children.”
These kinds of partnerships leave a positive impact on the local communities involved and lead the way for other corporations to do the same.
By choosing to sponsor and donate to local community initiatives, companies are able to reap the benefits.