The bank’s joint programme is part of its Shared Growth Ambition strategy to improve lives while providing returns to shareholders. Tom Idle reports…
As global financial institutions double down on programs to earn public trust, Barclays’ roots in the Quaker movement give it a unique context from which to project its social contributions. The business, which has operations in more than 50 countries, can be traced back some 325 years to two Quakers, John Freame and Thomas Gould, who established themselves as goldsmith bankers in the City of London in 1690. Helped in no small part by their Quaker connections, their business flourished and helped to pave the way for the development of the business we know today.
Fast forward to 2012, and the company launched its first ever unified citizenship plan
– a commitment designed to engage all parts of its global business and explore how the key decisions it makes at a strategic level, as well as on a day-to-day basis, might contribute more positively to society. The result is a strategic plan designed to help customers, clients and community members better prosper, enabling further growth of the business in the process.
The strategy will play out over the next few years in a number of ways, including a smart new initiative called Unreasonable Impact
– a multi-year partnership between Barclays and Unreasonable Group. It is a programme designed to support entrepreneurs whose ideas and solutions have the potential to be scaled up to both help solve some of today’s most pressing societal challenges, as well as employing people worldwide.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), within the next four years the global economy will need 212 million new jobs in order to accommodate people who are currently unemployed, to supplement projected job losses as a result of industries becoming more automated, and to provide opportunities for the next generation. It is this global challenge Barclays is keen to address head on. “Our employability strategy includes both developing skills training to ready people for jobs, plus looking at the demand side of that equation: job creation,” says Mark Thain, Barclays’ director of social innovation.
The bank acknowledges that the majority of new jobs will not come from big business. Instead they will come from a subset of entrepreneurs whose ideas, solutions and products are best primed for scale when supported by a major corporate that is able to support their growth. So, that’s where it is focusing its attention.
The first Unreasonable Impact programme launched in the UK in September 2016 as an intensive two-week accelerator session. A group of 10 entrepreneurs descended on the remote Alderley House in Gloucestershire, and hunkered down to work with a group of expert mentors and industry experts, as well as a number of people from across Barclays. “We use the island effect, which isolates these entrepreneurs for two weeks, takes them away from the craziness of their day jobs running a business in the scale up stage. We wrap them in this bubble so they can really immerse themselves in the experience,” says Thain.
“Daily life at a programme is centred around a belief that business is fundamentally about people, partnerships, and relationships. Given the selected ventures are at a high-growth rather than early-stage in their company’s development, their needs are often precise and specific to their team and business model.”
Among the entrepreneurs that spent a fortnight in Gloucestershire was the hydrogen fuel cell car manufacturer, Riversimple
, which is developing a product-as-service concept that could change how the world uses resources. The business currently employs 15 people, but its R&D centre is expanding and is set to employ more than 100 people within five years.
A company turning waste into luxury fashion items, Elvis & Kresse, was also there. It dreams of a world without landfills, where everything is recycled or composted. And it has its sights set on dealing with the 35,000 tonnes of leather waste produced every year across Europe. Reclaiming that waste and making new products will demand more and more labour.
“We were keen to work with Unreasonable Group because they are renowned for their ability to search and select the very best entrepreneurs for this programme,” says Thain. “We agreed to the parameters and we wanted to look beyond those start ups who were still cooking in the kitchen and instead support those that were closer to a proven business model with products in the market – and with the potential to create jobs.
“We’re also selecting ventures that are creating positive social impact too – whether environmental, clean tech, healthcare, waste management.”
Successive programmes will run in the US and Asia, with a second and third wave repeated in each region over the next three years.
So, how will Barclays and Unreasonable know if their programme has had the lasting impact? Well, largely it will be about jobs. The organisations expect each company to create at least 500 jobs within the next five years – and will track this goal across participating companies and emerging industries that result from developed innovations.
The other metric that will be used is the speed of scale. Each year, the programme will monitor the growth in revenue, profits, customers, team sizes, and geographic expansion of each participating company. And ultimately, the partnership is looking to build and support a strong portfolio of entrepreneurial-led companies that are tackling the big social and environmental challenges of our time.
Unreasonable Impact is a great example of how a company’s expertise and insight can be leveraged, in partnership, to support action where it is needed most.
In the bigger picture of Barclays’ strategy, between now and 2018 the company’s Shared Growth Ambition is designed to build a stronger link between the bank’s own success and the progress of society in general; it needs a strong economy, full of thriving and healthy citizens if it is to enjoy strong growth itself.
“Our long-term aim is to create and grow a collection of products, services and partnerships that improve the lives of people in the communities which we serve, while providing the commercial return our shareholders deserve,” says Barclays’ group chief executive, Jes Staley.