Caring for carers: a growing opportunity for social entrepreneurs

Twenty odd years ago, few big businesses embraced responsible business. Those that did tended to adopt particular aspects such as tackling pollution, race & gender equality or supporting urban and community regeneration.

Nowadays, few big companies would say they are unconcerned about their environmental, social & governance (ESG) impacts. Now, we know failure is an orphan and success has many parents! Still, I’d argue that the increasing adoption of corporate responsibility (CR) was thanks in substantial part to the emergence of some key CR coalitions around the world such as BSR (Business for Social Responsibility), WBCSD (The World Business Council for Sustainable Development) and the International Business Leaders’ Forum (IBLF), initiated by Business in the Community (BITC).

Many such coalitions were conceived and built by remarkable social entrepreneurs. Typical of these social entrepreneurs is Talia Aharoni who created MAALA: Israel Business for Social Responsibility (and led the coalition for its first fifteen years) and Khaled Kassar who set up and runs CSR Lebanon. Just miles away on the Mediterranean coast but in other respects worlds apart, both Talia and Khaled are great social entrepreneurs, enthusing and inspiring their respective business communities.

Today, very few of the world’s 100 largest economies don’t have at least one network promoting responsible business. Some countries have several including national chapters of the UN Global Compact, and a small but growing network of B-Labs, promoting the B-Corp model.


Why companies should care more for carers

As someone involved in developing CR coalitions and a chronicler of their evolution, I reflect on the creation and spread of the coalitions as I ponder my own latest challenge. This is: how can we encourage employers to take care of their employees who are juggling their job with caring for a loved one – maybe a parent or other elderly relative, a life-partner or a disabled child / sibling?

One in nine of the UK workforce at any one time are working carers. In Australia, it is 1:8, in the US 1:6 and in Israel 1:4. As populations, age and government welfare budgets contract, more of us will become an unpaid carer at some points in our lives.

This may be for a short, intense period perhaps when a family member or close friend has a nasty accident and needs help as they recover. Conversely, the caring may start imperceptibly as you give (say) your parents a bit of help with the shopping or gardening or dealing with their finances, and it then gradually builds as the person cared for needs more and more help.

Caring for a loved one is a fundamental part of life, part of what makes us humans. For many of us, it may be the most important thing we do in life. Despite this and despite the growing numbers – there might be as many as 300 million working carers globally – only a few employers have carer policies or provide practical support to their employee carers.

Caring is not yet seen as an integral part of diversity and inclusion, or fundamental to creating a great place to work. Yet making it easier for working carers to stay in work makes bottom-line sense since the peak age for caring is 45-64 years, for many employers the age band their most experienced and engaged employees sit within. Employers with effective carer policies save money on recruitment and training of replacements.

Only one or two of the existing corporate responsibility coalitions have even started to consider support for working carers as part of their diversity and inclusion and responsible workplace campaigns. Apart from a low-key, one-off, web-based good practice group in the US, only the UK has a dedicated network of employers for carers.

The Employers for Carers (EfC) network is provided by staff from the charity Carers UK. Launched in 2009 as an employers’ membership forum, EfC now has over 120 member organisations across the public, private and voluntary sectors. Members share experience and help identify and disseminate good practice in supporting their working carers.  


The opportunity for social enterprise

I would like to think there are some social entrepreneurs around the world who might build similar networks of responsible employers keen to learn from each other and share their experiences with  others about being great employers for their working carers, just as the members of corporate responsibility coalitions have done over the years with other aspects of responsible business practices.

This might be as part of the activities of one of the national carers’ organisations which exist in numerous countries around the world. It might be a free-standing network or part of an existing responsible business coalition or a business representative organisation such as an employers’ federation, Chamber of Commerce or a small business association.

Around the world, the caring field has many other opportunities for social entrepreneurs. These include marrying up families seeking help with caring and care workers especially for respite care, and developing technologies to make caring easier.

Mycare is a socially responsible enterprise based in Auckland, New Zealand. Launched in 2015 as New Zealand’s first online marketplace connecting people to a national network of carers, it has quickly grown into New Zealand’s largest online community for home care services with over 3,000 care workers registered.

It has been described as the Airbnb for paid care work and a call for expansion investment at the end of 2016 was over-subscribed. Mycarers is working with a number of major employers as well as Carers New Zealand. There are also opportunities for co-operatives of freelance workers to provide their members with advice and information about caring.

Working and caring should also matter for existing social entrepreneurs and social enterprises. Most social enterprises are employers so they may have co-workers who are already grappling with working and caring. As responsible employers, social enterprises will want to help their employees.

This may involve flexible working arrangements and providing carer leave or more practical changes like providing a private space for carers to make and receive calls relating to the person they are caring for.

In the UK, employees have the legal right to request flexible working (after six months’ service) but it is currently up to employers as to whether they respond. Many of us would like to see this right extended to all employees without a period of service restriction, as good employers like Centrica already do.

Depending on the core activities of the social enterprise, practical information about caring may be relevant to clients and customers – for example for social housing providers. Social entrepreneurs rightly pride themselves on identifying and responding creatively to societal needs. Caring better for carers is such a societal need – indeed, it is one of the targets identified by Sustainable Development Goal Number 5

David Grayson is a former social entrepreneur who co-founded Project North East in 1980 (now PNE Group). His new book “Take Care: How to be a great employer for working carers” is published by Emerald Publishing.

Photo credit: Matthias Zomer/Pexels