Insights from Italian Businesses Aligning to the Needs of the Community during the Pandemic
How can companies leverage the power of community to advance the alignment of their business objectives with the wellbeing of humans and the planet? Jacqueline Giorgia Bergamaschini,Trinity Business School finalist in the 2021 CoBS CSR competition, with a focus on the pandemic and how Italian flagship brands responded.
It Takes a Community to Build a Community: Insights from Italian Businesses Aligning to the Needs of the Community during the Pandemic, by Jacqueline Giorgia Bergamaschini.
Adapt, collaborate and survive
The present situation has forced people to adapt their routines and habits. Similarly, companies around the world have been pushed to rethink their business strategies to deal with the global pandemic. In this context, the role of the community has constituted a game changer for businesses which understood how to leverage and take advantage of the social context. They have done this by contributing to the community and at the same time adapting their business models and objectives to face the economic crisis and survive.
No company is an island
When John Donne wrote his famous “No Man is an Island”, he introduced the idea that human beings need to feel and be part of a community in order to prosper.
In the same way, in order to be successful, businesses should care about the ecosystem in which they operate and engage with their stakeholders including customers, suppliers and local communities. Consequently, the way companies build relationships with the ecosystem is determinant for their success or failure: it is vital to understand and interpret changes in society in order to identify new ways to grow.
This issue has become even more fundamental following the COVID-19 outbreak: in this context, we have witnessed increased support from companies to their stakeholders all over the world. The pandemic inspired small and large businesses to support their communities while redefining their strategies to overcome the financial crisis: this is a double-faced initiative which at the same time provides support to the ecosystem and gives to companies a way to adapt their business models.
Rome wasn’t built in a day (and neither is a community)
Italian businesses constitute an interesting example of how companies can drive meaningful change for both businesses and society. For a country rooted in culture, literature and art like Italy, this is the only way forward for financial growth that also benefits local communities. It must be said that, prior to the global pandemic outbreak, the bond with culture was already an integral part of Italian businesses’ corporate identity: noteworthy examples are luxury fashion brands like Prada or Tod’s which “made good by doing business” through a wide range of initiatives.
For example, Prada Group’s approach to Corporate Social Responsibility can be spread along three lines of interest: people, culture and environment. In this regard, Prada Group launched a series of “Shaping a Future” events with the objective of debating the most relevant current changes occurring in society (pradagroup.com).
Tod’s Group is committed towards the local and international community and towards the areas in which the Group operates with the goal of improving Italy’s global reputation. In this sense, Tod’s acts as an ambassador for Italian heritage and culture: for example, in 2011, the Group invested 25 million euros in the restoration of the Colosseum in Rome partnering with some political institutions including the Italian Ministry of Cultural Affairs (todsgroup.com).
The aim of the project was to spread the company’s values: tradition, passion and creativity so that “Made in Italy” could be exposed on the most known Italian monument.
These are examples of businesses engaging with communities in “normal” times, but how can companies, in the present pandemic situation, leverage the power of community to align their business models with the needs of society?
While there is currently a lack of many resources and supplies, the most pressing need is for medical supplies as hospitals’ resources become increasingly stretched as a result of the large number of COVID-19 hospitalisations.
The worldwide famous Italian brand Armani recognizes itself as being an important part of the region and the communities in which it operates its business: consequently, it has established partnerships with institutions, the cultural community and charitable organizations overtime, promoting programs – including long-term ones that are in line with its values (armani.group.com). As such, promoting social and economic growth is a part of a company’s duty, not just to its employees, but also to the local communities.
With the COVID-19 outbreak, the lack of individual protection for healthcare personnel has been one of the greatest problems at national level. In this context, after having donated 2 million euros to Italian hospitals, in March 2020 the Armani Group announced that all of its Italian manufacturing plants had turned to producing single-use medical overalls, used for the individual safety of healthcare employees fighting against the virus.
This initiative was certainly driven by the willingness to help society, but it was, nevertheless, a convenient strategic move for the Group too. By converting production from traditional clothing to medical equipment, Armani was able to make use of raw textile materials already in stock and to save employees from a period of unemployment. In fact, the production of medical equipment was recognized as an essential activity and therefore the Group was able to circumvent the strict Italian Lockdown that started in March 2020.
This is, therefore, a perfect example of how aligning the business model to the needs of the community can be beneficial for businesses in order to survive during the pandemic financial crisis.
In this context, many other businesses in Italy welcomed the opportunity: for example, having to face closure imposed by the national lockdown, some restaurants decided to use already purchased stocks of food to prepare meals to be distributed in the hospitals partnering with the famous pasta brand Barilla. This was a smart way to avoid waste of resources that would have otherwise expired.
A war economy
In times of crisis, companies must find new ways to reactivate the economy and to support culture and communities. Because a crisis, as bad as it can be, could bring new opportunities. It is essential that companies work together with their stakeholders – only through a collective effort and commitment it is possible to restart and look at the future.
We are currently living a “war economy” meaning that companies’ business models and production capacity must dramatically convert to meet the specific needs of the moment. A curious example is the world-famous Burberry trench coat which was initially created during the First World War to dress soldiers fighting in trenches and through the years it has become a “must have” in fashion.
Consequently, a crisis such as the present pandemic slows down businesses, but at the same time they can leverage the moment by realigning their objectives and production with the needs of the community. The motto is thus to be flexible and adapt rapidly to produce what the community asks for in times of crisis: this could at the same time constitute an opportunity to discover new insights and to grow beyond traditional activities.
- View the winners and finalists in the 2021 CSR article competition
- Read a related article: Leading in a Troubled World: Lessons from COVID-19
- Discover and study at Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin
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