Rediscovering the social purpose of business

The Centre for Theology & Community l

Tim Thorlby is CTC’s Development Director. He leads our work on missional enterprise and is also a Director, and the Chair, of Clean for Good. After launching Clean for Good in the City of London, he blogs here about the opportunity this represents for the church.

On Thursday, we launched Clean for Good in the City of London – London’s first ethical contract cleaning company. It is a business with a social purpose, aiming to change the way that cleaning is done in London, giving cleaners a fairer deal.

We launched in style, together with magnificent views of St Paul’s Cathedral out of the window, thanks to the generosity of our legal friends at Sheppard & Wedderburn who hosted us. We were able to celebrate with the whole team – investors, supporters, customers, managers and some of our cleaners too.

At CTC, this was a special milestone as we have been working on this project for 3 years, from its earliest days. Initially working in partnership with the team at St Andrew by the Wardrobe, and then the Church Mission Society as well, we have experienced the highs and lows of starting a new business. We have played a key role in undertaking research, developing the business plan and project managing the development and launch of the company – working with a great team of partner organisations and supporters. As a founder investor, we remain closely involved, helping to steer the company as it grows.

You can read more about Clean for Good, how it developed and its vision in a recent blog. The latest news is that business is accelerating. Turnover is up to £150k and Clean for Good now cleans city offices, community centres, charities, cafes and churches across Newham, Tower Hamlets, Islington, Camden, Hackney and the City of London. We are working towards breaking even in 2018, but so far, so good.

It’s a great story.

It also contains an urgent message to the church.

If the church is serious about wanting to love its neighbour, pursue social justice and build strong local communities then it must learn to engage positively and whole-heartedly with the business world.

Government has an important role to play in building a healthy society through legislating, regulating and providing public services. Charities also have a key role to play in providing welfare services and innovating. But the Common Good also requires a healthy, socially responsible business sector.

The private sector is huge part of British life. The majority of British workers are employed in the private sector (and probably most church-goers) and many of the services we rely upon are also provided by those same businesses – from the electricity we use to boil our kettles, to the builders of our houses, the shops we buy our bread from and the couriers delivering our parcels.

Where is the Church in all of this? The Church is good at engaging with Government and, as a part of the charity sector itself, is naturally at home in providing welfare and support to those in need. But the Church often seems either reluctant or perhaps just ill-equipped to engage constructively with the private sector.

Clean for Good is one example of what happens when a local church listens to its community to discern a need and then works with partners (like CTC) to shape a new business to meet those needs. Clean for Good is now giving a growing number of cleaners better quality jobs and a higher income than they had before. We didn’t wait for legislation or ask for charity, we made it happen through a business operating in the market place. If it works, it will be fully financially sustainable – no subsidy.

Clean for Good is a business with a social purpose. But then, every business should have a social purpose, because that is what they are for.

We need a lot more such businesses. We also need a lot more of our existing businesses to rediscover their social purpose.

It won’t just happen. The Church has a calling to get organised and make its contribution to ensure it does happen. Every Denomination, Diocese, Synod and Circuit should have a considered approach to engaging with business as part of its mission. It is time the Church recognised the business world as a place to reach, a place to teach and a place to work – for the good of all.

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