Being good is good business (pt 1)
2007-08-09 15:01:09 -
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Why being responsible in your community gives you an edge Founder of O’Briens Sandwich Bars, BRODY SWEENEY, continues his series on how to cope with the stresses and strains of starting a new enterprise  

We discovered rather late in the evolution of our business that getting involved in a charitable effort was not just good in terms of publicity but, far more significantly, made the stakeholders in the business – staff, suppliers and customers – feel better about their relationship with the company.

In fact, it had such a good effect that we have made it one of our corporate goals to adopt an appropriate cause and devote management time to helping others, just as we manage all the other aspects of the business. We took this approach to our involvement with the Special Olympics World Summer Games, which took place in Ireland in 2003.

We got involved in the games partly because I had an interest in people with learning disabilities, but also, to be honest, because I could see that there was a significant commercial benefit in having our small brand name elevated to the big time by its association with a large, prestigious event.

What we hadn’t expected was the goodwill and team spirit the games engendered for all the people associated with us. Our people really felt better about themselves and the company; as a result, productivity improved, staff felt more loyal to the company, customers who might have drifted away stayed with us, and a great feeling was created throughout the business.

What follows is the story of our first involvement with what is fashionably known as ‘corporate social responsibility’. 

It was a bright, sunny morning in Anchorage, as a polite American soldier drove us across town to the venue where the skiing events were being held. There was a lot more snow in Alaska than we’re used to in Ireland, and it was banked up in dirty mounds along the edge of the road. As we exited the town and headed for the mountains, Lulu and I looked forward to the day with some trepidation. We were on our way to see the Irish downhill skiing team compete in the Special Olympics World Winter Games as guests of the Irish organisers, as a prelude to the World Summer Games, which were to be held in Ireland in the summer of 2003.

We were nervous because this was to be our first real exposure to the Special Olympics people: the athletes, coaches, family members, supporters and organisers of one kind or another. Our exposure to people with learning disabilities up till then had been virtually nil, and I was frankly scared about my first encounter with such people.

That day changed our lives for the better. That day, and for the rest of the trip, we walked around with lumps in our throats as we observed the triumphs and tragedies experienced – and the love and emotion shown – by all the people on the slopes. Not given to overt displays of emotion, I found myself crying quietly to myself. The Irish team performed magnificently for their country, notwithstanding that for a number of athletes, this was their first time skiing on real snow!

At the awards ceremonies for the bocce (a sport similar to hockey) event that evening, we saw the Special Olympics schools-enrichment programme in action. The team from Brazil was being supported by a school from a remote town in Alaska. The children had made Brazilian flags, bunting and posters, and had roared and screamed their way through the match, in support of ‘their’ team.

When they finally won, all the schoolkids went crazy and came down to the edge of the playing area and got the athletes to sign autographs for them. Here was the normal stereotype about people with learning disabilities being turned on its head. Here the athletes were the kings, and boy did they know it. It was incredibly emotional.

We were all profoundly touched: the games brought out the best in people. I wanted to be part of it: I knew that we had made a good decision in getting involved in the Special Olympics and that our sponsorship of the Summer Games in Ireland was going to work.

Next week: Brody continues his story of his first involvement in the Special Olympics Summer Games

n Taken from Making Bread – The Real Way To Start Up and Stay Up in Business by Brody Sweeney, published by Liberties Press – buy at www.libertiespress.com and get a 10 per cent discount
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