The recent Extinction Rebellion protests have focused our minds on a global problem and if I have learnt one thing from them it is that “We can choose to be affected by the world or we can choose to affect the world.” Heidi Wills. The XR cause is undoubtedly a worthy one and critical to the future of our planet and I am not here to challenge the essence of their goal or to speculate on their questionable (and sometimes hypocritical) methods, but rather to reflect on another critical world problem that is deserving of the same level of attention – child poverty.
I believe in the wise words of John F Kennedy who famously said “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” So despite my personal trepidation at what lay ahead, when I started the business over 32 years ago I decided to sponsor a child via Plan International for every person employed at Jellybean and to sustain this pledge for every year we stayed in business. There are over 50 countries involved in the Plan scheme and as we go to press Jellybean has 27 children sponsored around the world from Cambodia, Vietnam, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mali, Togo, Uganda, Dominican Republic, Bangladesh, Ecuador, Sudan, Ethiopia, Liberia, Timor Leste, Guinea Bissau, Burkino Faso and Egypt.
This means that over the life of the business we have made a difference to between 80 and 100 children around the globe (sponsorship finishes when the child reaches maturity at 18) who have all been given a vital chance in life. The great thing about sponsoring a child with Plan International UK, is that your donation doesn’t just support one child, but the brilliant work Plan International is doing in your sponsored child’s community, giving them access to clean water, shelter, healthcare and education, and therefore having an even greater impact.
The Jellybean scheme is totally funded by the business and a child is allocated (or transferred) to every new “bean” to ensure a one-on-one relationship is developed so that they see how our sponsorship can change their individual child’s life for the better. The sponsored girl or boy will share their life via correspondence and each sponsor receives an annual update demonstrating how we are not only making a difference to them but also to their whole community. All I ask of my team is that they exchange letters, illustrations, cards and photos with their sponsored child, so they build rapport and can see how our support is helping to transform their life and the lives of those around them.
The reason I chose to work with Plan International UK for the past 32 years is because at least 80% of their income is spent on their to work to give every child every chance and the balance is used to manage their programmes and to raise vital funds for the future.
I am not writing this blog to say what a great thing this is for us to be doing but rather because it occurred to me that if we (particularly independent businesses) could scale it up we could make an even bigger difference to world poverty. Jellybean is a small business employing on average 25 people (some years more and some years less) and we are defined as an SME – the government defines a small medium sized enterprise as any business with fewer than 250 employees. There were 5.7 million SMEs in the UK in 2018* accounting for 99% of all businesses and employing 16.3 million people. In a nutshell we have influence and we are big when we come together!
Mother Teresa said “If you cannot feed a hundred people, feed one” so just imagine what a collective difference UK SMEs could make to the world if they too sponsored a child for every employee. I’m a great one for simple extrapolation to make a point, I know life just isn’t that simple but…
If just 1 in 5 UK SMEs sponsored a child through Plan International UK for each of their employees it would mean that approximately 3.26 million children around the globe would be given a vital start in life. To give this some context there are an estimated 385 million children living in poverty in the world** so we (Great Britain) could change the lives of just under 1% of them by making this small pledge. Imagine if other SMEs in other developed countries followed our lead, we could really help to eradicate poverty across the globe.
It costs just £234 per annum to sponsor a child so the investment per employee is minimal and such a small amount compared to all the other costs associated with employment such as recruitment fees, employee retention, National Insurance and staff benefits to name but a few.
So I am reaching out to all CEO’s, MDs and Senior Management of SMEs to reflect on the words of Nelson Mandela “We can change the world and make it a better place. It is in our hands to make a difference.” And I would ask the leaders of such organisations to think about implementing an employee Plan International UK Sponsorship scheme in their business. It does not have to happen overnight, if costs are prohibitive it could be introduced on a phased basis, or after 1 year of service or as a reward for high performing teams or individuals. Whatever you decide to do it will still have a lasting impact on the world and be a great way to engage your team in a globally worthwhile cause. In conclusion I steal a quote from Ken Blanchard “Vision comes alive when everyone sees where his or her contribution makes a difference.”
*Source House of Commons Library – Business Statistics Dec 2018
** World Bank Unicef 2018