Small Business Voices: Is Fairness CSR?

This is the second in a series of posts about the great characters, interesting stories, inspiration and questions I’ve met over the years across the smaller business world.

Most small business owners are social entrepreneurs whether know it or like it. I’ve not found many business that don’t want to do more good, they (wrongly) just don’t think they can.

Some these posts are about true social entrepreneurs, some have an intriguing story to tell, some are very much profit focused business people wanting to do good either when then they’ve made the fortune or whilst on their way. All of them, for me, fall into a ‘better way to do business’ category, descriptions aren’t important, it’s the impact, the story or even the motivation that counts.The first few posts in this series are local to me, based in the North West of England but I’m sure we’ll begin to push further afield as we proceed – all suggestions warmly received. Besides, I like meeting real people and can offer my thoughts based on facts and the intuition you only get from physically meeting people over a period of time. For full disclosure is a Coethica client (a non-client up next).

Following on from the first story of Peter King at Ethecol, today highlights Mark Rea of and GreenRockGroup. Mark is maybe not an obvious candidate for inclusion in this series and looking at the website, it isn’t an in your face CSR story, but it is 100% at the core of the way he and his family does business.

This story touches on the family business version of CSR / social enterprise, often overlooked in the virtuous business model discussion. The Green’s family commercial ambitions are bold yet eminently achievable without too much risk. Their values are those of a neighbourly commitment to plug social gaps where they can and provide best practice from a fairness perspective, in a non-too-best-practice market sector.

I’ll let Mark take over from here with his story…

Can you give us some information about yourself?

My name is  Mark Rea I am the Head of Portfolio at GreenRockGroup which has interests in Commercial and Residential property, finance both short (through our brand) and medium term through GreenRock Properties Limited. It is my job to make sure all of these business interests run together to provide an annual return as well as engage with the city business community and deliver GreenRocks CSR ambitions.

What is Dosh Shop? is a short term lender similar in nature to a payday loan company our difference is that we want to make sure people can avoid getting into a cycle of debt by offering them the flexibility to repay loans over a longer period and in smaller chunks (rather than the more traditional single payment) this way they are not forced into the borrow/repay cycle that can lead to a huge build-up of credit interest.

Why is Dosh Shop different?

One of the key issues we have faced is how to deal with default payers – we wanted to be the first on the block that tried not to bring the heavy hitter approach and allow our customers to be responsible for their own actions, we were very shocked that people with good credit histories would be so willing to have a default applied to their credit file. We think this may be naivety on their part (wrongly believing we won’t pursue them for small amounts) however we want to make sure we don’t have to punish new customers for the actions of old ones by increasing interest rates to claw back any losses. The only way we can achieve this is to make sure we fully enforce the agreements looking for attachments to earnings if required to make people pay. I would like to stress however that we only go to these length’s when people do not contact us or respond to our messages we have been more than happy to accept payment plans from many people in distress as long as they are realistic.

Are you talking about fairness?

Absolutely we strive to be fair not just in the treatment of the customers who came before but the ones that came after – though it may seem harsh to actively pursue a debt of only £150.00 it is by doing this we can make sure our rates stay one of the lowest in the market. We strongly believe it is about personal responsibility we are not here to judge anyone and trust we attract the customers who think the same way.

How would you define the difference between CSR and Social Enterprise?

I think a social enterprise is a business or undertaking that focuses on the needs of the community and then tries to address that need full time i.e. community children’s centre, CSR on the other hand is about those that can help (business or individuals) by donating a proportion of their time or income to assisting in delivery of social and community programmes e.g. sponsoring a local youth football team or buying a minibus to help elderly people.

How would you describe your social and environmental goals?:

Social Goal:    To see notions like the Big Society actually mean something and for more people to get involved in community activities that help drive things forward like school funds and charity walks, maybe one day run for the council.

Environmental Goal: To be honest I’m no green thumb but I can see the advantages in using clean technology as long as it’s not about target setting – I think this would lead to a reversal in development in a sense you need the dirty industry in order to identify what can be done better and build on it piece by piece rather than trying to change the game overnight.

My Opinion:

The concept whilst not earth shattering, is vitally important. The pay day loan market still isn’t in great shape as most of the players are overly focused on profit, with no engagement from the bigger allegedly more reputable high street banks. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has produced a number of reports about the strengths and weaknesses of the short term loan market and reinforces that fact they provide an important service when operated responsibly. Dosh Shop for me is one of those under the radar businesses that I’m certain will do very well without receiving attention or praise for the fact that it is challenging the whole market place about what is acceptable. For me it’s like the responsible adult standing up in a crowd of rowdy school children leading by example hoping the children will take note and follow.

What do you think?


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