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Regeneration: improving the quality of life of the marginalised

We ended 2011 debating the role of corporations towards social interventions – I along with my partner in crime Kamil went down to Footscray for the Footscray Community Luncheon to see firsthand exactly what these big corporations were giving back to society. It surprised me when the large corporations I was expecting didn’t materialise – but instead a whole host of local institutions and businesses were lending their hand for such a note worthy course.  
A wide ranging group of businesses and institutions donated their time, money and facilities to put on the event. There were the big institutions such as Victoria University, City West Water and the Western Bulldogs who provided the location and their staff with the support of the primary sponsor, The Melbourne Wholesale Market who provided the food. In addition there were local businesses such as Burnham real estate agents and a local patisseries all of who either provided their time and or their services. Each one of these entities has something different to gain from being involved in this event, but one thing they all have in common is that they are already established within the local community. Each one of these businesses has strong roots within Footscray and the broader western region of Melbourne. This was something that did surprise me as my initial expectations were for organisations from outside of the region to be more greatly involved. In past years, organisations such as Grocon and the St George Bank have provided valuable support for this cause, which lead me to believe that more organisations that wanted to create a greater profile within a new target market but didn’t have a specific dialogue with the local community would seek to participate in this event.
During my time at the function, I spent time talking to the various people that volunteered their time to get an understanding of why they participated and what relationship they had with either the Maribyrnong City Council or Western Region Heath Centre. I noticed a couple of key points, namely that:
  • Volunteers that participated form large organisations tended to be from the marketing or social departments
  • Many of the smaller organisations came with all their staff
  • Nearly everyone said they wanted to be there because they wanted to give something back to their community
‘There are a number of social and moral reasons why individuals volunteer their time and money towards charitable causes, but do those same reasons motivate corporations towards social responsibility. [1]From my experiences here, I believe the institutions involved didn’t provide their time or services for any specific moral reasons but rather for social and institutional reasons given that the majority of the staff were required to be there as part of their employment requirements.
However in a number of ways the reason why an institution provides its time and resources for such a function is not important.  What is far more important is the relationship and dialogue between institutions and their local community (community and not only patrons) being established where both parties are mutually benefiting. In previous blogs, I have spoken about the economic definition of ‘Value’ which can be broken down in to two key concepts, Return on Investment (ROI) and Utility … hence to put it into simple terms ROI is a measure of economic value whilst utility is a measure of happiness[2]; when such a relationship is developed between two parties there is a measurable ROI for the institution, whilst and a visible utility for the staff and community. By being part of such a function, individual participants can provide a ‘meaningful, positive impact on the community, meet a diverse range of people, create motivation and sense of achievement amongst other things[3] which all have long term implications for the social health and wellbeing of the staff and in turn the institution. For the local population there is an opportunity to be part of something bigger without feeling like being at a function imposed on them, or specifically highlighting them because of their strata in society.
The economic value to an organisation on the other hand can be broken down in to short term and longer term gains – some of the short term gains include the welfare of their staff and increased morale within the working environment. However there are significant gains to be made long term.  Institutions such as City West Water, The Western Bulldogs and Victoria University need to be seen as willing participants within their local community; the same applies to smaller companies such as Barnham Real Estate. All the institutions involved have a close affiliation with the West of Melbourne, and by engaging with the community they increase the chance that both the institution and the community has of success.  Survival of a number of these organisations is based on economic growth – economic growth is directly related to increased patronage – increased patronage is directly influenced by increased wealth within the community. In a catchment area such as Footscray increased wealth of the community can be achieved in two ways:
  • Change in the demographics of the population by increasing the number of wealthier individuals
  • Increase the collective wealth of the existing population
Basic economic theory suggests that by increasing the wealth of a society, the most marginalised members and members from a lower socio-economic background will have greater access to social services , which will help break the cycle of social issues. Whilst this concept is debateable, if we take this position it becomes critical for business and institutions to be seen to be part of their community and develop a long term relationship with their community. Ultimately as the collective wealth of a community increases the more relevant the institution needs to be; this could potentially mean a larger market share or decreasing the potential for competition deteriorating any market share.
So for Footscray the big question is where do we go from here? In my past blog, entry I spoke about the exciting times ahead for the area and all the investments earmarked for the regeneration of the area. One of the biggest challenges facing regeneration of this magnitude is what happens to the lower socio-economic groups? The biggest threat to any form of regeneration is gentrification that will put more pressure on marginalised groups. As the collective wealth of a community increases so does property and asset prices; which in turn forces a change in retail and business uses. So the milk bar on the corner now becomes an organic grocery store. The danger of such a change is that services that are normally accessed by people of a lower socio-economic background are forced away because these services are no longer viable. This is where the relationship between commercial organisations and their community is critical. By having a pro-active co-operative approach between commercial organisations and their community, marginalised groups stand a better chance of increased economic prosperity without becoming further marginalised.

Part 1 of this series was first posted on 15 December 2011; the follow up Part 2 video of the event was first posted on 28 April 2012.  


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