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Does ‘acting responsibly’ make good business sense?

CS_Diageo Andrew20Cowan002_400x400Despite their good intentions, today’s businesses are missing an opportunity to integrate social responsibility and day-to-day business objectives”. This quote from Cindy Gallop, a global advertising mogul, sums up how some businesses have approached CSR since it evolved in the post-war era of the 1950s and 1960s.

Acting responsibly should be part of every business’ DNA as long as sufficient thought goes in to how it impacts or integrates with the core business. Whether you call it CSR, community investment or sustainable development, it is about developing and maintaining long term partnerships that are meaningful and add value to the business and to society. In 2015 I would argue that it should be a focal point of a business plan – if a business focuses its socially responsible programmes effectively, it should be able to deliver a positive future for its sector, its community and the business.

Initiatives need to tackle significant social issues that are central to the communities in which the business operates.

To do this, initiatives need to tackle significant social issues that are central to the communities in which the business operates.

That is why Diageo started Learning for Life in 2008, a global programme that supports putting unemployed people into work in hospitality, retail, entrepreneurship and bartending. These industries are ones that our business depends on, have a critical need for fresh talented people. In the UK, the hospitality sector alone employs 10% of the national workforce (more than 2.7 million jobs), so Learning for Life helps to tackle youth unemployment.

The common theme of Learning for Life is recruiting young people from challenging backgrounds who, for a variety of reasons, are not yet ready for the world of work. But they are also people who want a job and want to make positive changes to their lives.

CS_Diageo bar trainees_MG_3401_400x400After four weeks of training in bartending and life skills run by our charity training partner Springboard UK, the students are ready for a work placement and then, hopefully, move into a job.

We have had great support from across the industry, including incredible opportunities – for example Jenna, a 23 year old from Stirling, went from an being an unconfident young woman, afraid of eye contact, to being a key part of a high performing events team at the 2014 Ryder Cup.

Not only does the programme change people’s lives – it puts people into bartending with first class training, and so increases standards across an industry that is so important to us.

It also promotes the sector as a serious career choice for young people. The results are astounding — of those graduating from Learning for Life, over 73% of young people go into work immediately following the course. And most importantly, with support from Diageo and Springboard UK way beyond the end of the course, most of these young people are also staying in work, and some progress into leadership positions.

Learning for Life started in Latin America, and since then the programme has had a positive impact on more than 100,000 lives. This includes supporting over 350 young people in Scotland – the centre of our manufacturing basis — into work. And this week, as part of Responsible Business week, we will also be holding a ceremony to celebrate the graduation of young unemployed people who live near our global headquarters in West London. We want to give people control over their lives and their future – and if that future is in a burgeoning hospitality industry that is simultaneously raising its standards, then all the better.


Andrew Cowan is Country Director of Diageo GB and Diageo Wines Europe. Andrew joined Diageo in 2008 as Commercial Director for Northern Ireland and was appointed to the role of Commercial Director in the Republic of Ireland in 2009. Andrew returned to GB in 2011 and has led Diageo’s commercial business as Country Director GB for almost three years. Prior to joining Diageo Andrew had a number of senior roles in the FMCG industry, including positions held at GlaxoSmithKline and Boots Plc. Andrew is married to Jill with 3 children and lives in Kingston Upon Thames.

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