A small business owner, or a start-up founder, visits a green fields manufacturing site and is forced to worry that her car parked nearby will be stolen.
A small business owner drives to work in fear of being hijacked.
A kitchen-table entrepreneur is too frightened to let her daughter walk to school down the road because what might happen.
But these are just everyday happenings, you might say.
Yes, maybe they are. But things don’t need to be like this way.
You see, you can’t practice sustainability in your start-up or small business without these things: financial capital, human capital, manufactured capital, natural capital and social capital.
Social capital is least talked about but it is just as important as any of the others.
So what is social capital? It sounds like some big fancy word but all it really boils down to is the stock of trust, respect, goodwill, co-operation and sense of community in a society, town or community.
I’m not here to talk about social capital and its merits or society at large. I’m only here to show how it affects small businesses, kitchen-table entrepreneurs, start-ups – all those brave people who contribute to society not only through their taxes but through:
• the products and services that they sell,
• the jobs that they create,
• the young people they employ,
• the communities they support, and
• the compassion they offer towards their fellow human beings.
When the outside world won’t listen or doesn’t give a fig, it’s difficult. But that doesn’t mean we have to crawl under a rock and hide away.
As small business owners and founders, you can make a difference. This may sound like cheap talk, but it isn’t. It starts with giving value to your customers, and helping them with their problems, going out of your way to serve their needs.
It means showing how professional you are and care as a business person, getting back to people the same day, knowing that speed, the one element left out of strategy, is so vital to small business who can do it better than anyone else.
Then it’s about looking after your employees, not in a paternalistic way but allowing them space to grow and develop, no matter how difficult they it sometimes get.
And it’s not about jerking off your suppliers for a measly extra percentage without caring whether they’ll go to the wall.
I was once at a conference on sustainability where one of the speakers mentioned something that Robert D. Putnam (author of “Bowling Alone” and “Better Together“) said on social capital. I can’t remember whether this was a quote but what stuck in my head was: When do you know you’ve got social capital in your community? It’s when you can feel confident that no harm may come to your daughter or son when she/he walks home down the lane or street at 9 o’clock at night.
Are we anywhere near this?
Could it ever be possible?
Putnam says, “The benefits of social capital spill beyond the people immediately involved in the network and can be used for many other purposes. The more neighbors who know one another by name, the fewer crimes a neighborhood as a whole will suffer.”
Small business owners making tiny deposits day in and day out may not change the tide of breakdown in our modern society but they can contribute towards making their own business district and communities a safer place where to run their business and live in.