Manny Amadi, responsible business consultant

Manny Amadi, responsible business consultant

Founder and CEO of C&E Advisory Manny Amadi has been described as a ‘responsible business guru’ by The Guardian. In the late 90s, Louise worked for Manny, who was then something of a CSR pioneer. This experience is partly what led her to set up a PR agency specialising in work for charities. They’ve stayed in touch intermittently over the intervening decades, but lockdown gave them the chance to catch up properly.


Business and social purpose


Louise: When we worked together, over 20 years ago, people didn’t talk that much about businesses with a social purpose. Now it seems like everyone is stressing the importance of values and purpose. How have we got here? What have been the main drivers over the years?


Manny: Twenty years ago?! I had to check, but you’re right – and I’m sure I must have been twenty at the time!


Yes, purpose is all the rage for many, if not most leading businesses and I think Covid-19 will, if anything, accelerate the journey. It has been quite a journey as the agenda evolved from philanthropy, Community Investment and CSR through Corporate Responsibility, Shared Value to Sustainable Business and now Purpose-led business. With each step we see leading companies getting closer and closer to placing societal consideration at the very core of business strategy and practice. Essentially, seeking to serve society and create shareholder value in the process of so doing.


“This is entirely, and in my view rightly, fundamentally based on the principle of enlightened self-interest, with the drivers being company and brand responses to various risks, opportunities and values-based factors as companies respond to changing stakeholder expectations.”


I had a certain amount of cynicism back then about some areas of corporate social responsibility. I know for sure that some businesses thought doing a bit of employee volunteering would be enough to tick the CSR box, even if at the organisation’s core it wasn’t doing a whole heap of good for people or planet. Should I feel less cynical now?


A certain amount of cynicism – or at least skepticism – is necessary and healthy. It brings challenge and holds businesses to account for their conduct. So, don’t lose all your skepticism, but you should be feeling less cynical. Just like human beings and every living organism, businesses and brands are not perfect. Many are on a journey of change and are delivering greater value to society as a result – managing their negative social and environmental impacts and proactively seeking to make positive contributions to the world around them, in their bid to enable the creation of sustainable shareholder value.


So has an increase in Sustainable Business activity (and spend) in the commercial world had a tangible benefit?


Yes, definitely. For specific businesses who have created value by e.g. mitigating risks in their supply chains, finding opportunities through new or enhanced markets and products, or attracting and retaining talent in a competitive landscape. The proof of its value is becoming more and more explicit. For example, Unilever has worked very hard over 10 years on a Sustainable Living Plan which involves change for the whole organisation. 70% of Unilever’s revenue in 2017/18 came from the brands that have a clear social mission or purpose such as enabling people to wash their hands and promoting good hygiene.


Value is also being created for society. As the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognise, companies have a key role to play by helping to tackle some of the world’s greatest challenges, and creating shareholder value. An example close to home, Tesco and WWF are engaged in a major strategic partnership with the aim of halving the environmental impact of the average shopping basket in the UK. Macmillan Cancer Support and Boots are helping thousands of people in the UK affected by cancer. These are tangible promises and benefits for brands and for society.


What do you think will be the main trends in Responsible Business for the next decade, given current social, political, environmental and health issues?


We are seeing lots of evidence that even as they look to survive the challenges wrought by Covid-19, many leading companies are committing even more deeply to purpose and the responsible business agenda as they seek to #buildbackbetter. This is in response to those fundamental drivers I mentioned earlier.


Each year you produce The C&E Corporate-NGO Partnerships Barometer, assessing drivers and barriers, and trends and forecasts. After your 10th anniversary edition last year, what will be the focus topics for 2020?


Again, I can’t believe we’re about to produce our 11th edition. How time flies! Obviously, because it’s a barometer, most questions recur annually, so that we can track changes year on year, and over time.


“We then have special topics which this year absolutely presented themselves: the impacts of Covid-19 and #BlackLivesMatter on the cross-sector partnering agenda will feature very strongly this year.”


We’re just going out with field work this week, so I’m looking forward to seeing what the collective view of corporate sustainability and NGO partnering professionals will reveal this year!

Changes in the charity sector


When I worked for you on a cause-related marketing project 20 years ago, one of the things I really valued was the fact that our client (the corporate) was in it for the right reasons. There were business benefits for them, of course, but because the person driving the project had a genuine passion for the cause, there were very real benefits for the charity partners too. Is that always the case for charities or is it a bit hit and miss?


It can still be a bit hit and miss, but things are improving – particularly where the partnership is framed as strategic, and therefore important to both parties. An alignment of mission and purpose is always important in ensuring that the cause remains central to any partnership, small or large.


As well as advising businesses, you work with charities on their corporate engagement strategies and cross-sector partnerships. The impact of Covid-19 has seen massive drops in income for charities, particularly from events and shops. Do you think the focus for charities must now be on support from corporate partners?


This is clearly a very tough time for charities, as it is for organisations in many sectors. I do think corporate partnering represents an opportunity for charities even in these tough times. There will of course be increased competition, so charities will need to be very clear about their value proposition and points of competitive differentiation – and that can sound scary for some small charities, but opportunities come in different forms.


As charities review their theories of change and their business models, I would challenge them to think about how they can better deliver their mission through problem-solving, mission-focused collaboration with appropriate corporate partners. Of course, charities will need cash to keep the lights on, pay their staff, and so on, but I’d advise that they avoid focusing exclusively on cash in their pursuit of corporate partnerships.


What is the one thing you would say to a charity that wants to develop corporate partnerships for the first time? What should they consider and have in place?


I’d say be clear about your mission and how aligning it with the enlightened self interest of your potential partner can secure value for your cause. This implies understanding that value comes in different ways. Aside from cash (important of course) the Macmillan-Boots example I mentioned earlier, for instance, provides Macmillan with presence on the high street, with thousands of Boots pharmacists and health and beauty advisors trained to provide advice to people affected by cancer.

Running a business


Your business model has, I think, always been pretty flexible. You have a pool of top-notch experts you can call on, depending on the needs of each of your clients. Remote-working has forced us all to become more flexible/adaptable and many are questioning the traditional office-based set-up with a team of permanent staff on the payroll, now we have seen that something else is possible. Do you think more businesses (consultancies in particular) will move towards your sort of model?


Yes, my key role is to build great teams around client needs. We then orchestrate a process in which we challenge and support each other and collaborate – pooling our external perspective and expertise with our clients’ own knowledge and contextual understanding – to deliver the best possible results for the client.


“It doesn’t matter a jot to us when or where colleagues are when they do their job.”


We clarify our brief together and then allocate roles. Colleagues can then go off to school sports day, choose to work at midnight or from their caravan, if they have one, and at whatever time they like. We just focus on deliverables and timelines and challenge ourselves to produce the highest quality work. Just this week, one of my colleagues in Perth, Australia has delivered a knock-out piece of work; and another (with whom I’m in touch several times a week) reminded me that we actually have only met face to face once in the last 10 years!


So other than my four boys eating me out of house and home, and not missing the tube ride into client meetings, the lockdown has meant situation normal for us. I expect many more businesses to adapt to this way of working.


An unfortunate consequence of lockdown is, of course, an increase in redundancies. There may well be people reading this who are thinking of going freelance or starting up their own business. What are your top three tips for budding entrepreneurs?


First, if you can, find a proposition that aligns with your passion points. Something you truly believe in and that drives you.


Second, be very clear about your value proposition and your point of competitive differentiation. You will likely be entering a competitive market. Clarity about your offer will be important in helping you cut through.


Finally, and perhaps, above all, believe in yourself and be prepared to work incredibly hard. There will no doubt be ups and down, your self-belief will be key – and your commitment to your cause will be important in sustaining you through the ride.


And if I can add a cheeky fourth, I’d say: if points one to three add up, then…. What are you waiting for?!


Interview originally published in July 2020.