Building Your Business
PLATO EBR thriving on Corporate Social Responsibility

16 July 2019

By Dr Cecilia Hegarty Director PLATO EBR

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a term which we rarely hear of anymore, perhaps because we like to think we are all relatively responsible businesses we’ve all taken on board GDPR after all…and we are engaged socially with the constant rise in social media that lets us connect and stay connected if necessary. But the question remains, "As a successful larger SME how much do we give back as a business?"

Pictured are Eamon Donnelly of Uform and Pat Walls of Bulrush two parents who managed the Mid Ulster District Council PLATO Cluster receiving a special commission sculpture by Mark Kelly  entitled ‘Arise’ made of Ancient Bog Oak and Kilkenny Limestone.

We’re not just talking about providing employment – no one goes into business to create jobs not even the HR companies I’ve met over the years! Besides the tax incentives or Christmas vouchers for staff to spend locally and all those positive in-company initiatives, how can a larger enterprise (once small, like the PLATO participant companies) realistically give back on a wider platform to the world of business? And is it even possible to capture the knowledge and know-how you’ve learnt to benefit others attempting to become just like you even if they don’t know it yet!

Of course, there is the element of parochial attitudes which fast-growth entrepreneurs would do well to avoid since it can jar with an internationally ambitious mindset. It must also be pointed out that larger enterprises do not solely exist to provide supply chain links for the full gambit of local companies in its vicinity either, we are well past the days of you can have a car in any colour as long as it’s black (Henry Ford 1922). Freedom of choice is as important now as ever and the world does not owe anyone a living. Some brave souls decide to eke out a living through entrepreneurship, this is often a lonely road, full of hardships and knockbacks but imagine if you had someone, anyone to guide you along the twists and turns in the path to success, to tell you that your experience is normal, you’re normal. Anyone I’ve asked over the years would grab the opportunity with both hands and legs!

In PLATO EBR we are concerned with the relative lack of opportunity for start-ups or small companies to engage and learn from the bigger guys that have ‘made it’ and the potential for these valuable learning opportunities to be wasted.

PLATO is a licensed business development programme providing opportunities for networking and management development to SME’s throughout the East Border Region. The programme offers owner managers a business support forum where they can network and discuss business ideas with established large ‘parent’ companies in the region. These ‘parent’ companies are leaders in their industry sectors and support the programme by sharing their skills and experience within the network.

PLATO EBR relies upon the parent companies giving back to others along their entrepreneurial journey. Over a 12-month timeframe these parent companies supported a dozen small participant companies from diverse industry sectors, as one small enterprise commented: “the common challenge we all have is to grow sustainably and competitively”. The parent companies support small growth-oriented companies through a series of monthly meetings and often additional 1-2-1 clinics and/or mentoring and sharing of resources and information.

The participant companies engaged in the clusters report growing sales on average up to 20% during the lifetime of the programme because they are more focussed on their growth trajectory. As important they have had the opportunity to sound out their ideas with trusted peer individuals, to offload and therefore make informed decisions with the help of mentors and resources within larger companies. Mental resilience in business must be one of the fastest growth areas given the hectic globalised environments today’s competitive businesses are forced to operate in therefore having the support of PLATO mentors is invaluable.

Large enterprises often also get involved in PLATO by offering a focussed workshop/site tour of their premises, and this can be hugely beneficial to home in on specific perspectives, some recent challenge topics were: -

  • what LEAN really means for us - logistics
  • how to get ahead of the curve in terms of R&D
  • importing, selling and exporting internationally
  • working in a globally-owned business and mobilizing a local workforce
  • growing the family business
  • engaging and embedding apprenticeships
  • training academies to compensate for skills shortages
  • technology as the solution from automation, robotics, cobots to the growing importance of virtual reality and augmented reality.

PLATO EBR also provided customised training for the staff of the small enterprises which was deemed extremely beneficial. Recent areas of focus were marketing, sales, customer service and leadership for everyday coaching.

If you’re interested in giving back as a 'parent company' or if you’re a 'small participant company' interested in getting ahead: contact PLATO EBR kindly acknowledges the support of all its parent company individuals, mentors, trainers and site tour providers.

PLATO EBR is funded by Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, Newry Mourne and Down District Council, Mid Ulster District Council, Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, and Cavan, Louth, Meath and Monaghan County Councils and Local Enterprise Offices.

Pictured below is a recent tour of McAvoy Group with Orla Corr

  • Cavan
  • Louth
  • Meath
  • Monaghon