“What was initially launched without specific altruistic intent became precisely that: a passion for making a difference that transcended the desire for personal financial gain” (Jill Poet).
The National Organisation for Responsible Micro, Small and Medium-sized Businesses (ORB) is a not-for-profit membership organisation with the aim of “Encouraging and promoting a better way of doing business: a way that is good for business but also good for people (the workforce, community and society at large) and good for the environment”. It was founded in 2009 as the Organisation for Responsible Business by Jill Poet (a Management Accountant) and Mike Wilson (an Electro-mechanical Designer/Graphic Designer). Their aim was to encourage SMEs to embrace Corporate Social Responsibility and adopt ethical and responsible business practices, changing the world “one small business at a time”.
At the time, not only was there very little interest in responsible business, but there was a global financial crisis, and banks were not lending money. However, with the aid of a comprehensive and robust business plan, they managed to secure an initial loan of £25,000 for the website and IT infrastructure development with an agreed two tranches of £10k to build their team once they had launched. They launched the business in February 2010, but in April 2010, when they applied for the first tranche of additional funding, to their horror, their application was turned down. Their business plan was now in tatters: the original loan had to be repaid, yet they did not have finances available for planned developments.
Several extremely challenging years followed, but despite the challenges, they developed the Responsible Business Standard in partnership with Anglia Ruskin University. This was a robust certification designed specifically for small businesses. Subsequently, they trained auditors, and many companies obtained certification at gold, silver or bronze level. By 2020, there was considerably more awareness of the importance of responsible business and an awareness of the need for change. Then, the pandemic hit, and in May 2021 they launched an online version of the course (The Online Responsible Business/Social Value Course) with various certification options. While full certification is not a requirement for membership, which has always been at the core of the venture, applications for membership grew even faster than before, despite the uncertainty and changed circumstances.
In May 2022, ORB won Corporate Livewire’s Community of Interest Company of the Year Award for Innovation and Excellence, but in August 2022, on her 72nd birthday, Jill relinquished ORB’s CIC status, and gifted the business to its membership. She did this in order to protect ORB’s future, ensure it would not be sold, and would always be focused on a better way of doing business within the small business community. Over the years, she and Mike had been approached to sell the business on numerous occasions, and on each occasion it was apparent that the intention was to use ORB’s reputation and interventions to enter the more lucrative larger business sector market. So, they morphed ORB into the new company and introduced a new governance structure that ensures the current and future members jointly own the company. While the image and name of the business has not changed, the constitutional changes are enshrined in the companies Act of 2006 and can only be changed by a 75% or more vote of the membership.
Having protected the venture, Jill is slowly starting to hand over to a new management team. Before doing so, though, she is writing a book entitled “It really is just good business- the art of operating a responsible, ethical and profitable small business”.
Having read a draft copy, we commend it not just to small businesses, but to senior corporate managers, politicians and policy makers, business consultants and advisers, students and educators – in fact anyone interested in saving the planet for future generations. Not only is it comprehensive and clearly written, but it is packed with real-life cases and written from experience by someone who is passionate about the topic. Perhaps of more importance still, it is hard-hitting and makes the point that we are never too small to make a difference.
Like the Harmonious Entrepreneurship Society, ORB has:
“a vision of thriving, vibrant cities, towns and villages, where small businesses play a vital role in their local communities, contributing to social, environmental, and economic sustainability, and setting an example of ethical and responsible business behaviour in the UK and across the world”.
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