Sapphire Systems (Heart of the City 2010 Newcomer) is a global provider of financial accounting software and business management software solutions. Their Corporate Community Involvement programme was recently recognised at the Lord Mayor’s 25th Anniversary Dragon Awards, where they were awarded the Heart of the City Dragon Award. Jan Fair, CSR Coordinator for Sapphire Systems, speaks on the development of the programme to winning an award.
I attended the Dragon Awards dinner last year and was really motivated by the impressive work of the finalists. Given their accomplishments, I knew the competition would be tough, but I am so proud of everything that the staff at Sapphire has achieved and that encouraged me to apply. We were really honoured to win as the other shortlisted companies have done wonderful work – the whole experience was inspiring.
Our programme was inspired by a Heart of the City
breakfast attended by our Managing Director (MD), Ian Caswell. Eighteen months ago, other than to set up a corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme, we had no aims, no budget, and no ideas; however, we did have a willing and supportive MD.
Sapphire’s CSR policy is truly rooted in the values of our employees. We used a ground-up approach, working with the skills already in the company and asking our colleagues what they would want from the programme. Once we had a better idea of where we stood, we found enthusiastic champions to put ideas into action, set up a CSR committee, and used Heart of the City’s tools to move the programme forward. To involve staff from the start, we held two lunch meetings with pizza. During the first meeting, we explained what CSR is to employees and in the second we had colleagues talking about their volunteering experiences.
As it turned out, people at Sapphire had a variety of interests which helped to develop an impactful programme.
Fortunately, we have a great deal of senior management support. Ian sits on our CSR committee and 60% of the directors have been directly involved with a volunteer programme. Two managers are on the school reading rota and another runs our quiz nights. The level of director and management time given has far outdone our expectations.
To engage staff, we set up a skills-based volunteering relationship with a local school which made the most of our employees’ talents and also made it easy to volunteer. For one project, we brought ‘The Apprentice’ to the year
6 class of St Joseph’s Primary School. The students were divided into six companies, each with mentors, and they received guidance and presentation training to prepare them for pitching their business ideas to our MD on the
final day. It was then Ian’s job to select which companies he would go into business with, and he chose all of them! To make it as real as possible, we had volunteers from a film school record it and put together a short video which can be found on our website. Overall, it was a great success with comments such as, “it has inspired me…I really feel like I have a plan for the future”.
In addition to short-term projects, we have seven staff members who regularly read at the school with children having difficulties. This year, we are pleased to have five more employees joining this programme. Other community projects we engage in, including a quiz night, fun run, giving blood, and doing presentation skills for kids, are ideas which came from our CSR Champions. We have run two Great City Races and have had four quiz nights, and these activities have simply become something that Sapphire does as an organisation. Through our running, baking, eating, reading and assorted other activities, we raised over £5,000 for CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young) in the first year of our CSR programme and this year have raised nearly £2,500 for Canine Partners.
Following his attendance at Heart of the City’s breakfast hosted by the Lord Mayor at the Mansion House, Ian registered Sapphire onto the Newcomers programme. The responsibility to take the relationship forward, attending the workshops and making the most of their support and resources, was then passed to me. One of the speakers at the first workshop was Marcus Jamieson-Pond, who advised to look to the work of other companies and avoid reinventing the wheel. From his presentation, I believed I could learn more from Marcus, and as it was a good fit, Heart of the City set up a mentoring relationship for me with him. Through both the workshops and mentoring, I learned what works for other companies and implemented these systems and processes in Sapphire. Moreover, the library of tools and templates available as a Newcomer saved vast amounts of time that would have been spent on developing forms and policies from scratch. Heart of the City has been involved with our CSR programme from inception and throughout, and I’m confident that the guidance we have received through them and the network will ensure our CSR programme is sustainable.
Corporate Social Responsibility is not a topic that comes up very much in our industry, and our work in this area makes us stand out. Notably, our programme is included in each of our tenders for business, and the feedback from our clients has been very positive, including some requests for advice on how to set up a CSR programme.
The variety of activities to get involved with through our programme meant that people from all areas of the company took part, creating cohesion between the different sections. It also gives new staff members a great impression of Sapphire and an opportunity for them and non-office based staff to meet and get to know their colleagues. Of the employees that took part in the volunteering programme, 80% said it improved their impression of Sapphire; 90% said it improved their communication skills; 50% said it improved their confidence; and 80% of the volunteers had never volunteered before! Finally, by developing areas outside of our community work, such as a ride to work scheme and a reduced fee gym membership scheme, we have also positively impacted the general fitness and wellbeing of our employees.
If you are a Heart of the City member, use the feedback forms and other documents and tools that are available on their website. It’s a great way to make sure you are moving in the right direction and the feedback you get will cheer you on to maintain momentum. You don’t have to use them straight away but when it comes to assessing how you have done, they will be invaluable…and don’t reinvent the wheel!