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The role of business in creating resilient cities: Why community relationships are worth it

November 14, 2012

Businesses are some of the key lifelines that keep communities alive and thriving. Unfortunately, I think we (and business) sometimes forget that communities are also crucial to the economic success of any business. Indeed, I’m always perplexed to hear of businesses which do not or “cannot” support their community; attesting that it’s not worth the time, it’s not actually their community, or the outcomes don’t justify the effort. While there are many local businesses, particularly in Vancouver, that are doing commendable work to support our community, there are still too many businesses, big and small, that have dropped the ball when it comes to backing the communities that support them.

If we hope to maintain and enhance our quality of life in Vancouver, it is absolutely imperative that businesses of all forms, shapes and sizes engage with their neighbors and invest in their communities; and these investments don’t have to be limited to financial transfers. Of course, the reach of monetary support cannot be discounted, but business support can extend well beyond the dollar sign. Tremendous value can be added to a community event by simply attending or lending some form of expertise or staff. I have participated in many community-organized events that could have been greatly enhanced in the presence of corporate sponsorship, professional advice, or business presence. Likewise, I have seen many businesses that could benefit dramatically from increased community exposure

Indeed, the relationship between businesses and the communities in which they operate is a symbiotic one. Financial support, people power, vision and dedication are key elements to the growth of both communities and business. When the relationship between communities and businesses are nurtured and understood, both parties benefit tremendously. And starting that relationship can be as simple as partaking in a festival, volunteering at a community event, or supporting non-profit organizations.  

The act of giving back will pay dividends in the long run. Today there are at least a handful of well-respected and established businesses in Vancouver that have embodied this mantra - giving back to local communities through grants, volunteer hours and promotional activities – and have seen healthier bottom lines as a result. Beyond increasing their earnings, they have increased their reputational capital, and gained a better understanding of the pulse in their community. I have no doubt that it’s these businesses that will prove resilient in the long run. 

I often get discouraged when I hear about the amount of money that businesses pay for expenses like advertising and public relations. Companies shell out millions, even billions, of dollars to tell you how much merit they have, how valuable their product or service is. But what if, instead of telling us how their company can enhance our wellbeing, they showed us? What if businesses demonstrated the additional value that can be created by actively being a member within a community? Obviously, businesses are driven by their bottom line. It is my hope, though, that more of them will begin to appreciate that a community investment is a profitable one. Indeed, I believe businesses, communities, and the individuals within will all benefit when we start to appreciate how closely linked our fates really are.

James Yang works with the SFU Public Square

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